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Thayer's Quest
  opened by paleface at 04:18:05 06/12/06  
  last modified by paleface at 12:27:18 03/05/24  
  paleface [sys=PS2; cat=Laser_Disc; reg=NA]
Played this on a PS2, but it's actually just a DVD that you can play on any DVD-compatible player. Thayer's Quest was to be the killer app for Rick Dyer's "Halcyon" laserdisc-based home gaming system, but the ~$2000 system, and Dyer's company, died before it could hit the market. According to the material included on this DVD, there was a cut-down arcade release as an "upgrade kit" for Dragon's Lair and Space Ace (see entry 74) arcade machines, but that didn't work out so well either.
One reason, I suspect, aside from the fact that they had to cut scenes, is that the animation quality here is far, far below Don Bluth's animation on the earlier laserdisc games Dyer had been involved with. Thayer's Quest looks like a low-quality Saturday morning cartoon, at best.
Another reason is that it isn't really an action game. Instead of requiring a quick button or joystick press at the end of an animated sequence, you get a multi-choice menu of where you want to go next. There's also a surprisingly complex (for a DVD game, I mean) inventory system, forming the backbone of the game. Essentially, you wander around different locations, finding items that you need to use elsewhere in order to advance.
The inventory thing works pretty well, but can be pretty confusing and unintiutive as well, especially since the game starts you out with a bunch of magic scrolls in your inventory that you don't actually need to beat the game (the game can be beaten in 100 steps, as listed on distributor Digital Leisure's web site at one point). Voiceovers in the animation clips you get in each area sometimes have clues as to what items to use where, but these can be tricky to understand, much less remember, and a lot of them just plain don't make any kind of logical sense, so you'll probably end up stuck at various points (at least if you suck at this sort of thing like I do), just trying to use each of your items in each location, hoping to run across the combination needed to move on.
Backtracking in this game can be a nightmare. When you die--and you will die a lot, since maybe 25% of the options on the multi-choice menus lead to sudden, unavoidable death--you can continue (4 continues in "Arcade" mode, unlimited in "Home" mode), usually at a slightly earlier scene, with all the stuff you had before. Well and good. But sometimes when you screw up, forgetting an item before advancing to the next part of the world or something, you then have to go through the full next area before you are given an option to backtrack to the previous area, which, besides being unintuitive, is just a pain in the bum. Also, I think you can get stuck in various ways. For instance, I got to near 90% through, then found I had done things slightly out of order, and as a result had already used up the key item needed to get past a certain sequence; the key item can't be gotten again, and you can't advance without it. Enjoy wandering around the same areas over and over.
Surprisingly, the characters actually do say different things the second time you come back to their area, even if they recycle the same generic idle animations. The voice acting is mostly pretty cheesy, which sorta fits with the low quality animation, oddly enough.
Oh, forgot to mention that in some death-threatening sequences, you have a limited time to respond, usually having to fish quickly through your inventory and use the one item capable of saving your butt; choose wrong, or too slowly, and you're dead.
On the plus side of things, the menu-based navigation found here works better on current DVD systems (at least the PS2) than the quick-reflex action in Dragon's Lair, as the access time pauses between scenes really aren't apparent in this mostly turn-based scheme.
In the bonus material, you'll find Dyer pimping the upcoming game, saying that you could play it 20 hours a week for six months before you'd seen everything. I'm not so sure about that... I do know that you'd be completely crazy from watching the same scenes over and over by that time. And really, given that you can beat the game in 100 moves, I don't suppose anyone ever spent anywhere near that amount of time with it; or more than a couple hours, except for possibly a fair amount of extra time spent going in circles through the confusing and unintuitive puzzles and areas. See, each area usually has two or three ways you can go from there, often in a very arbitrary selection, forming a very confusing spider web of place sequences. For instance, to get back to a certain desert temple, you have to go to a nomad's camp, then join their feast, then talk to the only pretty girl in the camp, who warns you about going to the temple, and THEN you can jump right to the temple. Wow! There's another way to get there too, through the "Hills" area, only going that way leaves you "wounded" from a whirlwind; go through another "wounding" scene and you're dead, although there are a couple "healing" sequences too where you can lose your wounds.
Oh, and there's no indication when there's an item available to pick up in the scene; you have to press left/right on the pad, and hey! maybe something will highlight. Whee. Oh, and then sometimes when you go to pick it up without having done somethign else first, you die instantly. Double-whee!
There may have been some potential in this format--sort of a "Choose your own adventure" with an inventory-based key system--but unintuitive adventure design and poor animation (not to mention the system cost at the time) did not get the job done here. You'd also have to find more ways to milk play time out of your animation frames. I will say that the way it remembers some of the puzzles, and all of the areas, that you've cleared, is sort of impressive for a DVD game. As it is, Thayer's Quest is a remarkable example of a now-dead genre, but a pretty crap game.
Oooh, and the bugs! Oh, man. Early in the game, if you use a certain of your mostly useless scrolls in a desperate attempt to get past the first unintuitive "you were supposed to find the hidden object in the previous scene to pass this next one" puzzle, the game hangs, and you have to reboot and start all over from the beginning. And then, as I mentioned, you can get stuck if you burn certain items out of order. There was also something weird that may have been design, where a guy tells you you have until the "hourglass runs out" to find an item and return it to him, and then later at some point, you just get zapped out of the blue. How the heck does time figure in to a turn-based game, especially when there's no visible timer? Gar!
  paleface 04:28:02 06/12/06
I should mention that the picture quality is not that great, looking sorta like an old VHS tape.
  paleface 04:32:03 06/12/06
Also, I haven't tested this, but the DVD claims to be region-free. I found it for $20 in an EB Games DVD bargain bin. Probably a bit steep at that price but hey, as far as write-up material goes, this game is gold.
· Dragon's Lair 20th Anniversary Special Edition (PS2)

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