Insert Disk collects Faery Tale Adventure for the Commodore Amiga.
Today’s retro game review is Faery Tale Adventure for the Commodore Amiga. This retro gaming classic is the grand adventure masterpiece by programmer David Joiner. Faery Tale Adventure is an epic quest to return a magic Talisman back to its rightful place in the village of Tambury in the huge mythical land of Holm. Faery Tale Adventure is the game that really got me hooked on adventure games and questing in general. It may not be the most famous retro video game of its type but it’s certainly one of the best in my opinion. This is our longest episode to date so I specifically wanted to cover it as part of a special Christmas episode.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. It’s that time of year again, Christmas. The mince pies are laid out for Father Christmas, the deer are warming up for the big night and children and adults alike stare in to shop windows admiring the latest toys. Whether you celebrate the holiday season or I think that we can all enjoy the peacefulness of the season around the world.Rather than give you a Christmas themed game episode I like to take the opportunity on the channel to share a game from my Christmas past. With it being the season of Faery Tales, what better game to share with you than a retro fairy-tale. This is no ordinary Fairy-tale though, this is Faery Tale Adventure.
If I can set the scene for you. Back in the early 80’s home gaming systems were very much a reflection of the arcade. I think that this is best demonstrated by the Atari 2600. Games such as Pac-Man, Frogger and Asteroids were all focussed on high scores and that quick fix of arcade action. Games were short and intense. When you think about arcade origins this makes perfect sense. Few people wanted to stand around for hours on a single game that didn’t deliver a dose high action. The arcade owner wanted your coins and for you to have an entertaining experience. What worked well in the arcades often worked well in home console market as well. However, there was an opportunity now to create a new type of game. The adventure genre. A game where you typically set out on a longer more epic quest, usually to slay a dragon or retrieve a lost treasure.
Earlier formats such as the ZX Spectrum and C64 had allowed the beginnings of the genre but due to resource space were usually either text heavy or not quite able to deliver the feeling of an epic quest. The Atari 2600 game simply titled “Adventure” also began to show the audience that perhaps there was more to gaming than a high score to chase. By the mid-80’s the “Grand Adventure” genre was born. Depending on your system of choice this was a genre of gaming that finally found its feet due to the rise of larger disk space and processing power. Now when most gamers think “Grand Adventure” I’m sure that most will think of games such as the Ultima series, Final Fantasy, Dungeons and Dragons, perhaps Phantasy Star or even the original Zelda. All of which also have elements of RPG in them.
However, when I was getting in to this brave new world of questing there was one game above all others that defined my understanding of the genre. That game was Faery Tale Adventure. Is it the best known game, perhaps not. Is it the best in class, many would say no. Let me show you why I’ve continued to cherish this one over the years though, show the critics what they’ve missed about this game and perhaps even convince you to take a second look at this one for yourself. I think that it’s only appropriate that we start with the physical box. Firstly I think we can all agree that the artwork in its high fantasy style just looks amazing. The hero being dwarfed by the fire breathing dragon is enough to sell the story. In this age of Dungeons and Dragons the artwork really ticks all the boxes. With no Internet reviews and only magazines to really market games decent box design wasn’t just a “nice to have” it was essential and one of the reasons box art of the 1980’s stand the test of time so much better than some of the decades that followed.
You’ll notice the word Faery spelt with an Fae-ry. This is a really great touch to put you in mind of older English spellings. In native British English you are likely to see the word Fairy spelt “Fairy” perhaps 9 times out of 10. In wider Europe though there are several variants of the word. I was interested in the origins of the word and did a bit of research just for fun. In older German the word can have a base of “Fey” (Meaning a kind of fairy). In older French faierie is a derivation from faie which itself has a Latin base. Back in Ye Olde Days when the French came to what we now know as Britain they brought their language with them. The base Faie later received a bit of a blended spelling as Faery. Seeing as in the old days very few could read or write various interpretations of the work became acceptable. Generally though the “airy” spelling won out. You’ll notice also that the game is described as “An epic fantasy adventure” and it truly is and I will explain why later.
