Fighting Fantasy (1982-1995, Puffin)
Fantasmas do medo (Portuguese)
Frygtens fantomer (Danish)
Koufo no gen'ei [恐怖の幻影] (Japanese)
Přízraky strachu (Czech)
Les Spectres de l'angoisse (French)
0140324119 / 9780140324112
Phantoms of Fear is a book with an interesting and highly original (for a Fighting Fantasy book, at least) premise. You play as an elven warrior-shaman who lives in Affen Forest and has the uncanny ability to enter the dream world and fight the nightmare creatures within. This ability is what makes you the best candidate to defeat the Demon-Prince Ishtra who is beginning to corrupt Affen Forest with his evil and intends to do the same to the entire world. Ishtra is invulnerable to all earthly weapons, and it is only your ability to fight in the dream world which will allow you to defeat him.
PoF brings a new statistic to the rules: the Power score which is used in casting spells and in dream combat. Unfortunately, it is the book's greatest weakness. You are given an assortment of spells you may cast in the adventure, but each time you do so drains your Power score by 1 point, and you need to conserve your Power for dream combat, thus meaning you will probably avoid casting spells at all. Furthermore, you cannot cast spells after the first half of the adventure, making their inclusion seem somewhat pointless. Dream combat is more problematic still. You are given your opponent's Power score and must repeatedly roll 2 dice. If you roll a 2-7, you lose two power points, if you roll an 8-12 your opponent loses two power points. This stacks the odds highly in your opponent's favour. Thankfully, losing Dream combat is rarely fatal, and your Power score is usually restored after combat anyway, but losing in dream combat can mean you miss bonuses to your Power score that would make the book slightly easier. Dream combat with Ishtra and his second-in-command Morpheus is done in a slightly different fashion, meaning that you stand a good chance against them, which is a relief. Dream combat and the Power score in general really let the book down and really needed to be designed with a little more sophistication. The rest of the book's design is thankfully a bit better. The book offers two ways to victory, which allows for a bit of replayability. One way is to gather several items hidden throughout the book, which is no easy task. The other is to accumulate a Power score high enough to take on Ishtra in dream combat, which again is pretty difficult given the problems of Dream Combat and the fact that your initial power Score can be anything from 8-18; start with a low Power score, and you basically have no chance whatsoever. So despite these two routes to victory, you are unlikely to find either of them on your first try. The book is more forgiving to having low scores for your other stats. Luck is not used that much, and being Unlucky is rarely that disastrous. The enemies are not too tough, but a Skill of at least 9 is probably required. The book has a few arbitary instant deaths towards the end, but thankfully not too many. However, a rather unfair puzzle called the Trial of Ghosts involves you having to choose a route at random accross a playing board. Choose the one route (which is more likely than not), and you die. There is no need to do this puzzle to beat the book, however. In short, Pof has its share of design problems, but they are not so severe as to make the book unenjoyable, though it is certainly challenging.
Robin Waterfiled's writing style captures the weird and chaotic feeling of this book quite well, and his dream sequences are very atmospheric. The secondary characters could have done with a bit of development, particularly Morpheus, who was an interesting villain whose motives for serving Ishtra are never really stated. What really brings the book to life however, is Ian Miller's disturbingly brilliant artwork. He really captures the evil chaos of Ishtra's nightmarish powers and the weirdness of the dream sequences, helping to make this a very creepy and atmospheric book. His artwork complements Waterfield's writing well, making them a good team. Miller's cover is not so good, though. I don't think his style of art works too well in colour, it just looks like the Jolly Green Giant suffering from a nose bleed.
To summarise, Phantoms of Fear is a very well written and illustrated gamebook that allows for a lot of replayability. The problems with dream combat stop it from being a classic, but it is still a better than average gamebook that is well worth a read.
|Special Thanks:||Thanks to Nicholas Campbell for the numbered cover scan, Brett Easterbrook for the unnumbered cover scan, and Ben Nelson for the character sheet scan.|
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|Users with Extra Copies:||
Ian2405 - Original U.K 1st Edition (With Number) 1987
Pessimeister - ex-library copy, laminated, average condition (some wear and tear)
twar - (UK) Small creases on front/back covers. Name penned on inside front cover.
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Fighting Fantasy #28 Character Sheet