For many years SSI has led the way as the number one producer of computer wargaming and there is no question that their commitment to detail is second to none. Any dedicated wargamer will tell you that a 40 page manual is a must in any SSI release, along with a vast amount of historical background information.
It was only a matter of time before one day this company, so meticulous in its choice of material, would diversify and that time has come as here we have Phantasie, SSI's first foray into the troll-bashing Orc chasing world of D&D and what a really rich adventure it is.
As in all good D&D games, there is a main quest to accomplish apart from slaughtering as many monsters as you can get your sword to, and in Phantasie this entails finding the nine rings of Power and using them to destroy the Dark Lord and his Black Knights. Obvious shades of Tolkein's Long Of The Rings here, but in all honesty any adventure of this ilk is bound to offer a few comparisons.
You start off as a lone adventurer on the Island of Gelnor in the town of Pelnor and after hearing of your quest you set out to the Adventurers Guild to recruit a suitable party. Actually, all the locations in the town are icon selected, as are most actions in this game, making the whole operation quite simple in an otherwise complicated scenario.
At the Guild there is a selection of brave and hearty heroes waiting for you, ranging from wizards to thieves, to just plain fighters. Each possesses their own characteristics, experience and gold and it's up to you to determine their usefulness. On the other hand, you can create new characters and add them to the Guilds' list although, you can only choose their name, race and profession, the rest is generated by the computer.
Once your party is assembled, you can go to the armoury to purchase weapons and such like or indulge in some training (priests and wizards could learn new spells), visit the bank to draw out some of your savings, or just check on your account.
When you're set to begin your journey, just select the exit Icon and you find yourself outside the town walls on Gelnor's main road.
The map takes up about two thirds of the screen and the graphics, whilst ot being of the highest quality, are certainly good enough to generate an exciting atmosphere. Once you are outside the town, you are prey for wandering monsters and this is a good way to boost your experience and capture some treasure. But at first you must be careful to keep on the road, as lurking in the forests and mountains are far more powerful adversaries than on the straight and narrow, and these are to be avoided at all costs until you are more adept at fighting.
There are a number of dungeons to be discovered and if you elect to delve into these the screen changes to a blank and only reveals the rooms and corridors as you progress through them. A realistic touch that.
The big difference with 'Phantasie' is that, although it is mainly a graphic adventure, there is a fair amount of text to be found in room descriptions and the reading of scrolls and such live, giving the player a definite sense of exploration of being there, essential in any role-playing scenario.
During encounters with the various n'er-do-wells, the screen display changes and the map is replaced with graphic representations of the said beasts. I've had a few scrapes with such notables as ants, orcs, killer bees and a very nasty Black Knight, which did no favours to my hit points whatsoever. It if wasn't for the fact that I begged forgiveness and gave him all our gold, he would have finished us off in no time at all, instead of just letting us go on our way a lot poorer, but at least alive.
Fighting is done in the usual D&D style of turns of action. You decide from a menu which moves to make for each member of your party whether it be a thrust with a sword or a magic spell, hit points dutifully fall and once your points reach zero - you're nothing more than history.
The longer you play, the more affinity you gain with your party and the more you suss out just who is a good fighter and who is just plain cowardly. Members can be changed at other towns where new Guilds can often provide a powerful ally and after a good rest at an inn - who knows, your hit points or magic might just increase!
As with all SSI products, there is a wonderful colour manual (only 30 pages though) which is very readable and tries to simplify proceedings as much as possible. A big plus for the experienced adventurer, as there are many spells to learn and countless potions and scrolls to collect.
Full marks to SSI for coming up trumps with a game which is a departure from their usual suspects, but just as entertaining. Comparisons will be made to the Ultima Series but I have no doubt that Phantasie is a far better offering. A highly recommended program from a very reputable company.