The rear of the box continues to sell the story witch screenshots of foreign lands and black nights. It does everything it should as a package to appeal to those seeking out their next quest. Now the fun part, the unboxing. You’re greeted with a decent selection of content. Firstly the 3.5 inch floppy disk. The publisher could have just slapped a white label on this one but they didn’t. They created an off white label to give an aged effect. It’s a small detail but I always enjoy those moments when a publisher pays attention to detail to build the experience. Next up, the Micro-Illusions warranty card. Simply complete and send back to Granada Hills, California if you wish. I’m here in the UK and 3 decades late so I probably won’t bother. You’ll also get the Micro-Illusions Interactive Entertainment brochure of the latest games. All sorts of games Quest master, Mainframe, Dr Plummet’s House of Flux (I literally have never heard of that game). “Romantic Encounters at the Dome”, again why have I never heard of this game? It sounds sort of interesting. Romantic Encounters at the Dome is an adult text experience and contains some scenes that are intimate in nature. This product is recommended only for those over the age of 16. This game was created by Lee Thomas, an award-winning playwright and screenwriter. I’m sure that Encounters at the Dome has possibly fallen off of his resume by now. Finally, this just screams 80’s. Scooby Doo, Jetsons, Flintstones and Jonny Quest. Someone’s riding that Hanna-Barbara licence pretty hard.
Anyway, back to grand adventure and we continue with the manual which is just stunning. Really, it just puts me in mind of 80’s questing. It has that handmade feel to it and completely on style for fantasy adventure. Inside… Well plated Micro-Illusions. This is how manuals should be written. You’ll discover the back story, lore of the world and absolutely beautiful illustrations. It’s simple yet completely sells the idea that as the gamer I’m the one going on the adventure. In short I’m engaged in this world and have a stake in the quests to come. It really makes you miss the old days when publishers really went the extra mile to create an experience, not just a game. Of course the manual also explains the control, narration and combat systems in a succinct way. There’s also an incredibly helpful section on the keyboard shortcuts for magic and even some useful hints to get you started. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t seem to be getting anywhere at first. The playing map is huge (144 screens tall by 100 screens wide) and it will take a long time to explore all of it. Wait, what 144 by 100 screens, so, 14,400 screens? Surely that can’t be right? A standard disk is 1.44MB, that’s 1,440,000 bytes so that’s 100bytes per screen, more on this in a moment.
Perhaps one last feature is the copy protection warning message. Yes, this disk is protected. Normally the Micro Illusions policy is to put copy protection on games only, and not on business or educational software, this is because games are the most heavily pirated programs, and because nobody’s business or personal life is going to be seriously damaged by the inability to back up a game disk. We are sorry if this is an inconvenience but unrestricted copying of programs is a big problem for us and it is not financially feasible to release unprotected games at this time. There’s something great about this, a publisher apologising to the consumer because they have not allowed copies. I just can’t imagine this happening nowadays. Despite a few decent releases Micro Illusions did face bankruptcy by 1991 although employee David Boyles was able to resurrect the company as Hollyware Entertainment which published one of my favourite games Hoi.
Hollyware had very few releases however left a legacy that exists today as Hollyware Transmedia led by creator and director Danny Boyles. The company specialise in Virtual Reality and 360 experiences and I was genuinely pleased to see that the creative spark is still very much alive with here.
