|By Good-Evil Contributor||Wednesday, 16 Apr 2008|
Contributed by Adam Claiborne. He posts as Disposable Hero on theshizz.
Let’s talk about a classic role playing game. And no, this article will not include discussions of any Final Fantasy or Zelda release, or Chrono Trigger. Instead, we will take a trip into the imagination of Raymond E. Feist, and the world of Midkemia, to find this beauty of a game. It’s easy to overlook some of the early RPG’s for DOS, but this is one that you do not want to miss. Released in 1993 by Dynamix, a subsidiary of Sierra Studios, Betrayal at Krondor delivers in every way to give us the first complete role playing game for the PC, and quite possibly of all time.
The game starts us with an attempted assassination of one of our party members. Gorath, a renegade moredhel leader from the Northlands, is being escorted to the Prince to deliver news of an impending attack on his kingdom. Accompanied by the Prince’s Squire, Locklear, and an apprentice magician, Owyn, they set off for the western capital of the Kingdom of the Isles, Krondor. The mainstays of our party are Gorath and Owyn. As the game progresses, we are introduced to a plethora of playable supporting characters, and are allowed to interact with non-playable characters at every stop in the game. The world of Midkemia, as created by Feist, is one of pure excellence. Although the game was written by Neal Hallford and John Cutter, the adaptation for this game seemed as flawless as if Feist had written it himself (he did have final editorial say in the script). As the story unfolds, we learn various details of our heroes’ lives and their personal struggles. From family history to marital problems to the self confidence of a young teenage magician, the audience is quickly drawn into the world created before them. The dialogue and story are written for a more mature audience in comparison to its console brethren. The structure, substance, and overall realness of depicted emotions really add to this games’ depth, and puts it a notch above even the most hallowed console RPG’s. By the end of the story, you feel a deep connection with each character, and the cause they are fighting for.
The game is not designed to be completely linear. You have freedom to roam the Kingdom of the Isles at most points in the game, completing various side quests and exploring different areas depending on what chapter you are in. While traveling the realm, first person view is utilized, with your party and menus displayed below the main screen. From this screen you manage everything in the game. Inventories, character information and stats, weapon and armor repairs, camping, spells, and the world and overhead maps can be accessed here. Objects within the window that can be activated are done so by clicking on them. Houses, graves, chests, NPC’s, etc. are all activated this way.
The first thing that you will probably notice when you get to playing the game are the graphics, which are, by most standards, horrible. Pixels everywhere and the topography of the land is very boxlike. In addition, everything is still frame, aside from you walking along the King’s Highway. The only animation in the game is the occasional cut scene animation and all fight sequences, which are turn based. What this game lacks in graphics, it makes up for in imagery. All major cities (which are identified with white markers on the world map), temples, and most places that are pertinent to the main story, have their own screen, with an artists’ depiction of what that place may look like. And each cut scene is rich in color and text to efficiently portray the goings on of our characters and their journey. This allows for the player to reach out with their imagination, and become immersed in the world. In newer gaming worlds, I feel like a lot of this is already done for you.
Perhaps the most innovative feature of this game lies in the development of each characters skill set. Traditionally, experience is earned and levels are gained, usually applying some type of point system to distribute among character attributes. But in BaK, usage of a skill determines proficiency. The more you shoot a crossbow, for example, the higher your accuracy becomes. More attempts to sneak up on enemies yields a higher stealth rating, and so on. At the time, this was the first of its kind. Although many games today still cling to the traditional system of leveling, this feature helps make BaK unique, and sets itself apart from the norm.
Let’s not forget the musical score written by Jan Paul Moorhead. Two words sum up this soundtrack: powerful and epic. Superbly arranged and well placed throughout the game, each track is tailor made for its respective setting. With the use of orchestral and ambient sounds through midi format, Moorhead masterfully draws on the audiences’ emotions, empowering the story, and creates an ambiance that was as important as the writing in the game itself, bridging our thoughts, feelings, and concerns for what we were reading and seeing on screen. As a work by itself, it’s simply amazing. If you never play the game, do yourself a favor and at least download the soundtrack, available here. You will not be disappointed, I assure you.
Betrayal at Krondor received several awards upon its release, staying atop the sales charts for more than 18 months. But it seems that it has been mostly forgotten in today’s age of high speed, visually stimulating video games. It was an infant RPG on an infant platform, as this was the time PC’s were truly becoming a viable source for good games. As a whole, this game is beautiful. Each element of the game compliments another and it comes together as an amazing masterpiece. If you are looking for a gaming experience, dig this one out of the archives, and give it a try.