Tuesday 8 August 2017

Kyrandia - Final Rating

Written by Alfred n the Fettuc

It is time for King Brandon’s adventures to be tested and thoroughly examined through the PISSED rating system. Will the beautiful universe crafted by Westwood be enough to forgive some lacklustre puzzle design or will Kyrandia disappear into the depths of our leaderboard? Let’s find out!

Puzzles and Solvability

Ok so let’s get this out of the way : some of the puzzles in this game are rubbish! Let’s examine them in further details :
  • The Birthstone puzzle : The point here is to make you believe you can solve this puzzle with brainpower. The clues given by Darm tend to point to the fact that each stone is represented by a season and that the first one is summer. You turn around dozens of similar looking screen in order to “farm” gemstones and have as many as possible at your disposal, then you try them all in and… none works! The reason for that is that the first gem is the only one that’s so hidden it resorts to pure luck to find it (or, you know, just clicking everywhere until something happens, which was never good puzzle design in the first place). Then, once you’ve passed this roadblock, you just randomly put a lot of different gems until something works. Rubbish.

Yay I’ve randomly put random color gems in a random order!
  • The potions puzzle : A little less aggravating, the alchemy puzzle still resorts too much on trial and error. You have to understand that the potions need a flower or fruit and a gemstone to work, and then you have to go back aaaaall the way to Timbermist in order to get the gemstones you think might work with your limited inventory space… Then you have to mix them in order to finally get the potion you need. Don’t get me started on the fact that the Emerald is needed in the yellow potion… The worst part is that Brandon is teasing you by complaining there is no magic recipe book while Zanthia’s lab seems to be full of them… Meh. A few clues would not have been luxury.
  • Finally the contestant that single-handedly removes one point in this category : the bell puzzle. Four bells to ring. One order to find. No clue. Enough said.
The rest of the puzzles are pretty nice. I know a lot of people hated the maze but I kinda liked it. At least it makes sense and consistent mapping is the answer. A few areas requiring pixel hunting are bothersome and there are a few possible dead-ends. However, the magic powers and a few simple puzzles are pleasant. The final fight is also kinda anticlimactic.

Final Score: 3. Alternating between okey and meh. Would have gotten a 4 if not for some bells.

Interface and Inventory

The interface is extremely simple to say the least. One click does it all. Click on a character to talk to him, click on an item to take it, click in your inventory to take an item and then click it on something else to interact. Put your mouse on the side of the screen and it changes to a nice white arrow if you can move this way or a mean crossed red circle if you can’t. The magic powers settle comfortably in the bottom-right of your screen once you get them and everything is kept as straightforward as possible. The only complaint I have is that there is no “look” option which could have been useful once in a while.

You can identify exits pretty quickly while entering a room. Good for all the labyrinths out there.

The inventory is great. When you grab an item, it goes nicely into one of the little boxes and dropping an item somewhere makes it bounce on the screen. That’s something that will be perfectly realized in the sequel, where the inventory has a real “physical” feeling, but there is already something satisfying in managing items that feel like they have some kind of weight. The only complaint I might have would be with the limited inventory space (only ten items) but it avoids the feeling of being cluttered by items you can sometimes have in the sequel. All in all, very nice streamlined work there.

Final Score: 7

Story and Setting
The story itself is your classic “castaway prince in search of his parents/princess/heirloom”. As you guys noted, it bears many similarities to King’s Quest and it’s aware of that. It goes with the “let’s take someone else’s idea and perfect it” that goes with many of Westwood games (Eye of the Beholder is a more advanced copy of Dungeon Master while Command & Conquer is a new take on Dune 2, which is itself inspired by Herzog Zwei) and it’s alright. I mean, Blizzard has been doing the same thing for years...

I’m sure I can see Daventry from there...

Kyrandia has yet to find its complete silliness that will permeate the two sequels and is more akin to a classic fantasy world, even with a few touches of silly here and there. The fact that nearly everybody you meet knows Brandon and his destiny is a nice touch as well that gives backstory to the world. Malcolm is a great villain, and if anything, he doesn’t get enough screen time. I wanted to see him blow other squirrels up! The perfect graphics and sounds (more on that later) add to the atmosphere and round up Kyrandia as a very loveable setting.

Final Score: 6. Too much classicism for its own good, but classicism done right.

Sound and Graphics

Well you have seen that one coming. As you already know or as you can see from the screenshots, this game is gorgeous. It’s a testament of how fantastic 2D graphics hold the test of time. Compare this game to 3D games of the same era, and the difference is astonishing. This game was released the same year as Alone in the Dark

Graphics of the past

Graphics of the future

The art style is top notch and is one of the main reasons the game is still highly regarded as one of the great classics of adventure gaming. Getting lost in Kyrandia really feels like an adventure and you never know what fantastic sight awaits you behind the next corner. The sequel would keep on improving in this area but the third episode will be marred by the beginning of 3D effects and doesn’t look as great in comparison...

