Crystals of Arborea logo

Rollenspieler dürfen sich freuen, die Welt steht nämlich mal wieder kurz vor dem Untergang! Vier magische Kristalle sind verschwunden, und das Böse hockt auch schon in den Startlöchern - einem gelungenen Abend steht also nichts mehr im Wege. Oder doch?

Nie wieder selbst Kaffee kochen müssen, sämtliche neuen Spiele kostenlos frei Haus - all das und noch mehr erwartet denjenigen, der die sagenumwobenen Kristalle von Arborea besitzt! Schließlich verleihen die Klunker ihrem Herrn unermeßliche Macht, nur daß sie momentan halt leider unauffindbar sind.

Allein Prinz Jarel, der letzte Sproß der Sham Nir-Dynastie, hat die Kraft, sie wieder aufzutreiben. Jedenfalls, was die gute Seite betrifft, bei den Bösen hat bereits der Schurke Morgoth sein Interesse an den raren Steinchen angemeldet. Er hat auch gleich seine versammelten Schwarz-Elfen losgeschickt, damit die Guten nicht so allein beim Suchen sind...

Auf der Wanderschaft durchs Abenteuerland begleiten den Prinzen noch sechs Leute - Namen und Aussehen der Recken stehen fest, man kann lediglich den Beruf (Magier, Krieger, Kundschafter), die Charactereigenschaften (durch Punkteverteilen) und die Kleiderordnung (normale Klamotten, Kämpfer- oder Magiergewand) verändern.

Gesteuert wird die Party über eine Reihe übersichtlich angeordneter Icons per Maus, Joystick oder Keyboard. Bei der Darstellung auf dem Screen stehen zwei Möglichkeiten zur Wahl: Zum einen gibt's eine (zwei-dimensionale) Karte, auf der die Prinzentruppe und ihre Gegner durch verschiedenfarbige Pünktchen symbolisiert werden.

Das sieht nicht bloß langweilig aus, das schmeckt anscheinend auch dem Rechner nicht besonders - er braucht in diesem Modus immer ziemlich lange, bis er die angeordneten Bewegungen auf dem Bildschirm umsetzt. Wesentlich luxuriöser ist da schon die alternativ angebotene 3D-Darstellung, bei der man das schaurig schöne Geschehen aus Jarels Perspektive sieht: Büsche, Bäume, äxteschwingende Monster...

Der Dritte und letzte Grafikmodus erwartet den Spieler, sobald es zum Kampf kommt (man darf natürlich auch flüchten), dann wechselt das Szenario, und man kann de Jungs (von oben) dabei zuschauen, wie sie auf einer Art Mini-Schachbrett mit Schwertern und Zaubersprüchen um ihr Leben Fighten.

Im Vergleich mit aufwendig gemachten Rollenspielen wie "Dragonflight" oder "Legend of Faerghail", wirkt Crystals of Arborea eher dürftig. Die Landschaften und Monster sind zwar wunderhübsch anzusehen, aber den Sound kann man getrost vergessen, und vor allem die spielerischen Möglichkeiten sind durch die (wenigen) Icons sehr beschränkt.

Da aber die Steuerung wunderbar leicht von der Hand geht, können Jung-Abenteurer Gefallen an der Suche nach den magischen Steinchen finden. Routinierte Haudegen hingegen erfüllt das eklatante Substanzmangel des Games mit Grausen - da kocht man seinen Kaffee doch lieber selber... (C. Borgmeier)

Crystals of Arborea logo

There is one sort of person who is likely to get very excited about this indeed - the die-hard Lords of Midnight fan. Hey guys, this one is aimed directly at you, being nothing less (or more) than a French interpretation of Mike Singleton's 8-bit classic. Younger players may find it easier to liken it to Midwinter, but without the solid 3D graphics, futuristic scenario and certainly without the depth. They might also find themselves wondering what all the fuss was about.

So yes, it is a sort of strategy role-playing adventure, with you leading a team of six characters (a mix of warriors, wizards and rangers, of which you would be wise to take two of each) around a mysterious island in a mix of so-called 3D and overhead view map modes. The search is on for four crystals which have to be recovered and restored to their rightful places in towers dotted around the island - both crystals and towers are placed randomly each new game, so if you are so taken with Arborea that you would like to play it again and again it will be a different experience each time.

Most of your time is spent searching of course - not just for the crystals and the towers, but for various magical abilities (like healing potions, the ability to teleport and so on) which have to be found or earned (often by entering the house of a local warrior or wizard and answering a simple question) to give you any chance of completing the game.

It is not all walking about though (but there is a lot of it - the French programmers claim there are 16,000 different locations in the game!) as every so often things are broken up by the odd scrap with groups or baddies you will encounter. And I do mean 'odd' too - these are strange, grid-based strategic affairs, not unlike chess. This certainly is not a game you could accuse of being packed with gratuitous violent action.

And there we have it really. Crystals of Arborea can certainly be quite pretty (especially at night) if not outstandingly so, but while it has a lot of screens it does not seem to be blessed with a great deal of variety. Add to that a distinctly slug-like pace and rules that seem to have been picked at random (you can only enter a wizard's house when you have another wizard with you - why?) and it all seems rather pointless. I found it one big snooze.

Crystals of Arborea logo CU Amiga Screenstar

Gone, thankfully, are the days when a role-playing game meant little more than a great leap of the imagination, a plot with trolls and gameplay along the lines of a special math paper. Arborea doesn't include any of the above elements, though there are orcs, black elves and shamnirs.

The setting for the game is the island of Arborea, all that's left of a world now underwater since an evil lord threw it into chaos. The reason Arborea remains is that it contains four crystals: Symbols of earth, sky, water and fire. If these can be restored to their sacred shrines then Mogroth, the Lord Of Chaos can be overcome and order restored.

You take the role of Jarel, last prince of the shamnirs in a race against the black elves who want to destroy the crystals forever.

The game begins in time-honoured fashion as you assemble a band of adventurers from a list of options. Three types: warriors, rangers and wizards are available to you, and you'd do well to put together a team which includes two of each. You then allocate points to the characters (a strong constitution for wizards, strength for warriors and plenty of agility for ranges is a good idea). If you don't want to go through this phase each time you can load an old team.

The way you use your team is essential to achieving any success in the game. Warriors are handy in a fight, and rangers make good scouts, but it's best to pair them up, especially since wizards have special powers that can blind, paralyse, fire lightning and balls of flame at enemies. Good men to have around in fight, and Arborea has plenty of combat - played out on a grid almost like a violent version of draughts.

The game is played using an overhead map representation and a 3D view of the island. It's best to begin by splitting up and heading groups off into various directions, the map will show you where they are at any time.

As Jarel you have the benefit of the 3D view of the island, and that's where Arborea really begins to come into its own as a game. Beautifully drawn, Arborea exists at once in your imagination with its forests and marshland - complete with sound effects - giving it a wild isolation that makes it at once beautiful and threatening.

The characters, too, are well drawn. Your own band appear together at the beginning, but it's the rhino-like orcs and the black elves who are the most effectively represented. As the game turns to night they loom out of the darkness with frightening impact. Jarel has night-vision which, when you shift to it, represents things in an effective infra-red.

As you wander round the island, the game begins to open out. There are 16,000 locations, and apart from the crystals, there are their shrines (each has its own, determined by its shape), houses and buildings to explore, objects to examine, all of which provide clues and puzzles essential to restoring order.

Arborea is an absorbing, atmospheric role playing game which uses the established parameters of the genre, yet still manages to be entertaining and original. The fact that every feature in the game randomises, means that you could play it for years and still enjoy the challenge.