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Item - The Crimson Tide

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Series: Fighting Fantasy (1982-1995, Puffin) — no. 47
Translated Into: Maré vermelha (Portuguese)
Les mercenaires du Levant (French)
Authors: Mason, Paul
Williams, Steve
Illustrators: Craddock, Alan (cover)
Oakes, Terry (interior)
Date: January 30, 1992
ISBN: 0140345558 / 9780140345551
Length: 400 sections
Special Thanks: Thanks to Nicholas Campbell for the cover scan.
dArtagnan's Thoughts:

If you have read other reviews of The Crimson Tide, you have probably come to the realization that it always either gets really positive or really negative reviews. the reason for this is that Paul Mason has written a very unusual gamebook and, like Marmite, you are either going to love it or hate it.

What makes this book so different from other FF outings is you start off as a 13 year old child and are therefore obviously weaker than the usual FF heroes. Your Skill score is reckoned by rolling a single die, your Stamina Score by rolling two dice and Luck is the same as normal. The book also introduces two new statistics: Age and Ferocity. Age is pretty self-explanatory. The story takes place over several years, and as you get older, you grow stronger, and your anger at your parents' fate decreases. Your Ferocity score reflects how angry you are at your present circumstances. It is found by rolling a die and adding to result to half your Stamina score (because apparently the tougher you are, the angrier you are, although I've met several people of which the opposite is true). Ferocity is something of a double edged sword. A high Ferocity score makes it easier to intimidate people, but it also means you will find it harder to control your actions. Unfortunately, what lets the book down somewhat is that Mason is far too demanding on dice rolls. Many of the enemies (even if we exclude the infamous Skill 12 Stamina 6 Mudworm that the editor threw in) are far too tough for a character who might only have a Skill of 1. Furthermore, your other stats need to be pretty decent as well (and, as veterans of Black Vein Prophecy will know, decent does not necessarily mean high for Paul Mason). So unfortunately, Mason has failed to produce a fair adventure which anyone could complete with rubbish scores. But as the same criticism could be made against the majority of FF authors, this is forgiveable.

Plotwise, it is somewhat reminiscent of the film Conan the Barbarian. It is set around the events of Black Vein Prophecy. You are a child living in your peaceful village when a bunch of mercenaries, involved in the civil war between Maior and Feior, charge in and kill your father and kidnap your mother. Therefore, one thing occupies your mind - vengeance. On your quest for vengeance you can do many things: become a monk, a rebel, a sailor, a slave, a gladiator, encounter snake-people (more Conan the Barbarian similarities there) and several other things. Some of these career paths may lead to victory and others may not, but that means even if you are not on the correct path you will at least have an event-filled, enjoyable read, unlike FF books such as Crypt of the Sorcerer where if you're not on the correct path to victory, you will miss all the interesting bits. That is one of the best things about the book - there is just so much to do and see. However, the revenge plot is not as intriguing as the plot to Black Vein Prophecy or even Slaves of the Abyss, although the way the story develops over a few years is interesting. The characters are a mixed bunch. Like his previous books, there are quite a few enigmatic characters, but none of them are particularly developed. I am still non-plussed as to what exactly Merzei's motivation is. BVP and TCT both make out he's a good guy who likes to help the little guy out, so why does he attack people for no reason? Maior comes off as dissapointingly vanilla, and female fans of BVP might be annoyed to find out that they were playing a male character, but I guess that's only a minor gripe. Furthermore, more could really have been made of Pantu. And I'm not sure why the author decided to dedicate the book to Keiko, Ambassador of Ai. She's hardly one of the more intriguing FF characters.

Gameplay wise, The Crimson Tide is hard. Even putting aside the unfair dice rolls for a second, finding the correct path is extremely difficult. There are also several red herrings thrown in to make it all the more tricky, and even worse, Paul Mason likes to trick you into thinking you have won when you haven't, making you want to tear the book apart in frustration. Having said that, the book is never boring and unlike say Creature of Havoc or Siege of Sardath where you can be reading for ages before falling at the final hurdle, The Crimson Tide is reasonably short to go through and so is not nearly as frustrating. The book requires you to gather codewords. These codewords are not only used to keep track of your progress, for gathering the correct ones will tell you how to beat the book. Unfortunately, the book is not very clear as to why you need certain codewords. Getting some of them does not seem to add anything to your knowledge of your quest, and yet you are expected to get them to win. If you don't like difficult gamebooks, this one is certainly not for you. As for the ending itself - well it comes off as a bit naff.

What really makes this book worth a read though is the writing. It is extremely well-writen and you really get a sense of hopelessness - no-one in the book seems to care about your quest and Paul Mason's writing style, which puts atmosphere before detail, really lets you sympathise with the player character. Mason also throws in some very imaginative monsters reather than the usual orcs and goblins. The book's art is fine. It is not particularly polished, but it goes well with the sort of dream-like prose. As for the cover, it's good, but I'm not sure what it is meant to represent.

To sum up, The Crimson Tide is a very well-written gamebook with lots of interesting encounters and colourful (if little developed) characters. The extreme and perhaps unfair difficulty will mean it is not everyone's cup of tea nor will the idea of playing as a child who grows older and stronger throughout the quest appeal to everyone. However, The Crimson Tide is a very enjoyable gamebook experience in my mind, and I would recommend every FF fan try to find a copy just to see what they make of it themselves.

More reviews by dArtagnan

Special Thanks:Thanks to Ben Nelson for the character sheet.
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Fighting Fantasy #47 Character Sheet