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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Review By:  Nick Arvites

Developer:  Pocket Studios
Publisher:  Black Label Games (Universal)
# of Players:  1
Genre:  RPG
ESRB:  Everyone
Date Posted:  11-20-02

OK, before we begin this review, I need to confess. I am a major Tolkien and Lord of the Rings fan. Iíve read the books, seen the movie, will see the Two Towers on opening day, have a collection of Lord of the Rings junk floating around my room and am just generally a fan of the literary work known as Lord of the Rings. When Black Label Gamesí GBA adaptation of Fellowship of the Rings landed on my desk, I was happy. The game was not going to follow the movie and stay true to the book in RPG format. I did not think they could go wrong. Then I made the mistake of inserting the game into my Game Boy Advance.

If you have not read the book Fellowship of the Ring, stop reading this and go read the book. If you are interested in this game, you should have already read the book so the game makes sense. What does this mean? Well, the game does a pathetic job of transferring the dialog between characters from the book to the game. For example, when you initially start your quest and Gandalf the wizard notices Sam eavesdropping, he says, "Samwise, were you listening to our conversation? Youíll just have to go with Frodo." If that was not bad enough, Samís entire response is, "An adventure? Yay!" Even the Peter Jackson film portrayed Sam to be a forced and unwilling companion to Frodo. It only goes downhill from there. Since it does follow the book, many people who have only seen the movie will be extremely confused. First, Merry does not join you until you get halfway to Bree. You have exchanges and quests with missing/movie cut characters like Tom Bombadil and Farmer Maggot (who is not just a pitchfork in a cornfield).

Since this is an RPG-style game, one would expect a level-up and battle system. What this game delivers is a half-hearted attempt to both. The level-up system sucks. Plain and simple, it does not work. You do not gain experience from battle. Instead, you level up when you accomplish a certain task. This is not spread out evenly between the Fellowship and I did not even level up most of the characters added at Rivendell. This directly affects the battle system. The first part of the game is a pain to get through since the four hobbits are TERRIBLE at combat. If they hit ANYTHING, it is a miracle. Once you gain Strider, Gandalf, Boromir, Legolas and Gimli, the battles become much easier. However, I can only think of one time where one of those characters leveled up. For some reason, Gimli could not hit a single enemy (I think he only hit about 10 times through the course of the game) and Legolas could not fire any bow after the initial one due to some stupid glitch I encountered. Gandalf is a wizard. As a wizard, you would think he could perform some sort of magic. The sad fact is Gandalf is much more effective with his sword than he is with his crappy magic staff. He takes off about 8 points of damage spread out across multiple enemies. The battles move at a painfully slow pace. The enemy slowly walks to the character, hits it and slowly walks back. The initial battles took me about 5 minutes and the later ones (with more enemies) took longer than that because of the slow movements.

Fellowship of the Ring is an extremely inconsistent game. Initially, the game seems to offer many side-quests ala Baldurís Gate (you know, Fed-Ex style). However, these seem to get rarer after Bree. The game also seems to have puzzle aspects such as the Old Forest and the Mines of Moria. However, this is butchered and serves to make the game so frustrating that many players will never want to play again. The Old Forest is a maze like the Lost Woods of the classic "The Legend of Zelda." However, this maze is terrible. The only reason I actually got out is because I sat down and mapped it. Yes, the entire forest. What I found is that most of the paths lead to the same areas or to the start. There really is not any sort of method to it. I wasted two hours of my life while eating pizza and watching an NFL game doing this. I seriously doubt anyone else will be that dedicated to do that. The Mines of Moria are simply impassable without exploiting known glitches in the game (more on those later). You need to find runes to open doors and advance into the mines. Just one thing, there are not enough runes to go around. You need to use the clone-item glitch to get past this stage. The game seems to die off after Rivendell. You do much less exploring and are now facing a very linear path. After Moria, you walk through the Golden Woods and then walk through the wilderness by the waterfalls. After that, the game ends. You spend more time before Bree than you do afterwards.

If you havenít guessed yet, this game is buggy. Actually, buggy is not the word. I have played BETA TEST GAMES that were less buggy than this final version. First, you can clone ANY item by dropping it on the ground, saving and reloading. There are now two items where only one should be. This makes it possible to arm four hobbits with Mithiril chain mails and Stings and possible to complete Moria without spiking your GBA. Actually, I spoke too soon. There is a spot in the Mines of Moria where the game simply freezes during a fade-in/fade-out. The way you are supposed to get around this is by quickly holding the L trigger or pressing the Start button during the fadeout. It will take you several chances and it will make you angry. This should NOT be in a final version. OK, maybe the dropped item trick could get through testing, but how in the blue hell can a major glitch like this remain in a final version? There are several other random freezes in the game and several side-quests you cannot actually perform because of freezes (such as the spider clean out quest in the old forest). Playing this game really makes me think that Iím playing a test version. It is completely inexcusable for something like this to even be released to the public for FREE, let alone 30 bucks.

The sound would have been the major upside to this game. It fits the mood. If youíre out in the wilderness, it has an adventuresome theme. If youíre in Moria or on Weathertop, you hear spooky music. Elven areas often have melodic yet seemingly sad tunes. The music in this game is actually great...WHEN IT WORKS. I PLAYED 3/4THS OF THIS GAME IN SILENCE. THE MUSIC CUTS OUT. HOW DID THIS GET IN THE FINAL VERSION OF THE GAME?

The control in this game reminds me of RC Pro-Am. The characters walk like a remote control car would drive. That means inexplicable circles or going the wrong way. Sometimes NPCís who are supposed to talk to you do NOT talk, so you have to circle them jamming the action button. The barter system is terrible. I never really did figure out how much things cost in this game. They tell you how much currency you have in numbers, but tell you the item cost in gold or bronze coin symbols.

This game (minus the glitches) is pretty good graphically. I think it did do Tolkienís world justice in every aspect except for character portraits. The pictures they use are HIDEOUS. It is really hard to call the Elves a fair people when the pictures they use make them look like they met the wrong end of a train wreck. The cut-screen graphics are done beautifully. While these are not animated cut-screens, the shot-by-shot progression looks great. Too bad it is only used three times.

Highs:

  • Based on the first installment of Lord of the Rings
  • Music (when it works)

Lows:

  • Buggy as hell
  • Based on the first installment of Lord of the Rings
  • Dialog is terrible
  • The game seems unfinished

Final Verdict:

How is this gameís license a high and low? Well, Lord of the Rings makes anything better, even terrible games, just because it carries that license. However, I personally think that whirring noise Iím hearing is JRR Tolkien spinning in his grave. This game does NOT live up to the monolithic status of the novels and seems like a really terrible attempt at an adaptation. They butchered the dialog and released a game so buggy that it makes it unplayable. Black Label Games should be ashamed of themselves for releasing such a buggy product. There are massive problems in the gaming world right now because companies think consumers will not notice the massive amounts of bugs in games.

I realize these guys wanted to rush this game to beat out EAís version of the Two Towers, but this is simply irresponsible. They should have delayed the game and made it feel like it was completed instead of rushing the product to beat out the second installment. Lord of the Rings sells no matter what, but I really do not want people to have this taint in their memory of Lord of the Rings. This game should be filed in the category of "would be a fairly good game if the lazy designers would have gotten off their asses and play-tested it" category. If you really want to break your GBA out of frustration or cannot accept the fact that anything based on Tolkienís works can be utter crap, play this game.

Overall Score: 4.0

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