By: Matthew Striplen
Ever read one of those gamebooks that lets the reader make their own choices for the adventure? Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! is actually an adaptation of one such book, but chances are you’ve never read one like this before. Sorcery puts the player in the role of a hero on their quest to recover the Crown of Kings, a magical artifact of immense power. Sounds simple, right?
Sorcery‘s controls are very basic and consist mostly of pointing and clicking. Every action is made by clicking a button on the screen or dragging the character to the desired location. It’s simple and straightforward, just how it should be. The only problem is you must discover the controls for themselves, which may lead to overlooking a few key abilities.
Sorcery‘s graphics take direct inspiration from the print medium, and even include the original illustrations by John Blanche. His style ranges from elegant to grotesque, which perfectly captures the diverse cast of characters found in this world. Every inch of the game bursts with detail and care, especially the overworld, which is drawn in the style of an old, mysterious map.
Sound plays an interesting role in Sorcery. Actual music is confined mostly to the title screen and areas where music would be present in-game — classical music nerds may recognize some famous melodies. Outside these areas, the sounds consist of ambient noise, like the chatter of a crowded street or birds chirping in the trees. This helps immerse players in this primarily text-based world.
Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! plays very much like its gamebook counterpart. The player is constantly faced with decisions, both trivial and major, and the sheer number of paths ensures that no two playthroughs will be the same.
Easily the most important part of any text game is the strength of the writing. Fortunately, Steve Jackson‘s writing consistently depicts the world in vivid detail without ever getting cumbersome or verbose.
Our hero possesses three gauges: stamina, gold and rations. Stamina functions like a health bar and gold should be self explanatory. Just like real people, our hero must eat at least once daily to avoid negative effects. If food cannot be found in the environment, a ration may be consumed. These are quite difficult to come by, so use them wisely.
As one might expect, sorcery is a vital component in the game. There’s a massive book of spells, each with a unique effect, so be sure to get a working knowledge of the most important abilities before you get too far.
Each spell has a unique casting cost, which is usually a few stamina points, though others require special items. Keep an eye out for unusual items, as you never know what might help you on your adventure.
Possibly the hero’s most important ability is rewinding time. The player can undo any action at any time, just like they would in the gamebook format. This isn’t limited to a few turns, either. Players can rewind all the way to the start of the chapter if desired.
However, object persistence does not apply, so all items, money, or stamina earned or lost in the time skip will be returned to their original locations. Certain scenarios allow the player to rewind and keep their progress, but these come with its own repercussions.
This world is filled with monsters and other fearsome creatures, so battle is inevitable. Spells can be cast before entering hand-to-hand combat, but no magic is allowed once this has begun. Fights feature a betting turn-based system.
Both belligerents possess a health meter and an attack power gauge — which can be seen in the screenshot — and the player must wager a certain amount of attack power, which determines the damage dealing potential of the strike. If your number is higher than your opponent, your strike negates theirs and they receive damage.
The greater the discrepancy between the numbers, the more damage will be dealt, but the power that has been bet will be spent regardless of the turn’s outcome. A small amount of attack power regenerates each turn, but it’s easy to deplete your reserves if you constantly hit hard.
Battles aren’t just about attacking your enemy. Should you choose to not bet any attack power, the hero will assume a defensive stance, which reduces the damage taken to a single point, regardless of the power bet by the opponent. This is great for tiring out the enemy, as your own power regenerates much more when defending. However, this means even the slightest tap will still deal damage. Gambling is the name of the game.
Sorcery‘s three chapters take our hero through a variety of locations, from the bustling city of Khafré to the deserted wilderness. Supporting characters come and go, so make the most of what they have to offer. That said, just about everyone and everything will rob or kill you given the chance.
Each chapter feels pretty much the same, which should not be misconstrued as a criticism. The second chapter gets a little bogged down, as the spell-finding quest takes quite a bit of time. However, the whole thing can be skipped, should you be brave enough to face the consequences.
Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! is an adventure filled to the brim with content. If you’re a fantasy or RPG fan, there will be plenty to enjoy. The spells alone present countless opportunities for creativity, but the real draw are the player’s choices.
Each decision carries a tremendous amount of weight, for better or for worse and since each playthrough depends entirely on the choices made, most gamers will definitely want to replay this in the future. Plus, the innovative combat system never disappoints. Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! is an absolute must play.