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Item - Crystal of Storms

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Series: Fighting Fantasy (2017-, Scholastic) — no. 17
Author: Pratchett, Rhianna
Illustrator: Eskelinen, Eva
Date: October 1, 2020
ISBN: 1407199684 / 9781407199689
User Summary: As a member of the Sky Watch, a police force that helps protect the floating islands of Pangaria, you must investigate when the central island plunges into the sea, taking your comrades in the Sky Watch with it.
dArtagnan's Thoughts:

The writing of Rhianna Pratchett's debut gamebook is of a high standard, certainly compared to the other Scholastic Fighting Fantasy books. There's quite a few good jokes - mostly involving wacky goblins. Some may consider this humour a bit childish, but I found it more absurdist - Rhianna is a Pratchett after all! I would probably compare it with Demons of the Deep with its toolfish and the like. It's certainly of a higher standard than Gates of Death's Bum-Faced Monster (but then, what isn't?). The characters are likeable too though sadly none of them stay around long enough to make much of an impact. The story is also pretty engaging, allowing you to slowly piece together what's going on.

However, while the floating islands of Pangaria make for an intriguing setting, I'm not really sure enough is made of them. The islands feel a bit empty and there was little to really make the few people you bump into feel like they were part of a very unique part of Titan. The fishing island and the cloud-farming island made the most of the concept while the commerce island felt particularly lacking in atmosphere. The atmosphere does improve in the later underwater segments (another similarity to Demons of the Deep) and the wraithfish was genuinely quite a creepy encounter. A couple of the book's more memorable characters also crop up at this stage.

Gameplay-wise, there are quite a few weapons with different bonuses and potions that give various buffs. There are also some rules for fighting with a companion. Normally, I take a dim view of too many bonuses and penalties to keep track of, but it's well done here, showing a good understanding of the FF mechanics and things are kept simple enough that it doesn't become too overwhelming. The finale is quite possibly the best final boss fight I've come across in FF: Engaging, humorous and with again some great use of the FF mechanics.

However, it has to be said that the combats are just a bit too hard. There is one very nasty battle and there are couple of other tough ones too. I just about scraped through with 11 Skill and while there were one or two penalties I could have avoided and perhaps I could have been less frugal with potions, I still think anyone with 10 or lower Skill will struggle. This doesn't make it even close to being one of the most unfair FFs, but still it's a pity this remains an issue so late on in the series.

Apart from combat and Stamina loss from elsewhere though, there's very little else that can go wrong for you. There's a few items to find, but you can only really miss them if you don't explore everywhere which the book encourages you to do anyway. There's a mystery to uncover, but any amount of blundering should reveal what's going on and it doesn't really matter when it comes to beating the book. There's a few puzzles, but nothing you actually need to solve, nor is there much in the way of instant deaths.

I also probably could have done without different meals healing different amounts of Stamina - it's just a bit heavy on the note taking. There are also copious amounts of codewords to record but their impact on proceedings is fairly low. As there were also a lot of weapons and potions to keep track of, I felt the book could get a bit tedious in this regard.

And sadly that is far from being the only tedious thing about it. Like all the new FF books since at least Night of the Necromancer, it just goes on and on and on. I'm not sure why the current crop of FF authors think its necessary that we read 300+ sections in one playthrough. Aside from the tedium, it pretty much kills replayability. Apart from maybe one or two minor areas, I think I explored absolutely everything in two playthroughs. The only real variety is varying the order you do the first three islands (and it doesn't seem like this makes much of a difference - indeed the islands feel very samey: meet up with an old friend if the island in question is your home island then explore two areas in whichever order you prefer before flying on). There are probably encounters you can skip, but you're unlikely to do so unless you know the book very well so that hardly leads to any replayability.

On a related note, there are far too many filler sections where you are asked if you're sure you want to continue with your present course of action. Eliminating these would probably take it down to at least 375 sections.

And unfortunately, like all the new Scholastic books, it's very sloppy. There's typos, instructions for fighting multiple enemies at the same time are missing, it allows you to loop encounters where it really shouldn't and there's one page in a completely different font. Stuff like this really shouldn't get past an editor.

The illustrations are so-so. There's some good ones like the dragon fruit (a rather inspired monster) but as a whole they feel a bit flat - to be fair to Eva Eskelinen, I like her style, but the greyscale of the Scholastic books does her no favours. I'd probably rank her above Vlado Krizan but Robert Ball remains the best of the Scholastic artists. The cutesy cover is thankfully a bit of an anomaly.

So while there is much to like here, there is also a lot that annoyed me. It's much better than the last celebrity-penned FF book, Gates of Death, and I would be quite glad to see Pratchett return to pen another FF book (and Eskelinen to illustrate it - maybe ditching the greyscale). But FF is in a funk at present and I feel the current authors need to move away from these "see everything in one playthrough" books and actually offer some mutually exclusive paths and genuine exploration. Otherwise, it's just a novel with some dice rolling.

More reviews by dArtagnan

Special Thanks:Thanks to dArtagnan for the plot summary.
Users Who Own This Item: Alatar001, dArtagnan, Darth Rabbitt, Ed, Ian2405, juski, mir1812, Oberonbombadil (2020 ed. w/ signed Pratchett book plate), Sheridan77, Sir Olli, sireeyore

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