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Beneath Nightmare Castle

Series: Fighting Fantasy #25
Contained In: Fighting Fantasy Adventure Gamebox (Collection)
Translated Into: O castelo dos pesadelos (Portuguese)
Fortaleza dos Pesadelos (Portuguese)
La Forteresse du cauchemar (French)
Naitomea kyassuru [ナイトメア キャッスル] (Japanese)
Pod strašidelným zámkem (Czech)
Author: Darvill-Evans, Peter
Illustrators: Oakes, Terry (cover)
Carson, Dave (interior)
Release Date: February 26, 1987
ISBN: 0140322388 / 9780140322385
Length:400 sections
Guillermo's Thoughts: Beneath Nightmare Castle has a lot of good atmosphere. The beginning of the adventure in a dark prison with no notion of what's happening, the night spent in the eerie town of Neuburg, the aura of despair and abandonment which engulf the town as you explore it, the mysterious garden and the encounters within the castle itself all combine to make this book an effective horror story. I remember it was quite disturbing to be lying in bed at the inn and having to face the possibility of exploring outside during the night, not knowing what was prowling through the streets.

My favourite encounters are the mysterious contents of the crate at the Riverside Quarter and the mutant, tentacled woman you find in the castle. Peter knows how to play with psychological fears of people. Everything, from fighting a gang of starving children to being advised to fight an innocent person disguised as a monster, gets the horror movie mood right. The WILLPOWER mechanic, a rip-off from the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, also works quite well to add realism to the game - that is, to include lots of new ways for your character to die painfully.

While people may differ on whether House of Hell or BNC is the best horror adventure, don't forget that BNC has the merit of being the only FF book which had some of its artwork banned. One of the problems with being an FF author / illustrator must have been the Advisory Board of sorts your work had to pass through in order to make it "suitable" for the youngsters. That's absurd since at 12 I had already watched all the good horror movies and didn't have nightmares.

As for gameplay, I agree that it's not the hardest FF book there is. If you follow the correct path, the strongest enemy you'll have to face has SKILL 9. However, I found the book a bit frustrating for two reasons. One is that at the beginning of the book you're likely to get stuck fighting hordes of enemies with SKILLs between the ranges of 4-6. This only made replay tedious since those enemies are more of a delay in the proceedings rather than a real challenge. Second is that the book has too many arbitrary deaths, which wouldn't be so much of a problem if there weren't so many near the end of the book, forcing you to follow the "correct" path again, and again, and again in order to win.

The way to victory is quite narrow, too - almost any way through the castle will get you to the final enemy's chambers, but it is extremely difficult to reach the final villain if you don't have a specific magical item. Furthermore, if you fail to acquire two other items, you'll end up fighting a final boss with SK 14 ST 32 (and this is no Ian Livingstone book where SKILL-raising items can be found like a monty haul). Finding the correct items requires you to follow a path from which you can't deviate, and (you guessed it) full of instant death endings.

One thing in which the book really shines above other FF books is the endings. Not only is it possible to be magically transported to far-off lands (which makes for non-typical endings), but also the author displays a rather sadistic tendency in that the "player" is forced to endure the suffering of his/her character. Most of the other FF books either cut out the scene or don't go into enough detail of painful or slow deaths, almost as if the author were so sorry to see poor Indiana Jones dead that he decided to make it swift, but not BNC. Just to name an example, there is one death paragraph which is quite lenghty and describes in detail the torturing of your character during a period of several days, after s/he is captured by the enemy.

Overall, a very good book. While some enemies are tough, they become much easier if you have the correct items, and while the design isn't perfect, the book is still very playable and enjoyable.

More reviews by Guillermo

Special Thanks:Thanks to Nicholas Campbell for the cover scan.
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