reviews\ Oct 16, 2002 at 8:00 pm

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - GBA - Review

Inspired by the recent resurgence in Tolkien's works due to the success of the movie Lord of the Rings, several games have been or shortly will be released that are based either on the books, or on the movie. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring for the GBA is taken from the first book of the trilogy, and leads players through a faithful retelling of the story up to the splitting up of the company of nine, or the Fellowship.

The story begins with Bilbo Baggins' Eleventy-First birthday party where he disappears with a flourish right in the middle of the celebrations, causing a sensation that will be told with relish for years to come. Leaving behind the Ring for his nephew Frodo, he travels to Rivendell to live with the Elrond and the High Elves. Meanwhile, Frodo keeps the ring safe in Hobbiton. After several years pass, Gandalf reappears with bad news: the Ring is the One Ring of Sauron and must be destroyed. Frodo and his friends, Samwise, Merry and Pippin, decide to travel to Bree and wait for Gandalf there.

After this somewhat lengthy prologue, the real game begins. At first, it's just Frodo wandering around, but he soon picks up Sam and Pippin in Hobbiton. There's a lot of territory to explore in Hobbiton, beginning with the Baggins' home on The Hill. In typical RPG style, players will spend lots of time wandering around, picking up useful items like money, health potions, weapons and other odds and ends to use later. Side quests basically consist of delivering letters to various people, usually entailing backtracking over territory previously covered. Each stage of the journey has some sort of puzzle to solve before the company can move on.

There's a good bit of fighting in this game, which is presented in a turn-based manner. Frodo and company have varying levels of fighting skills and health, which are increased as the game progresses, although not by experience as one would expect, but by either reaching designated points in the game or by solving certain puzzles. Fighting doesn't increase a character's skill one iota. The fighting commences with the enemy getting in the first licks, then taking turns with everyone in the company. Each character can choose from one of two weapons in their inventory, which have different "hit points" on a minimum to maximum available scale. For instance, if Aragorn uses a sword rated minimum 5, maximum 9, he'll take from 5-9 health points from the enemy - that is, if he doesn't miss altogether, which happens all too frequently. This type of fighting can get tedious and takes away from the possible excitement of meeting enemies based on the books. To be fair, however, for many of us who don't like combat (myself included) this type of fighting makes the game easier to play. In the beginning there are easy skirmishes with weak enemies, but as the game advances, so does the strength of the enemies. But don't worry, there are all kinds of weapons to pick up out there, including the reforged Anduril, Durin's Axe and Galadriel's sword. Be sure to leave some empty spots in Aragorn's inventory before leaving Rivendell!

The puzzles are fairly easy to solve and mostly involve either using an object in an obvious way, or playing a number of musical notes. The tone-deaf can play these puzzles with ease, as the numbers of the notes are handily told by the clue giver along with the sounds. Most of these puzzles are fun, even if simple. The real challenge of this game is the maze-like meandering down endless paths and tunnels, which can be difficult due to low lighting in many areas, especially in the Mines of Moria which gives new meaning to the word "dark". Don't even look at the screen shots on the game box and sites on the web, the reality is nothing like.

The sound is for the most part compatible with the different moods of the scenes, that is, when it played at all. The music throughout the game would cut in and out at odd times, at least on my game cartridge. The music I did hear, though, was fairly well orchestrated and fitting.

So, was the game good or not? Well, it was, and it wasn't. First of all, let me say that I'm a big LOTR fan and have read the books probably at least ten times by now, beginning when I was around thirteen or so. I tend to be a stickler for any re-enactment's treatment of a favorite book of mine, and usually people refuse to sit with me in movie theaters for any movies that are based on books I've read. LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring, in my opinion, is a pretty good rendition of the book. Of course, to fit on a GBA cartridge, many things had to be trimmed down, but the essentials are all here. Fans of the series will definitely enjoy exploring Hobbiton, Bree, Weathertop, Rivendell, Moria and further because of the atmosphere and characters from the book. The excitement of the books isn't translated quite as well as the locations, but that's more to do with the limitations of the GBA than game design. The RPG elements could have been handled better, as in the lack of gaining points by fighting, and the seemingly arbitrary misses. It's absurd that Frodo and Pippin can often get in more hits than Aragorn or Boromir. Also, as the characters and enemies weaken, the damage done by either group doesn't lessen, which again seems odd. But even with these niggling little detractions, the game's storyline and puzzles make for an enjoyable excursion into Middle Earth.

But (you knew there was a but, didn't you?), the game is absolutely littered with bugs on a good percentage of the cartridges. The one getting the most attention is a pretty bad one in the Mines of Moria, which fortunately can be worked around thanks to the help from a few people on the Sierra LOTR community boards. This isn't the only bug, though, as I found many, many others and had to restart my game several times because of them. Most of the bugs involve Frodo getting stuck in odd places, either literally getting stuck in a corner, or walking off the screen never to return. This happened in Rivendell and Moria several times. Also, besides the Door bug in Moria, I encountered a glitch at the Moria bridge that has Frodo walking around on air with no ability to get back, a room that sends Frodo off into a blacked-out screen, and a door that can't be re-entered off the same passage as the blackened room. These areas don't need to be accessed for game advancement, so aren't receiving as much attention as the Moria Door one, but nevertheless they can be extremely frustrating if there's not a recently saved game. One I didn't personally run into is one in Rivendell centered around Gimli's Axe which was hidden by elves. Evidently players need to be sure to speak with Gimli about it before retrieving it, or they can never give it back to Gimli.

However, the bugs weren't what ultimately defeated my progress through the game; what finally stopped me in my tracks was a battle in Moria where the characters had run out of healing potions and died. Because my last saved game was recent, it would keep happening, which meant that the only other option was to start over yet again. Faced with the prospect of not only having to redo everything up to that point, but also walk the Mines of Moria one more time, and deal with the walkaround one more time (it took me almost an hour of quitting and saving to get around it), I just balked and quit for good. Maybe I fought some needless battles while in the Marshes, and used up more healing mushrooms than I should have, I don't know. Every healing item seen was picked up, which still didn't help in the end. Having an option to have more than one save game would have definitely helped.

I enjoyed the game while I played, and was saddened to not be able to finish. This is a game that while not having universal appeal for RPG players, does have plenty to offer fans of LOTR, which is what it's designed for, anyway. I enjoyed the special touches like reading the One Ring poem in Rivendell, the encounter with the elves in Hobbiton, and more of the same. However, the bugs in the game make it impossible for me to recommend, unless people can be guaranteed to receive a bug-free cartridge.

Gameplay: 5.5
The game interface is the gameplay, and the large amount of bugs present made this game almost unplayable.

Graphics: 7 
The graphics are well-drawn and very evocative of the Shire and all Middle Earth, but the screens are all so dark it's hard to appreciate them.

Sound: 7
The music is good, but kept cutting out.

Difficulty: Medium
For the most part this game is fairly easy, except for the mazes.

Concept: 7 
Making a game out of a popular book, nothing original in that thought, but the game was written well.

Overall: 5.9
What could have been a nice game for LOTR fans instead became a lesson in frustration because of the bugs. The only other game I've ever seen so many bugs in was Gabriel Knight 2, which was a great enough game to be worth playing in spite of them. Fellowship of the Ring, while a decent game, was not.


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