Philosopher's Quest is a frustrating game. You want to like it because it has some ingenious puzzles and solutions but you'll also be frustrated by the sadistic nature of some of the more difficult ones.
Philosopher's Quest's entire construct is nicely mirrored by the first two puzzles. The first is almost brilliant in its design. You're in a room with a list of objects when an omniscient and omnipotent voice tells you to take only two objects. A quick attempt at defying omnipotence will quickly assure you that disobeying the order will result in instant death.
Most gamers would just choose two and get on with the game. But Philosopher's Quest does allow for a burst of insight on your part -- in this case you can throw an object out of the room and then take two with you. As you're not actually leaving with the first object, you're technically not breaking the rules.
The second puzzle, on the other hand, is easily one of the more unfair puzzles you'll encounter in a text-based adventure game or any other genre for that matter. The puzzle requires you to get and use an object that is not anywhere in the room descriptions. There's not even a way for you to infer that the object exists, except by its absence. Once you find out how to solve the puzzle, it still doesn't make sense -- how could you get it if you didn't know it's there?
To be fair, the game does have a very nice built-in hint system that gives you the answer to the second puzzle. The hint system corresponds to a sheet of questions that's included with the game. To access the hint system, first you enter the command "help," then enter the question number corresponding to the puzzle on which you need a hint. At first, you'll get a very vague hint and a chance to ask for another. Each subsequent hint gets progressively more precise until the game nearly tells you exactly what to do.
There are other problems in Philosopher's Quest as well. The text parser is so primitive you often find yourself trying to come up with ways of phrasing things so the parser will understand what you want. The parser doesn't even let you look at or examine specific objects. Most damning of all, it's actually possible to get into rooms and then find yourself trapped with no available exit when you try to leave in the direction from which you came. When that happens and no explanation is forthcoming, you may just want to stop playing in disgust.
Philosopher's Quest is based on an old IBM 370 mainframe adventure game, Brand X. The game has some good moments but the problems easily overwhelm any positive elements. I'd recommend trying Philosopher's Quest only if you enjoy frustration.
Graphics: No graphics used.
Sound: No sound used.
Enjoyment: The game's philosophy of puzzle gaming for the sake of puzzles means precious little plot development and lots of puzzles that are so hard they're nearly sadistic. The limited parser is also a source of frustration.
Replay Value: For the most part, Philosopher's Quest is a linear adventure game without much to see and do in terms of branching from the plotline, making replay limited.
One of the oldest IF titles ever written (its first version was written in 1979 for the IBM 370 mainframe under the name Brand X), Philosopher's Quest gets my vote for having the most unfair first puzzle ever in a game.
The plot starts out intriguing enough: with you wishing you hadn't waved that old magic wand you found in the junk shop off Market Street. For when you did, the atmosphere turned inside out, taking you with it. And when it turned back again, the shop -- and the shopkeeper were no more...
Philosopher's Quest pioneers the concept of a "pure puzzle" IF-- games whose emphasis is on (very difficult) puzzle-solving than on plot and character development. The parser is very primitive, and won't recognize even common verbs such as EXAMINE (curiously, every Topologika game suffers from this, even years after the original parser was coded). This makes the solution to the first puzzle even more frustrating (hint: try to GET something that will help you out, though you can't see it anywhere in the description. Yeah, that's why it's a ridiculous puzzle). The game does have good writing and some clever puzzles, but you'll likely be too frustrated with the parser to get much enjoyment out of it.
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Phantom's Revenge, The, Count, The, Pick Up the Phone Booth and Die, Pentari: First Light, Pirate Adventure, Planetfall [Solid Gold], Other Worlds, Plan 9 from Outer Space
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