And the music… Oh wow the music. It’s the perfect blend of adventuring and mystery. It oozes “magic” with its tunes only. It’s hard to imagine Frank Klepacki, the composer, was only 18 at the time! It’s saying something about the talent of the guy. He would later go on to compose the Command & Conquer soundtrack including the fabulous “Hell March” for Red Alert. This guy is my new hero. Anyway, I can’t tell enough good things about the music. Just listen to the Timbermist theme and you’ll understand what I’m talking about…

Final Note: 9. I don’t like the idea of putting a 10 there in 1992, but let’s all assume it’s a 9.5

Environment and Atmosphere

The environments of Kyrandia, being served by such a great art style, are top notch. Brandon evolves in lovely forests, mystery caves, and a frankly frightening derelict castle. All of these places ooze style and magic. Add to this that every environment has its own music theme, and you’re always evolving into fabulous environments.

You have to wonder though : was this fireplace already here in
Brandon’s childhood? Nice way to keep baby Brandon far from the fire.

Despite its classicism, Kyrandia is wonderful. What the sequels will gain in silliness, they will lose in coherence. Zanthia and Malcolm’s future adventures will bring them to all kind of weird places but at least this first vision of Kyrandia makes sense. Dragons, imps and magic are common things and everybody is living their quiet lives in this world until some maniac jester decides it should be otherwise.

The only criticism I have to make is that, by the time you’re done with a specific environment, like the forest or the cave, this one has started to overstay its welcome. By the end of the game, you don’t want to see another generic forest screen and the idea of returning into the caves can make you shiver. Other than that, this is another area where Kyrandia shines.

Final Score: 7. Classic, but coherent, this vision of the world of Kyrandia is the more to the point, despite being a bit too serious or repetitive sometimes.

Dialog and Acting

The dialog in the game is mostly funny. Be it the crazy old Darm bickering with his dragon Brandywine, or the perfectly grim jokes made by Malcolm, they do much to flesh out the game. They are quite short and to the point, even a little too much sometimes. Once a character has said his lines, there is no getting back for further questioning. No dialogue choices either, which is not necessarily a bad point, but you can sometimes feel a little lost due to lack of instructions.

Darm the senile wizard is a personal favorite of mine.

All the characters exist in some manner. Malcolm is dangerously mad. Zanthia is tired to be the only semi-competent wizard around. Darm is completely senile. Herman is absent-minded, etc… the only sour point being Brandon. He spends his time moaning and complaining to the point where the routine starts to be tiring instead of funny. And his voice actor is not doing anything to help there (see the perfect transition to the voice acting…)

So voice acting, hey? Well, the voice actors are mostly competent, with everyone doing their jobs. Malcolm tends to stand out, but it’s always easier to act the part of the crazed clown with a few great lines. The voice actor for Kane/Brandon, though, is always whining and ends up being just irritating, which is a shame, considering he is the voice you’ll hear the most during the course of your adventure. Nothing worth cutting the voices though. And Brandon as a character totally redeems himself by punching Malcolm in the nose.

Final Score: 5. Nice lines and to the point, but lacking somehow. And Brandon needs to stop whining all the time!

Final Score

Hence, the final score is (3+7+6+9+7+5)/0.6 = 62! Just a few points short of entering the leaderboard. I don’t know how I feel about that. It’s a great game, great ambiance and good memories, but in the meantime, its shortcomings in the puzzle department more than justify this score. Take the exact same puzzle design with graphics and sound a little less memorable and Kyrandia would have disappeared from adventure game history with a lot of his competitors. Now it sits there, firmly in the 20-something best games of our blog, but below Space Quest IV or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and it feels like this spot suits it.

Raifield and Fry, congratz, you get CAPs! Also worth noting is that Charles nailed the second Straight of the year.

Thank you for reading and thanks to all the followers and Kyrandia fans out there, proving that this game still has a bright future among retro adventure gamers. Let’s hope there will be many more people yelling at the Birthstones or the Bells puzzle in the next 50 years!

