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Item - Legend of Zagor

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(Original (Dragon, Black text))

Combined Summary

Series: Fighting Fantasy (1982-1995, Puffin) — no. 54
Fighting Fantasy (2002-2007, Wizard Books Series 1) — no. 20
Translated Into: La légende de Zagor (French)
Zagor legendája (Hungarian)
Adapted Into: Legend of Zagor (Board Game)
Author: Livingstone, Ian
Illustrators: Burns, Jim (Original (Dragon, Black text) - cover)
McKenna, Martin (interior)
Dates: June 30, 1994 (Original (Dragon, Black text))
September 2, 2004 (Wizard S1 (Standard), UK printing (C&W))
ISBNs: 0140365664 / 9780140365665 (Original (Dragon, Black text))
1840465514 / 9781840465518 (Wizard S1 (Standard), UK printing (C&W))
Length: 400 sections
User Summary: You must journey to Castle Argent and kill the Zagor-Demon.
Braxus's Thoughts:

I would be the first in line to say that this is Livingstone's greatest gamebook and one of the very best Fighting Fantasies.

This book is intense and always stuns me that it's 400 references long. Somehow it feels like the castle is at least 600 big... it definitely gives the illusion of being a gargantuan place.

Interestingly, it's one of few FFs where you have to be a man. You get to pick from 4 known heroes, which is fun, including a barbarian, warrior, dwarf and sorcerer. I won't tell you which one is best, but just a hint: don't pick the sorcerer.

The atmosphere in the castle is huge. HUGE. And it's really what makes this book so fascinating. You can feel the tension as you walk into every room. The castle works in several levels, and there is usually only one way up, which takes ages to find. You're torn between visiting all the rooms to look for items or finding the fastest way up to avoid danger!

The book culminates in several massive battles against monsters, hordes of greenskins and of course an encounter with your old friend, "Zaggy." He's meaner than ever, and the battle sequence at the end is perhaps a little too difficult... so many high skill nasties... however you're used to that by now with Livingstone.

I'd also like to comment on the fantastic artwork, which is very dark, evocative and really brings the castle to life.

Large replay value, large castle, large atmosphere, great illustrations. Epic gamebook.

More reviews by Braxus

dArtagnan's Thoughts:

Legend of Zagor's authorship has long been a matter of controversy among fans of the series. It bears few similarities to Ian Livingstone's other game books while being very like Keith Martin's. What cannot be denied however is that Legend of Zagor is one of the most ambitious books in the series.

The plot is pretty basic. Zagor, the villain in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain and Return to Firetop Mountain has eluded death again and ahs been transported to the magical world of Amarillia where he has merged with the Bone Demon; an evil monster that had been defeated in Amarillia's recent past. The Zagor demon plans to conquer the world and it's up to you to stop him. If you haven't read any of the previous books featuring Zagor, you'll probably be a bit non-plussed as to who he actually is. Furthermore fans of the previous two Zagor books will de disappointed that there are very few references to them.

What makes this book particularly memorable is that, unlike all the other books in the series, you can choose from a selection of four characters to play as. These characters are the heroes of the Zagor Chronicles novels, although Jallarial is replaced by her brother Sallazar - which, apart from seeming somewhat sexist (it's not like the series had no female fans), is rather disappointing as she was the only Zagor Chronicles character with any substance. At any rate, each of the characters (Braxus the warrior, Anvar the barbarian, Stubble the dwarf and Sallazar the wizard) has his own advantages and disadvantages. While a nice idea, it doesn't really work out in practice: Anvar and Braxus are fairly evenly matched, but Stubble is going to struggle and Sallazar is just plain rubbish due to the terrible magic system in the book. He is really too weak to hold his own against the tougher opponents and his magic is of little help as the more offensive spells can only be cast a few times and since they require you to win an attack round for them to work, most of the time they won't do him any good.