As a final note on the “going out of business” topic the back page reminds us that copyright violations can incur civil damages of up to $50,000 in addition to actual damages, plus criminal penalties of up to one year imprisonment and / or a $10,000 fine. 1980’s video game protection does not mess around. The final piece of any epic fantasy game worth owning is the map. It’s that moment that makes an adventure real, look at all the places we’re going to go. The burning wastes, the plain of grief, grimwood, the watchtower, swan isle, the isle of sorcery and perhaps even pixel grove. Yes, the land of Holm looks well worth spending some time in. It’s worth noting here that this is the Commodore Amiga big box version. The game was ported to several other systems. Interestingly the Sega Mega Drive and Sega Genesis, both published by Electronic Arts. For my money both seem to fail in making best use of the original artwork. The UK PAL edition zooms you right in on the action. I get what they were going for here but I think the impact is somehow lost as the viewer can’t easily appreciate the scale of the landscape or context of where the characters are. Interestingly the US NTSC edition for the Genesis has the opposite issue. Someone said, let’s take this great artwork and make it far smaller than it needs be in favour of a black and blue border. It’s fair to say that this was more in line with Electronic Arts other games published at this time but looking back it seems like a wasted opportunity. Prepare for some disappointment inside too in terms of the paperwork. The manual is functional and resized so that it could be housed in the smaller case. There is a map thrown in for good measure but side by side it’s clear that the publishers heart just wasn’t in it. In terms of presentation the Sega 16-bit editions are actually a fair rendition of the original. The menu system has been revised to support the Sega control pads which work surprisingly well for this type of game. The music has taken a little bit of a hit in quality but overall the conversion was handled rather well. For my money I would still advise you to stick with the Amiga editions of the game for that real experience of adventure though. After you’ve marvelled at the packaging it was time to get in to the game.
Having a bow and arrow cursor was always a nice little touch and then… A wonderful introduction in to the story. Essentially three brothers Julian, Philip and Kevin must save their village of Tambury in the land of Holm by returning a protective talisman that has been stolen by an evil wizard. Expect to fight the undead, travel to far off lands and take on the dragon. But what’s this, a riddle before we can start? Open up your trusty map and complete the phrases and you’re good to go. The messages around the map act as security protection. Again, this is something that is just embedded in retro game culture, the physical props provided linking your journey and embed you in the world. There’s nothing like a good map to immerse you in a new world, especially when it it’s multifunctional. Think Skyrim these days, how that map unfurled. It was the same feeling for the generations that came before. You’ll start your adventure in the village of Tambury and this is as close to a tutorial section as you’ll get. Generally it’s at this point you’ll enter the houses and search for any collectables that might help you on your journey. You can control your brother via the joystick but you’ll also use the mouse to access the inventory system. Interestingly you can also then use the keyboard shortcut keys to execute the magic and items. This makes Faery Tale somewhat of a rarity in the fact that you will have to use the Joystick, Mouse and Keyboard in order to access all of the games functions. It sounds like a bit of a mess when you explain it in this way but the experience is surprisingly rewarding and doesn’t feel awkward once you get in to the flow of the game. Expect to be able to Take, Use, Look, Listen and give. In addition you can access several submenus including your items and magic. In true text adventure style your game is narrated as you play. Calling out the times of the day, conversations and whether Julian is feeling hungry or sleepy. As the manual stated it’s easy to become overwhelmed when you first drop in to this world. It’s not particularly clear what you need to do (other than rescue the Talisman). You can ask the innkeeper for advice and also any other NPC’s along the way. However, you’re largely left to just get on with it. It’s at this point perhaps that the critics write this game off. It’s just open space, where do I go? What’s the objective? But that’s exactly what engages me as a game. This game won’t spoon feed you so much as a grain of sugar. This is your adventure and the fun is in the questing, the planning and dare I say actually having to use a bit of brain power to progress. But when you do it’s an incredibly rewarding game.
Your general experience will be setting off with little more than a small knife. And then… Oh my when that music changes my heart still skips a beat. Make no mistake the wraiths and the skeletal horde will find you and you’d better be prepared. Now I know this sounds silly if you didn’t experience this first time around but this really was quite a harrowing experience for a young gamer. You’re out numbered, out armed and you’ve barely left the village. It’s a tough initiation in to a wider world. You try to face them down and yes, you’re dead. So, it’s at this point you start again having been woken by the Faery. You soon learn that certain items will drastically help you. For one, a sword or mace will drastically help you in combat. But how to get one. Well, when I was you I found a bit of a glitch that allows you to happily fight through the gates of the graveyard whilst limiting damage from the bad guys. The other way to quickly gear up is to use a Jade Skull. They are rare but launch one of these and you attackers will quickly die. Stand over their bodies and loot them for items. If you have the cash the kind innkeeper also keeps a small selection of weaponry.