Here are some CAPs for your troubles, now:

CAP Distribution

100 CAPs for Alfred n the Fettuc
  • Blogger Award - 100 CAPs - For blogging through Legend of Kyrandia for our enjoyment
50 CAPs for TBD
  • Classic Blogger Award - 50 CAPs - For blogging through Leather Goddesses of Phobos for our enjoyment
32 CAPs to Andy Panthro
  • True Companion Award - 25 CAPs - For playing along Kyrandia with Alfred and recording the tale in his own blog
  • Helping Hand Award - 5 CAPs - For giving hints to other people playing Kyrandia
  • Eye of the Beholder Award - 2 CAPs - for identifying the ankh from EOB
28 CAPs for Alex Romanov
  • Kyrandia Trivia Wizard Award - 15 CAPs - For voluminous information about Kyrandia
  • Le Hareng Rouge Award - 3 CAPs - For translating Red Herring from Latin
  • Slightly Low Prediction Award – 10 CAPs – for guessing within one point the score of Leather Goddesses of Phobos
25 CAPs to Laukku
  • Box Archivist Award - 5 CAPs - For linking to some photos of the floppy version of Kyrandia
  • Helping Hand Award - 5 CAPs - For helping people find Kyrandia in GOG and pointing out a patch to its floppy version
  • Google User Award - 1 CAPs - For finding the reference to pseudobushia
  • Zombie Award - 4 CAPs  - For pointing out some possible dead ends in Kyrandia
  • King Graham Award - 5 CAPs - For finding an obvious nod to another adventure game series
  • Cruelty Scale Award - 5 CAPs - For starting an interesting discussion about dead ends in adventure games
10 CAPs for Alex
  • Slightly High Prediction Award – 10 CAPs – for guessing within one point the score of Leather Goddesses of Phobos
10 CAPs for Fry
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the correct score for Legend of Kyrandia
10 CAPs for Raifield
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the correct score for Legend of Kyrandia
10 CAPs to Charles
  • Perfectly Straight - 10 CAPs - For nailing the second Straight of the year
8 CAPs to Joe Pranevich
  • Fair Use Award – 8 CAPs – for having his Starcross “Like this but in space” joke blatantly stolen by TBD during Leather Goddesses of Phobos - - TWICE!
5 CAPs for Reiko
  • Twisty, All Alike Award - 5 CAPs - For giving a hint about a maze section in Kyrandia
3 CAPs for Voltgloss
  • Horse Feeder Award - 3 CAPs - For pointing out an use for alfalfa
3 CAPs for Seabadger
  •  American Gem Society Award - 3 CAPs - For giving us insight on birthstones
-10 CAPs for Jim Walls
  • Harassment Award - - 10 CAPs - For picking the wrong door in The Adventure Gamer -dungeon


  1. Good run, I enjoyed your notes a lot. Will look forward to this blog since 1990 onwards are the games which I played, disassembled, talked with creators, know all sorts of trivia (at least for some of them).

  2. Excellent and fair review. Funny that despite accusations of ripping off King's Quest, it still scored significantly higher than any KQ game so far (but that may change with KQ6). The sequel has a slightly less coherent plot, but otherwise retains the roughly same quality and has MUCH better puzzle design, so it may have a chance of entering the leaderboard.

    1. I'm a little surprised it's scored higher than KQ5, especially by six points! Such is the nature of the PISSED system and the fact we have many different reviewers I suppose.

    2. Yeah. The PISSED system is somewhat designed to take reviewer enjoyment out of the picture, but the individual reviewer also subtly affects all ratings.

      As I mentioned earlier, I HATE this game. I don't have the nostalgia factor as I only played it a few years ago. I sometimes think it would be interesting to see what other reviewers would score a game before realising we've got enough on our plates with the games we ARE reviewing.

      Would my personal dislike of mazes, dead-ends and trial-and-error puzzles have affected my review much? At a guess, I'd say I'd probably have scored a point or two lower in the P and I categories and my dislike of the game would likely have made me less appreciative of the E.

      It still would have gotten a good score from me, but I'd grumble to myself as I gave it.

      Maybe I should do a game I hate in future just to see what would happen. I hated Lure of the Temptress, which Alex is due to play soon. Looking through our list, the next game I hate is far far away with Sherlock Holmes and the Silver Earring. I'll pick that up when we get to 2004! But hey, with a bit of luck maybe I'll hate Quest for Glory I.

    3. KQ5 got a similar score but scored lower in story and E, and got a minus point to boot. I think the puzzles are a little worse in KQ5 too, but both games got a 3.

      Sometimes I think it'd be interesting to let multiple people rate a game, and calculate the final rating from the average of those, but as TBD said you seem already busy enough with the current model.

    4. The final ratings are hard. We have some guides that are shared with the authors that help make the ratings as fair as possible, but every game and every reviewer is somewhat different. The best we can say is that games are a subjective experience. In the couple of cases where multiple reviewers played the same games, the scores come out pretty close. (For example, Ilmari and I on the Infocom mysteries.)