The gameplay of the book involves you sneaking around the castle, gathering various items to help you against the tougher opponents of the book. While you can rush through this, doing so will make you far too weak to stand against the enemies at the end. You are therefore required to painstakingly search every inch of the castle. Needless to say this takes a lot of time and it will actually take you about 3-4 hours to get through the book. Unfortunately there's little to hold your interest while doing so and while the author has created a believable abandoned castle, searching through rooms that are either empty or filled with ridiculously tough, but rather forgettable enemies is not my idea of a particularly entertaining adventure. Had the plot been a bit stronger this might not have been such a problem, but as it is the book fast become tiresome. The author's writing is detailed enough to be immersive, but it isn't really thrilling, but Martin McKenna's moody artwork adds greatly to the proceedings.

What adds to the tiresome nature is the excessive amount of things to keep track of. On top of the usual Skill, Stamina and Luck, there's a Magic score which has to be changed regularly. You are also required to eat meals regularly, so your Provisions tally will fluctuate greatly. Furthermore, the special weapons you can find are pretty hard to keep track of. There are some that give you certain bonuses against certain enemies and not others, some that have to be charged with magic, some that can only be used at the start of a battle, and some that can only be used a certain amount of times. The book also features time-consuming battles with multiple opponents with high Stamina scores and annoying special abilities. And then there's the oh-so-fun converting names into numbers which occurs regularly. And then if you die near the end (a likely occurrence given the toughness of the last few enemies) you have to go through it all again.

While Legend of Zagor has to be respected for managing to design a complex, non-linear setting, it's a pity the book just isn't very fun or fair.

More reviews by dArtagnan

Gartax's Thoughts:

This is the first Fighting Fantasy book I ever read, and one of my favourites. As many fans have noted, the style of the book is more in the vein of the works of Keith Martin (a pseudonym for vanished game designer and writer Carl Sargent), than those of the credited author, Ian Livingstone (both worked together on the Zagor Chronicles novels).

It's also interesting for being the only title in the series that allows the reader to choose which character (out of four given at the start of the game) to play as. Unfortunately, the characters aren't really balanced, since both Anvil the Barbarian and Braxus the Warrior have a better chance of surviving the adventure than Stubble the Dwarf and (especially) Salazar the Wizard.

Outside of an optional brief exploration of the town the player sets out from, a sea voyage, and another optional exploration of an island, this is mostly a dungeon crawl, the best-designed of the series. Keith Martin (sorry, I meant Ian Livingstone) does a great job of evoking an atmosphere of ruin and former glory. The castle the player explores is depicted as a shattered place infested with monsters, but with certain areas sealed off (by natural means or by magic) and as a result undefiled. The prose is generally simple but impressively evocative, full of Martin's trademark exclamation points. Near the end, especially, there's a real mixed sense of accomplishment, exhaustion, danger, and the warped nature of the castle's more corrupted areas.

In a way the book feels more like a role playing scenario or maybe a video game than a gamebook, with clearly-defined "bosses" and a lot of freedom of exploration and replayability. There's a host of interesting characters to meet in Castle Argent (rhymes with Sargent, funnily enough), each with their own hinted-at backstories, motives and alignments. The scraps of information that can be found here and there connect the areas and characters and history of the place together, making the castle feel like a real setting. There's an abundance of matter-of-fact magic, but at the same time the book has a certain sense of wonder.

For my money, this is one of the absolute best books in the series (although some may be daunted by its complex rules, length, and difficulty).

More reviews by Gartax

Special Thanks:Thanks to Nicholas Campbell for the cover scan and Gartax for the plot summary.
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Known Editions

Original (Dragon, Black text)
Wizard S1 (Standard), UK printing (C&W)
Wizard S1 (Special), UK printing (C&W)

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Related Documents

Play Aid

Fighting Fantasy #54 Character Sheets (Anvar / Braxus)

Fighting Fantasy #54 Character Sheets (Stubble / Sallazar)