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Item - Beneath Nightmare Castle

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Series: Fighting Fantasy (1982-1995, Puffin) — no. 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)
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

juski's Thoughts:

The following review was written in 1987 when I was a teenager.

FF25: Beneath Nightmare Castle

Author: Peter Darvill-Evans
Cover Illustration: Terry Oakes
Internal illustrations: Dave Carson
Setting: Fantasy (Titan)
Price: £1.95
Publisher: Puffin (Penguin)

This latest Fighting Fantasy gamebook is written by a new author, illustrated by a new artist and features a new logo consisting of a large, winged dragon resting upon a flashy “Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson present” gold foil inlay. Fortunately, Puffin have kept the spines the same colour so our shelves will continue to gradually turn into a putrid green strip. The only “old” connection in this book is Terry Oakes, the cover artist.

Anyway, on with the plot. The story begins when you are released from a dungeon that you were put in by several robed humans. Arriving at the town of Neuberg you soon discover something rather strange is happening. For a start, the town isn’t its normal noisy self and your noble chum, Baron Tholdur, has disappeared. After some exploration you come across an ancient priest who explains that the seal on a tomb beneath Neuberg Keep has been broken, so an evil being called Xakhaz can now escape from limbo and wreck havoc on the town and conquer Khul. You must defeat him.

The book is good but too easy because, unlike most gamebooks, there aren’t any items that are essential to complete your quest. Neither are there any numbers given to be used later to create a better adventure and prevent cheating. The plot is orginal-ish considering there aren’t many alternatives other than defeat character x and save place y, but the climax is far too similar to FF24: Creature of Havoc. It may be a good idea to have the big bad with Skill 14 and Stamina 32 to make him seem immortal due to these excessively high attributes, but being immortal I think killing Xakhaz should be a more complicated affair, the adventurer requiring several artefacts (as is the case in FF5: City of Thieves to kill Zanbar Bone).

The cover is brilliant, featuring a very lifelike, almost photographic, spiky maiden running at you. However, the internal illustrations are disappointing and lack atmosphere, appearing cartoonish in places.

Overall, exciting and atmospheric at times but feels too much of a hybrid of other FF gamebooks. (New ideas need to be tried out, similar to those used in Way of the Tiger 4 or 5 for example.)

Originality: 12/20. Too similar to other gamebooks, with the same type of plot.
The Adventure: 14/20. Too simple and easy to complete (especially because of two items).
Cover illustration: 17/20. The lady beckons (reaching out for your throat).
Internal illustrations: 11/20. Boring and uninteresting.

More reviews by juski

Special Thanks:Thanks to Nicholas Campbell for the cover scan.
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twar - (UK) 1st print. Great Shape. One mark on front cover. Name penned on inside of front cover. No markings inside.

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