THE LEGEND OF KYRANDIA 3 / Westwood / PC



I remember reading in an old magazine somewhere that Westwood had originally been planning for Kyrandia to be a four-game series, but it never made it any farther than this one. The reason for that, I'm convinced, is that even though they did everything else so well, whoever was designing and programming the games just did not have the sense for good puzzles and good adventure game layout, and the complete collapse on that front here is what torpedoed the franchise.

The team at Westwood seemed sensitive to criticism and their design flaws with Kyrandia 2, which appeared to be a major correction for the flaws of the first game and an expansive improvement for the series in the right direction. That may have all just been a coincidence, though, because Kyrandia 3 goes straight back to some of the awful adventure game conventions seen in the first entry, and has at lest one sequence that is comparable in tedium and needless frustration to the infamous Serpents Grotto.

This is really a shame, because everything else about this game is great. It has the best main character - Malcolm, the evil court jester turned into a stone statue at the end of the first game, is freed from his stony prison by a fortuitous lightning strike, and sets about to both get revenge on Kallak and Brandon and to clear his name of the murder of the former King and Queen (which it turns out he actually wasn't responsible for.) The story actually takes some interesting turns, as it comes out that Kallak isn't quite the benevolent old wise man he's been made out to be in previous installments. Malcolm has great voice acting and a bunch of memorable one-liners, and the game continues with the same wholly goofy and random tone that was established in Kyrandia 2. More detailed 2D characters are superimposed onto 3D backgrounds that are frequently good-looking. And Frank Klepacki returns with arguably his best soundtrack for the series, and this time it is digitized in Redbook Audio.



The game avoids the dreaded Sierra Hang-Ups by having six self-contained areas you visit in linear order, and which you are not allowed to proceed to until you've done everything you need to do (and which usually strip you of all your items upon arrival anyway.) That's about the only considerate thing it does, however.

The game plunges even farther into the arbitrariness and tedious trial-and-error of the worst moments of the previous two games. The worst offender is the second area of the game, the Isle of Cats; this area serves as a microcosm of everything that is wrong with the game's design. When it begins, you are dumped into a jungle that is randomized in its layout every time you play. OK, so you have to map; no big deal, except that directions and perspective seem to switch almost at random between some screens. There are three major areas that you pass between, and time in traversing the jungle maze can be saved by taking advantage of a sesame seed merchant who gives you a ride on his cart; his destinations are random too, however, and you have to keep riding (and keep watching the same non-skippable cinematic) until you finally get to where you need to be. The game, of course, gives you no clue about what you are really supposed to be doing here, but you soon find by exploring the jungle that you need to cut plants with a machete to pass through each screen. These plants re-spawn every time you leave a screen, and for a bonus, each time you cut one you may uncover a nest of snakes that will kill you unless you click the machete on them within a few seconds. If Malcolm happens to have positioned his body between you and the snakes, you stand a good chance of clicking HIM instead of the snakes, and while he rattles off one of his one-liners, he gets bitten and killed. Oh, and when you enter the Dog Fort, you get fleas, which proceed to multiply on you until they overwhelm and kill you, unless you find a mud pit in the jungle (also hidden under foliage), or tediously pick them all off one by one.

By blundering around, you eventually find that if you give the bones you are finding to the dog at the Dog Fort, he'll bury them and sometimes dig up gems. You need six of these, and there's six gem-sized slots at the Cat Altar, so you can figure out that much, but the process of getting them requires you to comb every square of the screen in giving bones to the dog, since the gem locations are also randomized each play. Once that trial-and-error pixel-hunt is finally concluded, you face the problem of how exactly to place the gems. Do it wrong, and you lose them all, and have to go through the random digging process yet again! The only way to find out the right order lies in the Dog Ruins, which are too dark for you to explore initially, and the item needed to light them is way the hell out in some random spot in the jungle that you'd likely never find unless you just got totally lucky in blundering into it.

I strongly suspect that the shit design of this area caused more than half of the people who initially bought this game (still in the pre-GameFAQs era, remember) to quit before they even saw 70% of it. If you persist, unfortunately, this isn't the end of the inconsiderate design. There's a puzzle that involves visiting an area (in a series of time-consuming steps) repeatedly to fish for a random item, an item you don't even know the use for at the time you get it; there's an undersea world where the evil-but-stupid queen randomly pulls you from your exploration once every two or three minutes to play a drawn-out game of Tic Tac Toe with her (which you have to lose to placate her, and she's REALLY BAD at it); and towards the end of the game, you get kicked back to the Isle of Cats to collect TEN MORE BONES!!! Really, the first and last chapters of the game are the only consistently fun ones, and even the first chapter is marred by the possibility of being randomly captured and forced to tediously make ten doilies (another series of slow, repetitive steps) to get free.

The rest of the game can be as charming as the other two entries, even more so, but it also suffers from some more minor flaws. The pace of walking and animation is decidedly slow due to the heavy use of 3D objects, and the puzzles tend to jag from too obvious to maddeningly abstract in the way that the previous games did. What you end up with, in sum, is an experience that asks you to keep performing tedious tasks over and over with nothing in return except the prospect of showing you something cute. That just isn't enough to cut it as a top adventure game, and barely functions as a mediocre one. Sorry to see it all end with a whimper rather than a bang, Kyrandia.



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