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Lora's CRPG Reviews: Return to Krondor




Return to Krondor (Game release date: 1997)
If you can get past the idea of playing with a pre-assigned party, Return to Krondor is a memorable little game with a good story arc and many interesting quests to solve.


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Highlights: Good plot, well-written dialogue, flexible quests Lowlights: Linear gameplay, poor pacing, a few interface annoyances


Stylistically speaking, Return to Krondor resembles console RPG's like the Final Fantasy games more than traditional PC RPG's. You are given control over five pre-written characters as they navigate through a pre-written plot, joining and exiting your party as the game designer dictates. I don't usually care for CRPG's that shoo me away from the wheel this blatantly, but Return to Krondor had that spark of something special. For one thing, the writing and voice-acting is excellent, so I didn't resent having this plot and these characters foisted upon me as much as I do with some adventure games. For another, the game is constantly offering you minor choices to make even as it leads you through the nose through the major plot events. There are multiple solutions to many quests, for example. There are ethical decisions to make along the way. If your characters make different choices, they will face different consequences from them later. This genuine flexibility keeps the game interactive despite its plot linearity. And then there are the characters themselves, whose dialogue has been so subtly written that you can actually imbue them with a personality of your own through the choices you make for them as you play. I interpreted William the grieving knight as raging and obsessed with vengeance, for example, and my friend interpreted him as a brooding, tragic figure. I interpreted James the reformed thief as cocky, impulsive, and totally immature, and my friend interpreted him as wily and street-smart. Within two minutes of starting the game, my James had managed to get himself rolled by a prostitute, something my friend's James had been clever enough to avoid. My James got an extra little quest out of it. Little things like that really add up.

Of course, there are flaws. The game is rather short, and the pacing is terrible. The party splits up early on and one group is doing things that are tremendously more interesting than the other group, so I spent a lot of time hurrying through two of the chapters to get back to the more interesting stuff. The interface has its share of annoyances, particularly looting, which must be done one item at a time (is a "take all" button REALLY that hard to implement?) and trap-defusing, which requires an annoying sequence of *21* mouse clicks to open every single chest you find in the game. And gameplay is poorly balanced--one non-magic-using character splits off from the others, for example, yet still keeps finding tons of magical loot he will never be able to identify no matter what the player does. The Prince offers the other NPCs equipment from his armory to take on a certain quest, yet there is nothing in the armory that can be used by two of the characters he sends there. Despite these hitches and the game's great linearity, though, Return to Krondor is one of those elite games that I still remembered vividly when I fired it up to play again almost ten years later.

Style: Return to Krondor is a D&D-based CRPG with a third-person birdseye interface. You control and develop a five-person party, but the characters are preassigned. The plot is a role-playing adventure on a fantasy theme. The game is untimed and requires no manual dexterity. Combat is turn-based.

Series: Return to Krondor is the sequel to the fine old DOS game Betrayal at Krondor. Betrayal at Krondor was an excellent old-school CRPG but is extremely dated, hard to get working on modern game systems, and really doesn't have anything in common with Return to Krondor besides the gameworld anyway, so there's no need for you to play one before playing the other.

Finding Return to Krondor: Computer games don't have a very long shelf life. You're not likely to find a nine-year-old game on the racks at CompUSA. You can buy this game online for some pretty reasonable prices.

Getting Return to Krondor to Work: Return to Krondor has a number of graphics glitches on modern video cards, but no major bugs that impede gameplay or require special set-up.

Hints For Return to Krondor: You can check out my low-spoiler page of Return to Krondor hints if you like. If you prefer, you can also buy a Return to Krondor hint book.

Pitfalls In Return to Krondor: There are no subtitles available for Return to Krondor, and the journal, frustratingly enough, records important events in audio only. Not a game for those with hearing problems, bad speakers, barking dogs, etc.

Game Length: 20-40 hours, depending how long you spend building your characters up with random encounters. This game is on the short side for a CRPG.

Age-Appropriateness: This game is rated T (for 13 years old and up) due to violence, gore, and some language (words like "bastard.")

Lora's Return to Krondor Review: (Very Good)

Plot and Quests: The plot is basic but very well-written, and the quests are plentiful and interactive, many of them offering multiple solutions based on your concept of the characters. The story is highly linear and does suffers from some pacing problems.
Puzzles and Mental Challenges: There aren't a lot of puzzles in Return to Krondor. Most of your mental energy is spent using deduction to solve quests and track down villains. Not especially challenging, but highly satisfying.
Characters: Normally I don't care for pre-assigned player characters, but the ones in Return to Krondor have such open-ended personalities and so many opportunities to make choices that you can feel some ownership over them anyway (graphic adventure games could learn a lot here!) Many NPCs are interesting.
Gameworld: Return to Krondor is based on the fantasy world of Raymond E. Feist's "Krondor" novels; unfortunately, those novels are set in a thoroughly generic fantasy adventure setting, so there's still not much sense of place here. The undercurrent of ethnic tension between Krondorians and Keshians is a nice touch.
Gameplay (Leveling, Spells, etc.): The skill-based character advancement system is excellent and is a lot of fun, but the game's cavalier attitude towards splitting the party up or sticking new characters in against the player's will can be annoying (particularly since some characters who you may spend time building up as a team will never be reunited within the game.)
Interface (Movement, Inventory Management, etc.): In general the interface is pretty good, but the inventory is aggravating and combat is punctuated by pointless, irritating pauses between each and every blow, which can make an otherwise pitched battle rather dull.
Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): The environment looks pretty good; characters are blocky but tolerable, and the cutscene movies range from good to truly special. The music is atmospheric, and the voice acting is generally excellent. The only drawback is the camera angles, which sometimes shift back and forth in a distracting way.

Lora's Recommendations: The writing quality, interactive quests, and fun character advancement of Return to Krondor make it a game that's worth playing for almost anyone who likes CRPG's, but gamers who are also fans of the graphic adventure genre or of console games are especially likely to enjoy it.

If You Loved Return to Krondor: Other story-based CRPG's that may appeal to you are the outstanding Baldur's Gate II, the macabre and brooding Planescape Torment, and the expansive role-playing powerhouse Oblivion. Graphic adventures you may like include The Longest Journey, which has a deeper story and is even better-written than Return to Krondor, and The Last Express, which is an art-deco spy story you may enjoy unraveling. Grim Fandango, while further from the CRPG mold, is another game that features excellent writing and voice-acting.

For a more detailed review of the Return to Krondor game including spoilers, plot holes, and impacts it could have on the adventure genre, please see my Backseat Game Designer page. Enjoy the game!



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