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Game ReviewsThe Lord of the Rings volume 1: The Fellowship of the Ring by Eonwe-(Valar)

The Lord of the Rings volume 1: The Fellowship of the Ring

July 21st, 2006
System: Super Nintendo
Developer: Interplay
Publisher: -

This is the first console game based on J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Originally intended for the Nintendo, it made its debut on the Super Nintendo in 1994. It was published by Interplay.

As its name implies, Lord of the Rings Volume 1 follows the story of the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring, taking Frodo from his comfortable home in the Shire to Galadriel's woodland realm of Lothlorien. The story is followed rather choppily, thrusting Frodo out on the road to Rivendell right after Bilbo vanishes at the duo's birthday party. Due to the technology of the time, however, this can be forgiven. The game makes an effort to include quests, such as rescuing Pippin from wolves and retrieving Gaffer's glasses for Sam, but with no way to actually track them in game, you have to keep mental notes (or paper ones). Even then, the focus is on the journey mostly, and it is a rather enjoyable journey. The music and ambience is good considering the technology of the time, though the death yells of the orcs can get a bit sharp. When you leave the Shire, you're warned not to cross the bridge, but to go to the Ferry, and if you take the bridge, you quickly find out why. In this game, the Ringwraiths are truly to be feared, killing in as few as one hit if you're not careful.

The journey is a long one, and it's one best taken with friends. As one of the few games utilizing the SNES Multitap, you can have up to 5 players at once, assuming you have as many controllers and playable characters. The first player can use the SNES Mouse if there's a lack of controllers, but it's not the best way to play. The first player controls Frodo, the second Sam, third Pippin, and fourth Merry. When you meet with Aragorn, he becomes the first player and the order shifts down, Merry going to Player 5. When you get Gimli, he takes Merry's place as the fifth controllable character. Gimli attacks real fast, getting in between 2 and 3 swings for every one swing of anyone else. Unfortunately, I have never seen in any game a more useless portrayal of a hero than Legolas. Here, Legolas does not attack, does not defend, but does get hit. The only redeeming factor here is that he is not with you long.

As I said, this is a trip best taken with friends. This is for two major reasons. First is the computer control of the characters. Sure, if no one else is playing them, Player 1 can keep them in tow using the right shoulder button to move them, attack or defend with them, and all in all try to keep them in line. However, you can't control your character and them at the same time. Each character, by Interplay's advertising on the box, has a unique AI, and for the most part this shows. Sam will usually stay near Frodo, while Pippin will jump at any chance to run off and leave you to your own devices. This happens so often, in fact, that after a while you begin to wonder if AI doesn't really mean "Artificial Ignorance." If you don't forcibly level Pippin up a bit (keeping him at least around Player 1's level), he can and will get himself killed.

The second reason to play this with friends is the size. It's not a terribly long game, once you know where you're going, but it's huge. There are many places where it's easy to get lost, since many of the places look the same (in some cases, such as the Barrow Downs, purposely). There are all the maps you need in the game manual. However, there are very few markers telling you when you can go look at a map. This is where your or your teammates' interest in cartography or drawing will come in handy (see why it's good to have a group now?). If you can make yourself a map for reference, navigating the areas will become easier, and you might just catch enough of the design in time to put the game manual's maps to use instead.

As with all RPGs, you level, get armor and weapon upgrades, and carry items in your inventory. This is where LotR, Vol 1 is lacking, though. The leveling system is simple, and that's good. You get upgrades through finding weapons and armor, and that's fine as well. More or less, all weapon and armor upgrades start at Player 1. If he has better or equal gear, it goes to the next in line. If it's an upgrade for him, he will take the item and pass his old item to the next in line, who will pass his down the line, etc until everyone has roughly the same stuff. There is no purchase of items in the game, and you can only hold one of any item at a time. If it's a healing item and you already have one of that type, it's automatically used. It's convenient for healing up after a particularly rough battle, but quite useless in the battle. Balancing that is that even if you could hold multiple of an item, there aren't a whole lot of items you'd want more than one of anyway. In addition to carrying all this, you also, of course, have the One Ring. You can equip if you really want, but it's pointless since even if you try to use it, it won't let you.

If either Aragorn or Frodo die, you lose and are given a password to restart from where you left off. You can also request one by hitting both shoulder buttons at the same time. The password isn't exact, however, so you may find yourself a step or two ahead of where you were when you last played in some cases. You can also go back to get members of your Fellowship who died during your last session. Make sure you copy down the password completely and correctly. I've had problems coming back and the password didn't work. Some of the letters are difficult to distinguish from one another (N and M especially).

Since the password save feature isn't an exact science, after you've beaten the game (I recommend doing that much first) you can go back and experiment with the password codes and get some interesting results. Enough study, and you can get Gandalf in your group at the beginning :} Other fun things to do once you beat the game is to go ahead and try to kill the Nazgul. With a partner, I've managed to kill at least 8. They respawn, though, so you have to keep moving forward and never turn back until you get to the other side :}

One more item gives this game points in the Tolkien department: it has Tom Bombadil. He will aid you in the Old Forest at least (you get to see your hobbit buddies exhibit more of their "AI" there).

Overall, the game is fun, and better with friends. Most of its problems can be forgiven in light of the technology of the time. The music is enjoyable, though the death sounds can be harsh on the ears.

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