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Item - Return of the Wanderer

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Series: Cretan Chronicles — no. 3
Translated Into: Boukensha no kikan [冒険者の帰還] (Japanese)
L'Odyssée d'Althéos (French)
El retorno del vengador (Spanish)
O retorno do errante (Portuguese)
Il ritorno (Italian)
Authors: Butterfield, John
Honigmann, David
Parker, Philip
Illustrators: Embden, Michael (cover)
Woods, Dan (interior)
Date: 1986
Length: 600 sections
User Summary: Having slain the Minotaur and fled Crete, you embark on a difficult journey back to your homeland.
Guillermo's Thoughts:

Is it just me, or do gamebook series tend to end on the wrong foot? (the second possibility is far more likely). This conclusion to a great series largely fails to live up to expectations. The story is at best uneven and at worst terrible. It feels as if the authors suddenly realized they only had one book left in the series and said to themselves: "now let's take every bit of Greek mythology we couldn't put in the previous books and shoehorn it in this book somehow." As a result, the book consists of easily recognizable episodes lifted from the tales of heroes like Herakles, Perseus, Odysseus and Orpheus, but which ends up being an endless series of cameo appearances by deities and villains. Indeed, combining so many diverse elements of mythology into a coherent whole would have required a good deal of narrative skill, but it seems the authors were unable or unwilling to accomplish it.

While the first two books have been criticized for their florid writing, this book shows that it was not that bad an idea after all. Most of the text is written in a rushed and unsophisticated style that makes most medicine textbooks seem exciting. This is a great shame considering that the authors had great material to work with – the book describes a journey that takes several years, including visits to various ancient locations around the Mediterranean, in a way reminiscent of Odysseus' quest for Ithaca. The aridness of the book is harder to stand due to its considerable length. It's amazing that the authors could not even make a visit to Hades a bit interesting.

In contrast, I found some episodes both at the beginning and end of the book genuinely moving. I also liked that the book has an ending more similar to the ancient Greek worldview rather than being an ode to modernity like most gamebooks are. This narrative talent only shows in traces throughout the book, however, and never really lifts it above mediocrity. There is also the character of Markus the Phoenician merchant - a metaphor of laissez-faire capitalism - who deserves special mention as one of the few truly developed ones in this book (At the Court of King Minos, on the other hand, was rife with complex personalities). Indeed, the encounters with Markus seem to form the only aspect resembling an effective narrative axis throughout the book. Nonetheless, the dullness always returns as soon as he is gone.

The flaws in the story and writing could be forgiven if gameplay was at least involving, but the book also fails miserably in this department. It is one of those books where at every point, making a single wrong choice leads to a dead end. Undoubtedly there will be people who will claim that this kind of design is the best possible, but in this case, the choices are always either too obvious or too arbitrary, rarely requiring or rewarding reasoning. A player will almost certainly need to replay the book several times to reach the last paragraph ending. For what it's worth, it's possible to complete the book without any really tough fights, and success does not depend on things done on the previous books in the series. The overall gameplay experience, nonetheless, reminds more of the awful The Lost Sword from the Paths of Doom series than of anything else.

Despite its poor quality, people will be drawn to this book just to see how the series ends. This is not a mistake, since the conclusion is one of the most thought-provoking you can find in the realm of gamebooks. Unfortunately, reaching it will require plodding through a mess of a book. Pity.

More reviews by Guillermo

Shadeheart's Thoughts:

[Rating: 2/10]
[Recommended? NO]

The "Cretan Chronicles" trilogy deliberately closes out with power in its third book, "Return of the Wanderer". Despite an emphatically elaborate length, impressive complexity and a great deal of variety in the resulting book of considerable magnitude (in comparison to many other gamebooks), this is a title which, for all it's worth, never manages to stylistically come alive past all the roughness and grit. There are obvious signs of the extensive research, and the story logistically makes enough sense to work, but the scope of the full experience packaged - and both its high difficulty level and frequented arbitrariness - never quite manages to satisfy as much as it exhausts the possibilities it deals with. Unfortunately, as interesting as it may seem and sound, and as much as others might enjoy it, this chronicle isn't worthy enough of my recommendation. ^^

(Mysteriously disappears into the shadows.)

More reviews by Shadeheart

Special Thanks:Thanks to Guillermo Paredes for the plot summary.
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