      (There are also some basic checks-and-balances in scores, as well. The final rating posts are available to be read by at least Ilmari, TBD, and I before they go out. If any of us have a disagreement with the score, we'd discuss it before it makes the blog proper.)

      (I think about this stuff far too much and do not want to bore everyone with "shop talk". Having good final ratings is something that is important to me, too.)

    5. Thus far, the game I have hated THE MOST to play was "Cruise for a Corpse". No game pissed me off as much as that one did, over and over again. And yet, it's not the lowest score I've done so far.

      But I'd rather play a dozen middling-quality text adventures than touch that one ever again.

    6. I think there's some inevitable subjectivity in any rating system, and PISSED isn't an exception - for instance, what I consider an interesting and thought-provoking story might be too far out there for another person. Still, I can live with a potential scale of possible scores a game could get and I wouldn't be too worried, unless some truly gross inconsistencies come out (like Emannuelle getting a score in 60s).

      Personally, I'd be against averaging scores from different reviewers, since averaging tends to lose information. At least it would have to be combined with some regard to the variance of different scores reviewers have given of the same game. But the major problem is, of course, that we rarely have the time to let multiple people play the same game.

      Joe mentioned text-adventures and it's obvious that they can never get truly high scores, because of the lack of graphics and sounds. Trickster conceived PISSED originally for graphical adventures, so this is understandable.

  3. Great review! I thought for sure this game was leaderboard-bound, if only it had better puzzles! I look forward to your next review. (I know you had some time pressures for this one and thanks for pushing through.)

  4. I see that Serrated Scalpel is coming up which is my next main-line review. I just ordered it from Amazon, but is there a difference between the floppy and CD-ROM versions? I'm trying to avoid spoilers so I'm googling very carefully. (I know that the game is well-liked but I had never heard of it before this blog.)

    1. I've only played the floppy version, but only the 3DO version has full voice acting AFAIK (with live action portraits). I tried a downloaded copy of the DOS CD version once but didn't notice any difference. The floppy version has voice acting in a couple of cutscenes.

      It will almost definitely go straight to the top five. Personally I think it's better than Fate of Atlantis (which I find a bit overrated).

    2. Oh, I just remembered... in vanilla DOSBox 0.74, there is a bug that causes the program to crash with Serrated Scalpel when digitised sound effects are played (for example, in the intro when the alley cat knocks over the bottle). I recommend downloading a version with up-to-date code from here: http://blog.yesterplay80.net/dosbox-ece-en/

    3. The first Sherlock Holmes Mythos game, indeed, only the 3DO version is fully voiced, and if I remember correctly, the CD version is exactly the same as the floppy one. Maybe it was released later to avoid using 9 diskettes as the original release (was it 9 ? can't remember).

      Also, Fate of Atlantis is what I consider the best game ever made, in all genres, the one I have analyzed for at least 15 years. Looking forward to that playthrough.

    4. Mobygames Trivia section seems to confirm Laukku and Alex's memories...

      "The Disk version and CD-Rom version of The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes are exactly the same"

  5. Ohh mastering the Straights, yeah!
    Off to a rough start for the third one as I never imagined Fascination would surpass Hook, but still too early to tell!

  6. Great playthrough. I was a little sad to find that the game didn't completely match up to my memories and its flaws were a bit too much to ignore. Before replaying this I would have said it's a solid 7/10 game at least, but not now.

    The gorgeous hand-painted graphics are indeed the draw here, along with a charming story that borrows liberally from generic fantasy but still manages to create an enticing world of its own. And Malcolm is wonderful fun. Yet the story isn't deep and Brandon remains empty throughout.

    But the poor puzzle design, extensive back tracking and trial-and-error are such let downs. I also hate the maze like environments (not just the cave maze, everywhere!) which are largely filled with empty screens.

    The sequel is much better.

    1. Agreed about the second game. However, I finally played the last game just a couple of years ago, and it was my least favourite. Boring story, music and visuals, and possibly even more tedious than the first.

    2. I've never been able to get very far into the third game for similar reasons. Something didn't click. I'll look forward to when the blog gets around to it, though, and give it another go.

    3. I think factors like the characters' mild reactions to everything contribute to a lack of stakes and emotional depth in the story. Even though the stories in all games are thin, they're more engaging in the first two with more emotional range to the characters: this game here has Brandon's concern for his grandfather manifest in many interactions in the first room, he becomes obsessed with revenge upon learning of his true, tragic past from Zanthia, not to mention touches like Brandon burying his face in his hands during said conversation.

    4. Spot on. If I recall, the third game even had a laughter track added, didn't it? What a bizarre choice.