Throughout the years, whenever I came across some information on The Aethra Chronicles, I stored it on my hard disk. Unfortunately, I did not keep track of where I found stuff. As a result, I'm not able to properly attribute these reviews. If you wrote this review and would like to be credited for it, please leave a comment.
Despite amatuer graphics and a cliched plot, this RPG's depth and playability (which runs smoothly on a 286) may surprise you. The game can be a bit tough at times, but not overly difficult. Most of the puzzles in it are simple. The only complaints I have are a couple quests which you can complete without actually doing them (yes, you heard me right)-- an annoying bug that one might consider a boon.
All in all, an underrated and one of the better shareware RPGs that is worth a look.
Note: Although the game advertises two more episodes, they unfortunately were never made.
The Aethra's Chronicles is the only game ever made based on the Role-Master system, a pencil&paper game similar to AD&D but based on percentage instead of dices. Note that the publisher of the Role-Master system have closed their doors, which provides to Aethra's Chronicles a double taste of nostalgia. The plot of the game is quite cliché (a newborn prince have been kidnapped and you must find by who and why) and some bogs are quite annoying (like quests completion when you havent completed it) but the originality of the game system help to forgive such things quite easily.
You make two main characters (a hero and his friend) and two henchmens at the beginning of the game. Henchmens are part of your party but they are very less powerfull than your hero and his friend. Be warned : the combats are hard, be prepared to die often before learning the basic tactics to survive in fights. It can be frustrating for the casual RPGer.
The game offers over a hundrend of different creatures to fight, from wild animals to Red Dragons. Like in almost all RPGs, as your characters progress in the quest, you will face stronger monsters. Combats are though from the beginning to the end : a good tactic and a good strategy according to the strenghts and weakness of your party and of the monsters you are facing is required.
This game cannot be recommended for the casual RPGer for many reasons but can be enjoyed by the hardcore RPGers who are looking for something different.
Aethra Chronicles - Book Of Prophecy by Michael Lawrence
(RPG on SynTax Disks 938a/b)
Reviewed by James Judge on a 486sx
Having had a quick look through all of the reviews that I've done over the past few months I have realised that I've been a bit of a grumpy git. Apart from four games, I haven't come across a game that I've really liked and have recommended to you. So, deciding to turn over a new leaf I eagerly awaited the arrival of a new game which Sue had heard about. To quote her fair script "I read someone saying that it was the best shareware RPG ever, so it should be worth reviewing". Oh goody, said my new leaf - something which I can go to town on, in a nice way.
Then the package arrived yesterday morning, I installed it effortlessly yesterday evening, played it this afternoon and completed it half an hour ago. Shall we just ignore this new leaf and pretend that I'm still in my grumpy mode as it does not look promising for this game already...
@~I did say to James, I think you have to bear in mind that this
@~is the cut-back unregistered version, so finishing it quickly
@~isn't necessarily a bad mark against the FULL game ... Sue
To start off with the minimum requirements for the game are 7.5megs of disk space, a 286 or above (a 486 is recommended, though, but I feel that a 386 would be best), and your hunk of plastic must be able to support EGA/VGA at 640*350 in 16 colours. A mouse and a Soundblaster are both recommended.
This version of the game is the shareware version and has limited play to only the first part of the game - where you actually get the Book Of Prophecies. Registration will bring you the full game and a printed spell book and manual; all for the measly sum of $25 and $3.50.
The game starts out with you creating three core members of your party - one will be you and the two others will be your friends. You've got twelve classes to choose from as well as five races, which lead to a nice variety of possible combinations. From these three you can then add another three via hiring NPCs, a high level spell as well as some people just wanting to join your party for free.
After rolling up your stats you get to give your character a name and a face. This is where the graphics of the game say "Hi, look at me!" and the actual graphics of the characters are very good - there are about four choices for each class, divided between male and female and they are all of very good quality. But more about that later on. After choosing a portrait for your character, you must go on and assign their skills, which allows you to allocate a certain number of points to a variety of skills from lock picking to mountain climbing, all of which will then effect your base stats in some way (ie a high Hand Held Weapons skill will give you an attack bonus). This will be pretty familiar to anyone who has set up a character in the AD&D board game.
After creating your party you're plonked in the middle of the capital city of the land and you find out what your mission is. As it turns out your father is the Paladin who has been assigned to protect the royal household. Unfortunately, due to a number of accidents, a new king has come to power and his new-born son was kidnapped and your dear ol' dad was blamed for it. He's now in hiding, trying to protect his neck, and it is now up to you to exonerate him from this situation and prove that it wasn't his fault that the brat... ahem... royal child went missing. You're told to go and see a man about a book and that is where the game begins.
At this moment in time my expectations of this game were very high. The graphics were pretty good, the story sounded good, I liked the idea of having six people to worry about and I was looking forward to a game filled with intrigue, puzzles and gory fighting.
My first disappointment came when I saw that it was a 3rd person game - much like the early Ultimas with a forced 3D view of a map and a little person symbolising your party and you moving them around via the keyboard. Still, worry not - I fondly remember the fun I had running around Ultima 5 interacting with everyone and anyone, trying to piece together a hideously complex plot, being the good Avatar, definitely NOT steeling horses and food and almost certainly not trying to palm my dead companions off to a gullible inn-keeper ("He's only a bit merry, kind sir - he'll be alive and kicking in the morning. Would I lie to you? After all, I am the pious Avatar...").
So, off I plodded in search of this guy with this book. And here expectation after expectation came thundering down around my ears until I was resigned to playing this mediocre game which had no pizzazz and no pulling power what-so-ever. Why was I disappointed? Read on...