Ok, so now we’re getting somewhere. We’re a bit more combat savvy and finding our feet in the world. It’s at this point its worth revisiting the core mechanics of Bravery, Luck, Kindness, Vitality and Wealth. These act as your battle skill, lives, kindness, health and gold. All of this is fairly self-explanatory apart from the kindness mechanic. Throughout the game you’ll gain kindness points by helping people, sometimes by talking, other times giving them money. This leads to different experiences, some characters simply will not converse with you if your kindness drops too low whilst others characters will gladly help you in return. It’s a neat like mechanic and one that games such as Fable resurrected years later. Of course you can always go on a retro killing spree and murder every beggar you see. Or you could give them a coin and get some advice in return. It’s your adventure so it’s up to you. It’s not long before you start picking up some clues as to how to best survive and progress in this world. After much raiding you find keys of different colours to open different doors. Glass vials will restore health and totems will show you the surrounding area on the map. If you get a bit lucky plundering early on in the game you may pick up a Gold Ring. These are especially useful early on as they will briefly stop time allowing you to mug any attackers for their weapons, gold and keys whilst they are frozen. Perhaps one of the most useful items outside of the Jade Skulls for killing enemies mentioned earlier are the blue stones. Stand inside a some circle and you can teleport around the map. It’s a bit of a messy system buy in some respects the only way to cross this epic landscape. It’s a bit of a dark art in working out where you will end up but is an absolute game changer once you work out the teleportation system network. Again, the game won’t spoon feed you at all here. You can see dotted on the map hints of the stone circles but it’s you as the adventurer that will have to really put the pieces of the puzzle together as you teleport across the landscape.
And how about that landscape… Now you will remember earlier the claims of the map size. The truly huge, 144 screens tall by 100 screens wide. Now seeing as we lose around a quarter of the screen to inventory this may actually equate closer to 108 x 75. However, that’s still 8,100 screens of adventure and let me tell you this world is huge, seriously huge. Your character will die of starvation before crossing half of it. This map really was the Skyrim of its day, being placed in a world this large caused much talk at the time and fuelled gamers passion to share stories, locations and tips. If you do find yourself stabbed to death you’ll be resurrect several times by the fairy based on you luck score. The inevitable will happen though and you will be dead for the last time. It’s at this point the next brothers adventure will begin. If he can find the bones of his brother it’s possible to loot his corpse to retrieve all of his weapons and items. (Merry Christmas everyone!).
Online you’ll now find various resources to help you as gamers can share their tools but make no mistake, even if you view the map you’re still going to have the adventure of a life time stocking up on food and finding all of the hidden secrets to traverse it successfully. It truly is a beautiful experience and whilst Faery Tale Adventure may push many gamers to their limits it is certainly a game that rewards you for exploration and perseverance. The time you find that key you needed, the time you find the dragon, traverse to the witches lair or go surfing on the turtle. This is what grand adventure is all about. It’s all the small details that set this game apart from the rest in my opinion. Julian is sleepy or hungry? Then he will be almost uncontrollable, shaking with low blood sugar. Day and night cycles? You bet. A range of landscapes including burning wastes, deserts, catacombs, bogs, forests and even the ability to go swimming. They’re all in here. Shout at the innkeeper and he will tell you off and then ignore you. Shout at a wraith and they will scream back. With adventure games it’s all in the little details that build up the world and I’m really pleased to say that there’s enough of these small subtle interactions that really make the world of Holm feel lived in and not just a generic fantasy land. Do you follow the path or go in to the wild? It’s your choice. More than any other game of the era Faery Tale Adventure still seems to me to be aiming for a certain type of gamer. A gamer that want’s an adventure to unfurl in a very organic way rather than point to point questing. Sure the game will drop clues but they really require the player to put the pieces together.
