The king is dead. The slimy lowlife that toasted him, Lord Grimnoth, has given you 100 days to turn over the crown of the kingdom (why he would do this after easily offing your dad is never quite explained) and you've had just about enough. So, you accept the Challenge of the Five Realms and set out on a journey filled with character interactions, mini-quests, battles and a purpose (to save the land, Alonia, from being plunged into eternal darkness at the hands of the evil Grimnoth). This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that Alonia is a world of light with no nights to speak of and thus, the hapless inhabitants are scared of the dark. The storyline is as old as they get in computer role playing game adventures -- head honcho is killed, kingdom is threatened, heir must save the day. That's not to say it's a bad thing. Challenge of the Five Realms has substance and depth and can be fun to play if you can overlook a few of the games more irritating failures.
The game utilizes an overhead view most of the time (with a multi-level zooming mode option available) and your character wanders around picking up supplies, weapons and magic spell paraphernalia. Dialogue in the game is very important and just about everyone you meet has a "personality" and something to offer. Unlike other similar games, this feature is somewhat innovative, as you don't know immediately whether the NPC (non-player character) is good or bad. This becomes relevant to the game's main quest as your party can consist of up to ten NPCs at any given time (and even more, as one NPC slot can be taken up by a group of NPCs) and you need to have a strong party to accomplish your goals. Quite a bit of humor is tucked away in the character dialogues which makes for some interesting and fun adventuring. Without doubt, the character generation feature of Challenge of the Five Realms is one of the strongest aspects of the game. Opt to use either the quick generation mode (not recommended), or manually generate your character by answering a series of well thought out, funny and pertinent questions that mold your character's traits. At any rate, you'll end up as one of four main types (magician, warrior, thief or diplomat) with some room for combinations.
On to the failures. A dismal combat mode. Sloppy mouse/icon interface. No keyboard shortcuts. Suspect AI intuition. The worst of these is the combat interface which is boring and disjointed and makes combat tedious. Problems occur with non-responsiveness of the mouse when clicking on the many game-control icons and there is no use for the keyboard other than an annoying notebook aspect which is better left alone. Occasionally you'll meet an NPC who is obviously inferior in strength yet the combat mode will react differently. Fortunately, overlooking these shortcomings is possible due to the inherent fun aspect of the game but patience is required.
Graphics: Colorful and bright, well done artwork.
Sound: Music is good but the sound is on the weak side.
Enjoyment: For all it's flaws, the game is actually fun to play. Good travel mode, good NPC interaction, solid story (though used before). Unfortunate weak game mechanics (clumsy mouse control) make playing a chore at times but not to the point of abandonment.
Replay Value: Really no point.
Subtitled "Spellbound in the World of Nhagardia", this little-known Microprose title came out the same year as their classic "Darklands" but garnered none of the cult following associated with that title. Although it was a fairly standard RPG for its time graphically (256-color VGA top-down view), it had a few unique twists.
As Prince of Alonia, you control a party of up to 10(!) characters, battling the evil lord Grimnoth in a standard fantasy setting. The game features "Ultima-style" character generation, in which your answers to situational questions help determine your character type (diplomat, warrior, thief, or wizard) and attributes. An immense number of skills and attributes, akin to that of Daggerfall or the later Realms of Arkania series, add variety to the gameplay, allowing puzzles to be solved in different ways. Dawdling endlessly in side quests to build up your party is not a good idea, as the player has 100 days to stop the encroaching Plague of Darkness, whose spread is shown graphically in the interface.
Challenge of The Five Realms (a.k.a. Spellbound in The World of Nhagardia) - this sadly overlooked RPG is part of MicroProse's brief foray into the genre. Although the setting is typical fantasy world, the plot is anything but typical: as a king of the Five Realms, you must disguise yourself and roam your empire to avert eventual doom and unite the bickering Realms. The plot moves along with vibrant graphics, memorable characters, and numerous side quests to guarantee months (if not years) of gameplay. A truly epic game from Microplay-- highly recommended for both casual and die-hard RPGers with lots of time on their hands ;) Designed by the same team that brought us the cult classic Bloodnet who later left MicroProse to form Take 2 Interactive.
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