You see, my generation reached the peak of its childhood in the late eighties, right around the time when most video games first reached our shores. I was fortunate enough to grow up in the shadow of a household computer, and apart from the fact that it got me started on an IT-based background, the infernal device also got me hooked on some of the classics of gaming. Admittedly, most of those classics managed to get themselves lost in the mists of the last two decades, but some of the better ones are still available through the efforts of a few "abandonware" sites.
The Kyrandia series of games were a clear favorite, I believe. Developed by Westwood Studios under Virgin Interactive, it was one of the first PC adventure games to feature an intuitive point-and-click interface. Not that this really mattered to me, though; I was more attracted to the series' sense of humor and offbeat setting. And of the three games created with the world of Kyrandia in mind, nothing represented a better combination of puzzle logic and utter weirdness for me than the second installment: Kyrandia 2 - The Hand of Fate.
The Hand of Fate was an interesting game, to say the least. Its predecessor, The Legend of Kyrandia, followed a young man named Brandon in his efforts to stop Malcolm, an evil court jester, from terrorizing the kingdom. Its successor, Kyrandia 3 - Malcolm's Revenge, followed the villain Malcolm in a quest to redeem himself (in a funny, twisted way). But The Hand of Fate was totally independent of those other two forays in that you didn't need to know anything of the setting's history in order to get around.
The story behind the game is remarkably uncomplicated: The kingdom of Kyrandia is literally disappearing... rock by rock, tree by tree, and almost certainly in a very inconvenient manner.
This strange phenomenon baffles the land's preeminent magic-users, who obviously have to do something before everything -- and everyone -- disappears completely. Eventually they decide that the only way to solve the problem is to retrieve an enchanted "anchor stone" from the center of the planet. (What that has to do with the disappearances is never adequately explained... although for good reason.)
This, however, raises the issue of finding some poor, unlucky sod who's gullible enough to make the perilous journey. And interestingly enough, the "right" man for the job turns out to be a woman:
So now you, as the player, get to step into Zanthia's shoes and guide her on her quest to find the anchor stone. Zanthia is actually unique in terms of game characters: She's skeptical, smart-mouthed, and otherwise intolerant of other peoples' stupidity (which Kyrandia's population accurately represents in varying doses). Zanthia also happens to specialize in potions and alchemy, which practically gives you license to grab bunches of random items and mix them all together to create strange effects.
With all these responsibilities swirling around her head, Zanthia returns to her home in the swamp to make preparations for the journey. Only there's one catch: Somebody has ransacked her house.
At this point, you take over Zanthia's actions. Crippled by the loss of her reference books, cauldrons, ingredients and other equipment, you have to guide her across treacherous locations, past insidious individuals, and through intractable situations. Or maybe not.
Zanthia actually knows her way around, for the most part. As with most adventure games, you have to find items strewn across the landscape, then use them with various people, places and things in order to progress along your journey. The "thinking" requirement of the game comes in when you realize that you have to find these items to start with, not to mention the fact that you have to figure out what object to use with what other object, and then perhaps in which situation.
Despite the interesting background and setting, this is not necessarily an easy game. Some of the items are difficult to locate or acquire, and a few of the puzzles have unintuitive solutions. Sometimes the game even actively seeks to confuse you, implying that there is more than one solution available to a problem even when you actually only have one realistic alternative. After running through the game for three times, however, I'll admit that everything does make a kind of sense after a while. This is Kyrandia, after all, and if there's anything that can be said about Kyrandia, it's that it's weird.
Throughout the game, Zanthia almost certainly finds herself stuck in a lot of situations that cover both the bizarre and the mundane. She has to find a way to ride a dinosaur, collect seashells on a beach, turn gold into lead, hitch a ride on a mustard ship, take candy from a baby, disguise herself as an abominable snowman, turn lead back into gold, win a three-shell monte game, make cheese, get out of jail, and even capture a giant foot. Needless to say, it definitely makes for an interesting trip.
Unfortunately for me and other Kyrandia fans, Westwood Studios has since moved beyond -- far beyond -- the fantasy-adventure series. In fact, the one-thriving genre of adventure games is now at death's door, seeing that contemporary game-playing audiences give more attention to first-person shooters and wartime strategy titles nowadays. Westwood Studios is itself gone, having been absorbed by Electronic Arts in 1998 and liquidated a few years afterwards. The company is actually more well-known for producing the Command and Conquer series in its last decade of existence, and has left behind a significant number of followers. Given these developments, it's highly unlikely that we'll ever see another Kyrandia game.
What that means, of course, is that these games remain classics for the older crowd, particularly for those thinkers of my generation. It also means that you're unlikely to find a lot of other games that offer a similar level of entertainment (unless you're one to go rooting through old downloads), and that you really owe it to yourself to try them. Yes, this is a not-so-subtle endorsement; Do find a copy of the game and give it a run.
Some good things, after all, must be made to last.
If anybody needs me, I'll be collecting a few anchor stones...
* Despite my acquisition of the game from the odd abandonware site, Westwood Studios / Electronic Arts presumably still holds all the rights and privileges to Kyrandia 2 - The Hand of Fate, as well as all related items. These screenshots are posted here for the purpose of review; Should the actual copyright owners turn their attention to me, I urge them to keep this game free for download. That would keep this classic available to other potential fans, and make a nice promotion for any further sequels (Fate willing).