Hours of exploration simply chip away at the game and you progress in very small elements at a time, still making this a real go to game for myself and others that enjoy 80’s adventure games. Take this example for example. You’ll be given advice to seek a friend from the sea. Later you may also encounter a scroll with a similar message. It’s your job to link that a friend from the sea could be a turtle so head for Turtle Point on the map. Again, you’re working on a theory only here. All of a sudden you’ll be attacked by red snakes as you defend the turtles eggs. Then, nothing happens… Why, well the clue really is that it is “a friend from the sea”. Remember those kindness points we spoke of earlier. That’s right, if you aren’t kind enough the turtle won’t trust you and you and the event of the turtle appearing to thank you and give you free rides won’t trigger. This is exactly the kind of 80’s puzzle that has been dropped from more modern adventure games. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing really is up to you. At the time though sharing these secrets with a friend was what it was all about. The game isn’t completely cruel though as you can activate the turtle by claiming the seashell in the watch tower which is actually my preferred method. The seashell will also eliminate onscreen enemies too making is a two for one bonus item. However, you will need the turtle to traverse to the Isle of Sorcery as it is impossible to swim across the sea yourself. In there you will meet the Sorceress who will in turn give you one of five statues which are also needed to progress.
Working this entire out is a challenge but isn’t that the point of a grand adventure. One of my general gripes of the reviewing community is that the game is too difficult. Whilst I can certainly see where they are coming from I personally wouldn’t say that that makes this a bad game. I came for a challenging adventure and that’s what I got. It’s also what I find so lacking in more modern adventure games and has helped kept a love of older adventure games alive for many retro fans. To even this one up I have to concede that some clues are a bit abstract. Take this one for example. To receive a fairly useful clue you have to hand around in the graveyard until midnight (the narration box will alert you to this). Then unlock the crypt to find the spectre that will give you the information you need. Is this a fair challenge? Well, maybe. You are advised by others to go to the graveyard at this time but not explicitly told the purpose of why and with the game having quite a few clues and potential dead ends it’s not always apparent which advice to act upon. Either way, how cool is it the first time you see the spectre after having expected an empty crypt as you have been so many times before. Could these types of clue work in modern adventure. Yes, certainly. As with our spectre in Faery Tale Adventure you will also find this mechanic in games such as Zelda’ Majora’s Mask. Ironically the game was received with a luke warm reception after the more traditional Ocarina Of time, yet over the years gamers have warmed to Majora’s mask as time dependant clues have become more accepted as a gaming mechanism. Faery Tale Adventure was just ahead of it’s time.
Perhaps one of the most interesting elements of Faery Tale Adventure is its creator. That’s right the game came to be via a one man band, David Joiner. In just 7 months Joiner had created a fully realised world with graphics, sound and music in addition to the plot. Without making this episode incredibly long it’s just worth saying that David is an absolute genius and in my opinion one of the great unsung heroes of the 80’s era. His knowledge across all elements of game making made him very special. Working under the handle Talin he introduced us to beautiful words and updated techniques previously unused in adventure gaming. In particular his implementation of super-set tiles allowed the vast lands of Holm to become a reality. No disk swapping for the whole adventure was required. Super-set tiles that contained various smaller tile set were carefully shifted in and out of memory to create a seamless no-load experience. Quite a feat or programming design considering the scope of the game and how they also helped enable a combination 2D tile set to be presented as a rich isometric landscape. This is also known as “oblique perspective”. It’s at this point I’d also like to call out the stunning music of Faery Tale Adventure. As set of very distinctive, highly atmospheric tunes to immerse the gamer.
David also created several specific developer tools around this time to aid in the construction of games. Quite a gaming force for his time. His love of the fantasy genre was then proven beyond doubt as he directed the 1994 masterpiece “Inherit the Earth: Quest for the Orb”. Quite the adventure in its own right and now surprisingly available in the Steam shop with an approval rating of 96%. David is still about and I would highly recommend reading his blog for a mix technology and coding editorials. If I can also return to the subject of the packaging the game can tell us something a little more about the era itself.
