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Game Profile
Game Boy
Vivendi Games
Pocket Studios
October 30, 2002
Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest

Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest

More in this Series
 Written by Ilan Mejer  on October 30, 2002

Review: J.R.R. Tolkien's classic tale is now on the Game Boy Advance. Based off the books, and not the recent movie, can it live up to novels?

Seeing Tolkien's classic Lord of the Rings novels take some sort of shape outside of an actual book form can be painful for enthusiasts. While it is highly debatable whether the late 70s, early 80s animated motion pictures, or even Peter Jackson's recent movie debut truly capture the spirit and poetry of the original works, this game isn't based off any of those motion pictures. Therefore, since FotR on the GBA is based off the actual book license, you would hope that the Tolkien experience would translate itself more faithfully as an RPG game. If you are looking for some sort of answer, then here it is: It does not. Lord of the Rings for the Gameboy Advance is a terrible adaptation of the fantasy classic, in every possible sense.

Since this game is based off the original novel, it has to pass through the Tolkien Estate's strict guidelines, one of which was the inclusion of every major event from the books. This is a departure from what was allowed for the recent movie, as videogame adaptations from that could remove the same scenes Peter Jackson opted out of. Unfortunately, the developers focused so much on making sure that all of ?those little details? got included in their game that they actually managed to completely forget to develop the main plot and any of the characters.

FotR is a game Tolkien enthusiasts will universally fail to embrace and casual RPG lovers whom are not ?Tolkien literate? will fail to understand. It is true that you will be able to explore the Barrow Downs, and meet up with the quirky Thom Bombadil, two elements sorely lacking in the recent movie. However, What you will not experience is any kind of true plot or character development. From the beginning of the game up until the end, if you are not previously familiar with them, you will not be able to understand, recognize, or sympathize with the nine heroes who make up the fellowship. To add insult to injury, the actual RPG engine that the game is built around is shallow, slow, unintuitive, and mindlessly boring.

This game takes stats, experience, and even money and throws it all completely out the window. Characters can only be differentiated by two stats, Health and Skill. Combat is also predetermined, crafted as to be ?special events.? This means that experience points (or EPs) and currency must be found through exploration and the furthering of the game's plot. EPs are awarded after special in-game events, and can be used to occasionally power up either a character's health or skill, and sometimes only those of a specific character. Money is found lying around in predetermined areas or awarded occasionally. Both EPs and gold are carefully controlled elements, essentially destroying the RPG experience for those who love to level-up independently, or manage a party's equipment.

The core of any RPG, its combat engine, is so fatally flawed in FotR that is boggles the mind. Off the bat, the enemy gains initiative in combat. Alone, this is merely an annoyance. However, combined with the fact that combat crawls so slowly, it quickly becomes a factor to the game's repetitiveness. For every character or enemy who attacks in the battle, you'll have to sit through extensive and awkwardly animated depictions of them inching their way to their target, attacking, and crawling their way back to their ranks. Additionally, perhaps because the game is not stat based, hit detection seems to be completely random. Seemingly despite the skill stat, attackers (enemy or player characters) miss approximately half of the time. This only serves to extend combat sequences even more. For an RPG this shallow, combat should take no more than a few seconds, yet battles in Lord of the Rings tend to span upward of five or more minutes each, after the first hour or so.

At the least, exploring Middle-Earth should have been visually entertaining. The books alone are extremely descriptive, and for those less visually inspired, the new movie is surprisingly faithful to the spirit of Tolkien-visualization. Why then, is Fellowship of the Rings on the Gameboy Advance so graphically impaired? Even with optimal lighting conditions, characters and creatures are generally poorly animated, colorless blobs. The game's few menus and inventory icons are equally lacking in color or detail. Combat and enemy sprites are also generically depicted, lacking color and flash of any sort.

The music and sounds are just as inconsistent as the graphics and gameplay are bland. Songs will occasionally pop up, seemingly at random, play for a number of loops, and then just as mysteriously vanish. On one occasion a somewhat memorable exploration theme popped up, continued despite the fact that a combat sequence had started, and faded halfway through combat. The silence continued for the duration of that particular play session. Sound effects are mostly non-existent, and what little you do hear during combat comes off as muffled and generic.

Controlling poor, ugly Frodo and his stalwart band is as painful a process as they are hideous. Normally, in a 2D videogame, pushing in a specific direction will cause the on-screen character to travel in that direction. Unfortunately, FotR's technical problems spill into the control department as well. Collision detection with background objects is extremely flawed, occasionally causing the controls to simply fail. Manipulating Frodo feels much like driving a vehicle in a top-down racing game, as hitting a boundary or obstacle will more often then not force Frodo to continue traveling a direction completely irrespective of whatever button the d-pad you are currently pressing.

Conversations merely inflict more pain upon the player. Theoretically, in order to enter a conversation, you must get within a certain distance of a NPC, and press the action button once the speech bubble denoting an encounter appears. However, that little speech bubble will quite often fail to appear, forcing you to haplessly circle the non-player character and mashing the action button, all the time wondering just what is going on. This is a severe problem since the opening of the game, since much of your interactions within the Hobbit's Shire will involve a slew of neighbors and their insipid fetch quests.

Bottom Line
Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings on the Game Boy Advance is not a game I could recommend to anyone. Tolkien-lovers will loathe the manner in which the beloved character and story development was left out. RPG enthusiasts will fail to be excited by the tepid gameplay. Those out simply to experience a decent story at all costs will be confounded by what FotR offers them. I simply cannot imagine what someone who is completely new to Middle-Earth would make of this game or the story it proposes to tell. For example, the One Ring itself has been completely degraded from a major artifact to an occasional key-type item. If I was not already intimately aware of what the One Ring is, where it came from, or how it corrupts its wielders, I would not understand why Frodo must lead a Fellowship to the fires of Mount Doom to destroy it, as the game itself offers up very few opportunity for answers.

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