To start with the outside graphics were pretty damned poor. They just showed a collection of huts and structures in the cities along with uninteresting mountains and trees in the wild. In the city there were huge problems trying to find a number of places. The reason for this was that there is no standard look for a certain type of building (ie a shop looks like a house, which looks like an inn, which looks like a guild... well, you get the idea) and there was also no identifier as to which houses were important, so it was a matter of going through six screens filled with houses, trying to walk into each side of them to see whether they were of any use.
Anyway, after I had found out all the interesting places in the town I then got together my team and went to this guy, who then told me exactly where to go to get the book. Great, easy this game. Well, actually I had to get a painting for him first but this was done in fifteen minutes, so it's hardly worth mentioning.
That is one big problem I have found with this game and that is that there is no guess work with the plot of the game. You're told there is a small possibility that so-and-so may be able to help you and they could be, by a slim chance, at such and such a place. Well, lo and behold, when you toddle to that place and find that person you then go to the dungeon that they tell you to go to, fight a few monsters and then they'll tell you where to go next. Exciting, or what?
And that is all there is to the game. If you can get a good team together in the first place and follow what everybody says (not that you can do much else...) you'll have it finished in no time, like I did. There are very few side-quests (I've found two and they were of exactly the same nature as the main part of the game - you're told where to go, kill a few monsters and complete the quest) and so don't add anything to the game, apart from a way to boost your character's experience which is sometimes necessary.
So, as most of this game entails following people's instruction as to where to find the nearest fight you'd expect the fights to be good, wouldn't you? I would think that most of the people reading this would have at least seen some form of the Ultima series and know that the fighting in these game, while sometimes laborious, were pretty intense affairs with strategy playing a large part. Well, even though this game may look slightly like the Ultima games, the fighting aspect is just to grab a sword and then charge into the opponents shouting "Mine's bigger than yours" while hoping that the enemies have enough misses to allow you to systematically slaughter them.
Nope, there's very little strategy to the whole thing and it is made even worse by the fight screen. When you come across a band of monsters (who stay in one fixed spot and you can't see them on the main game screen) the view zooms in to the area that you're currently in and you find yourself looking at a sort of side view, cum map screen much like those found in the old SSI Gold Box games. This would be fine but the icons for each character and monster are tiny. This is fine at the start of the fight, but as soon as you get two or three monsters into a small cluster you can hardly see what is going on and you have no idea what is in your movement range and what isn't. As the bodies start piling up it becomes impossible to differentiate between the live and dead enemies, as they are all the same shades of brown and green, and sometimes you don't even know that you've downed a monster!
There seems to be no AI in the game at all as the enemies attack your group indiscriminately - rushing from side to side of the screen, first attacking your warriors and then your mages, making planning on your part very difficult and pretty pointless. It's just a case of hunkering down with your spell casters and hoping that your warriors and bowmen get in enough hits to kill the monsters. Most enjoyable.
Let's leave the actual game for the moment and look at the sound and the interface. The sound. Hoho! The music is very annoying, so I switched that of at the earliest possible moment. The sound effects, though, are OK. The only trouble that I had with them was that the program kept on overriding my software volume control and insisted on playing everything at an ear-shattering full volume. The sound of boots walking down a corridor were fine, but a battle was terribly noisy and the sound of a door opening sent the cat up the curtains. So, these were switched off for a peaceful life.
The interface, on the other hand, was nicely handled with everything having keyboard shortcuts which made the presence of a mouse completely redundant (I don't think I used it once). Item management and shopping were a little tedious, though, but this wasn't a real hardship. The spell system was good and the only gripes I have are the fact that you can only rest outside of a dungeon, either in the wild or in an inn. Often it was necessary to rest after every battle which meant the constant plodding backwards and forth through the same screens got immensely boring.
So, did I enjoy the game? The simple answer is no. There just wasn't enough there to keep me interested and the only reason why I kept at it was that I was reviewing it. The basics of the game are sound with a good interface and good graphics, as well as an average character and spell system. The things that let it down were what I feel are the actual meat of a good RPG - the plot and the ability to be stuck because of devious puzzles. In this game the plot was OK, but progression through it from one part to another was way too linear for my liking and there was no guesswork involved. Once someone told you the name of a place you knew exactly where to go to get on with the game. The really disappointing part of the game was the complete lack of puzzles, though. RPGs should be about solving puzzles, interacting with people as well as fighting, not just fighting. That's all there was in this game - fight, after fight after fight. And it wasn't as if the fights were particularly difficult - only the last fight of the game posed any real problems and even that was over with in five minutes.
So, can I recommend it to you? Well, get it if you'd like to see something different, but don't expect a hell of a lot of gameplay. If there was a lot of puzzles and a more in-depth plot then I think I'd find myself raving on about this game no end. It has all the basics needed for a good RPG of this variety, but it has nothing which brings it out from the crowd. It may stand head and shoulders above games such as Dragon Hunt and Dungeons Of Death, but when compared to Deathwatch and Ragnarok it wilts in comparison.
Grumpy git says "stay away from it". New leaf says "yeah, well, it's not all that bad - good graphics and a good interface - so get it if you want to see something slightly different".
We won't even mention the picky little errors like spelling mistakes, poor word wrapping meaning that some text goes off the screen and refresh rates which mean the enemies go translucent whenever they move across the screen.
(One thing, if you get the game and find that some screens are corrupted and in others you can't use your mouse it's due to your mouse driver. Change it to a Microsoft one and everything will be hunky dory)
- o -