In addition to the Mega Drive and Genesis releases I actually have 2 editions of Faery Tale adventure for the Commodore Amiga because, well, you know what collectors are like. My first edition was a little dog-eared so I jumped at the chance to upgrade to a slightly fresher version. Anyway, the element I wanted to highlight here was the barcode section of the box. As you can see one version has a barcode for swiping at the checkout whilst the other is left blank. Today’s retro question… Why is this one left without a scannable barcode? I’ll give you a few moments to ponder the answer. If you said “I peeled it off, nice try but no”. If you said “This is the prototype edition, also a good guess and could have been right” but no I’m not that lucky. The correct answer though is that this was actually a reasonably common practice in the early 80’s. Full retail releases were shipped to wholesalers in multiple countries. If they wished, each country could assign the appropriate barcode for their region for use in physical shops. In the UK we tend to refer to these as an EAN code or (European Article Number), in the USA you may be more familiar with the Term UPC or (Universal Product Code). Essentially they are a unique asset number used for tracking inventory and identification of a product. In this case Micro Illusions were based out of California and distributed from there (a dead giveaway from the warranty card we saw earlier). I know that my edition without the barcode was from a mail order outlet. Back in the day you would buy your monthly computing magazine and search out those vendor lists to see who stocked the game you were after. See here for example, a seller stocking a multitude of games and hardware.
Simply use the phone number and arrange to buy the item over the phone. Stick a cheque in the post and there you go. Adventure is on its way. Life before the internet certainly was that bit more magical than simply clicking add to basket and getting a box the next day. Personally it’s this nostalgia of the process that feeds in to my love of the 80’s gaming scene. It’s not just that we saw these games with fresh eyes, it’s the culture of a bygone age. I could perhaps talk to you about Faery Tale Adventure for hours as it is right up there as one of my favourite childhood adventure games. It was perhaps my initiation in to that ambiguous gaming world where high scores didn’t exist. Is Faery Tale Adventure for everyone? Perhaps not, you’ll require patience, perseverance and have to deal with a rather simple combat system. Personally it holds up on a personal level due to nostalgia alone. However, the passing of time has made this a little more inaccessible to the newer generations of gamer. The genre grew up, graphics, storylines and mechanics all developed and that is a very good thing indeed. In my youth games like Ultima felt very grown up and I couldn’t identify with them and so inevitably ended up giving up quickly at times. However, Faery Tale Adventure kept all that raw difficulty of exploration but sugar coated it just a bit with more relatable fantasy. The presentation just took the edge off of what is perhaps one of the more challenging genres to get in to for a new starter. I’d like to think that the game left a lasting legacy and it’s a shame that it’s not part of a wider universe.
The eagle eyed of you may have noticed the subtitle “Book 1” on the game cover implying this was to be a series and in a sense it was. Unlike Michal Jackson’s HIStory book 1, Faery Tale Adventure did indeed see a book 2. Halls of the Dead was released in 1997 by the Dreamer’s Guild. If I’m honest I have mixed opinions of the game. It is a decent curiosity piece though for those looking for obscure sequels. Faery Tale Adventure may not be everyone’s cup of tea but if the critics are to write this one off understand first what it is that you’re missing out on before dismissing it yourself. It’s a very competently made game, has excellent audio and has huge scope for exploration. Add in to this the excellent manuals and maps, if nothing else it’s a really nice little time capsule from the 80’s. It’s worth noting that Faery Tale Adventure did leave somewhat of a legacy for gamers. Despite being published in 1989 it has become a game that has kept a somewhat small but loyal following over the years in the retro gaming community. There’s the gamers that make long play videos. The historians that spend great time creating complete walkthroughs. I’d like to also like to give a special thank you to Lucas Siudzinski who painstakingly recreated the world map for us all to enjoy and follow. And of course David Joiner himself who still keeps us up to date with more modern projects. To this day I can still remember all of the security phrases by heart and I do consider myself to be one of the many that this game had an impact on.
If you are interested in Faery Tale Adventure I’d recommend giving it a go. If you can get passed the first four hours without quitting you may just become a fan for life as I became all those years ago. Over the years many Christmas’s have come and gone but I do still find it the time of year for looking backwards. The presents you received in that past and the games that you sank your time in to. For myself Faery Tale Adventure really does encapsulate this feeling from my youth and the time spent in the Christmas holidays fighting off wraiths, opening locked doors and discovering secret lands.
So, for those of you that are now a little older. I’d invite you this Christmas to dust off an old game from your youth and relive the magic, no matter what game that may be. For those of you with children of your own why not give them a glimpse of the way you used to play when you were young? Ok, perhaps not a game with wraiths and ogres. Show them Sonic or something, you don’t want to traumatise them too much. And with that I wish you all a Merry Christmas from the channel and I will see you all next year.