Laughing Jackal's second PSP release in the Fighting Fantasy series is more of a dungeon-crawler than the first, which gives it a faster pace and may actually make it more accessible to newcomers, even though it's much shorter on actual story. Like Talisman of Evil, though, it's largely text-based, so if you don't like to read, you won't like this game.
Title: Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain
Publisher: Laughing Jackal
Developer: Laughing Jackal
Date: November 2011
Format: PS Minis
Rating: ESRB E10+ (Everyone 10+ - Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco)
The Fighting Fantasy PS Minis series is based on--you could say it's a direct "port" of--a series of actual paper books published in the 1980s that combined die-rolling RPG with fantasy fiction. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is the first of the series to be converted to videogame format, and came out in 2009 on the Nintendo DS. The first to appear on the PSP was actually Talisman of Evil, but now the series is catching up with this release.
The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is a faithful re-creation of the original book in a new format. The text is all intact, and the player reads along just as in the paper version. Even the illustrations are included, which makes a nice accompaniment to the text, even though most of them don't appear on the main screen, but are instead located in the Log Book, which can be accessed at nearly any point of the game, to provide details on monsters encountered and items acquired. The adventure is structured like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, except instead of merely making choices, the player may have to fight monsters or test their luck. These encounters were determined by dice rolls in the original series, and here the player can choose either virtual rolls of the dice, or a more timing-skill-based method.
With well over 50 books in the original paper series, fans of the games in PSP format could have a lot of adventure to look forward to in years to come--assuming these first few titles sell well enough to keep Laughing Jackal interested in releasing further titles.
Where Talisman of Evil, the first in the series to be released on PSP, was very much narrative-focussed, with a complex story about a talisman that can bring great harm to the world, evil cults, and that sort of thing, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is more traditional dungeon-crawling adventure. With very little preamble and almost no backstory, the player enters a mountain seeking treasure and must battle monsters, navigate a maze, and finally face the titular Warlock.
The reduced emphasis on story may please some players and dismay others. It makes the game much faster-paced and even with a confusing maze to navigate, it took me considerably less time to play from start to finish. And possibly it was only because I'd already played the first game, but I seemed to have an easier time with the combat (but a more difficult time with luck, oddly enough). The apparently lesser difficulty (and I emphasize "apparently" because I'm not sure how much is just my own perception) shouldn't put off people who liked Talisman of Evil, though, and nor should the reduced emphasis on storytelling. It's still a fun game for those of us who don't mind reading while we play. And for players wanting to sample the series and wondering where to start, I'd say to play The Warlock of Firetop Mountain first, as you may find it a little easier to get into (and also because it was the first in the paper book series).
If I have one criticism of these games, it's that there's no auto-map feature, and no way to mark paths you've already tried so you can avoid going in circles, and make sure you've been to every room and down every corridor and found every treasure. Because, while you don't need to have found everything to win, you don't get the final reward if you haven't picked up the right items along the way, and then you have to start over from the beginning.
I do realize that the *point* of a maze is to confuse and make you go in circles, and the player's character is advised to make a map at the beginning, but I rather think that I shouldn't have to draw a paper map while I'm playing a videogame. (Though I've done it, because in my early days, I was a player of adventure/puzzle games like Myst and I still love the genre.) Maybe I'm just lazy. One redeeming feature that almost makes the lack of a map bearable is that, using the Log Book, you can go back and check pages you've already been to (kind of like you could flip back and forth in the paper books), and see if any of your available choices are places you haven't been yet. That only works the first time through, though. If you fail and start over by re-loading your game, all your visited pages are still in your Log Book, which is both helpful (you can avoid choices that you wished you'd avoided the first time), and not so helpful (you can't see if the pages are places you haven't visited yet this time through as opposed to previous times).
The thing to remember, if you're thinking about trying out the Fighting Fantasy series is that if you hate having to read screens of text in a videogame, you really won't like these games. They're nearly all text. But if you don't mind reading and you miss old-school dice-based RPGs but don't have anyone to play them with (or don't want to play socially), then the Fighting Fantasy series is a perfect way to pass a few hours and spend a few dollars.