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Complexity Level : Basic (No Game System)
Format : Paperback
Genre : Fantasy
Target Age Group : Older Children
Writing Style : Present Tense
Writing Style : Second Person
Planea tu fuga de Frome (Spanish)
This follow-up to Escape from Tenopia uses the same basic format but features a more fantasy-oriented story in which the reader sets out to explore the dangerous land of Frome. Of course, the real challenge eventually becomes to task of getting home.
This is a four-book series released between 1986 and 1987 by Bantam Books, the company responsible for bringing the Choose your Own Adventure series to the masses. It was released at about the same time as the Escape from Tenopia series, which follows a very similar format and was written by the same authors. But while the Tenopia series is set in a sui generis science-fiction universe, the authors chose to set this series in a medieval fantasy environment. The series seems aimed at the same audience who would read Choose your Own Adventure books (as well as almost every other Bantam gamebook series): children 10 and up. I was exactly ten when I first discovered it, and while I've found better series since then, I still retain fond memories of the Kingdom of Frome.
As I mentioned before, the setting is medieval fantasy, but it is very different from the fantasy worlds created or used by writers of more advanced gamebooks. Interestingly, while Richard Brightfield wrote three out of four books in this series, the fantasy world used here does not resemble the fantasy settings of his other gamebooks, such as The Dragons' Den in the CYOA series or the Your Amazing Adventures series. Instead, it's a setting resembling the Feudal Era in Europe (with soldiers as cruel and ruthless as feudal soldiers are depicted in popular culture). There are also good and evil wizards, chivalrous characters, Robin-Hood like outlaws, and way too many fantastic creatures which are unique to this setting. The basic storyline is this: you are a young adventurer who has decided to explore the dangerous Kingdom of Frome, which is ruled by a tyrant with an iron fist. Each of the books covers one stage of your exploration, but while at first it seems your only goal is to escape Frome (as it was in the Escape from Tenopia series), later on you find yourself helping a rebel movement, overthrowing the tyrant and restoring the rightful king to the throne.
How do the books work? At first glance, they highly resemble Choose your Own Adventure books, having between 118 and 133 pages each. However, each book has only one ending, and the player has to do a lot of exploration (and gather several clues and items along the way) in order to find it. Some people do not like books like this, but I believe it works rather fine here, because instead of dedicating way too many pages to detailing different outcomes (as the CYOA series did), the authors use the space saved to develop a huge gameworld in each book, in which the player has complete freedom of movement. There are no choices which lead to failure, of course, but making wrong decisions leads the player away from the final goal, and so each adventure resembles a maze which can feel frustrating at first, but which is interesting and challenging. In my experience, even people with no previous experience with interactive fiction didn't need more than a couple of days to solve each book, but they all agreed that the challenge was stimulating and fun.
Each of the books covers one major location the character must find his / her way out of before proceeding on to the next. There is a continuing order in the books, and they will definitely be better appreciated if read in order, but items and information from previous books are not used or required in the later ones, so each of them stands alone and can be played by itself.
It's clear both this series and the Escape from Tenopia series borrowed a lot of inspiration from computer adventures which were popular at the time, such as Zork and King's Quest (and they also competed against other fantasy pick-a-path series which were puzzle-based and resembled computer games, like Zork and Forgotten Forest). There are no rules, die rolls or character stats to keep track of, but the player has to remember a lot of information in order to preserve continuity (for example, inventory, clues, and passwords gathered). Since you’ll have to return to the same places more than once in order to complete each adventure, there are specific "turn to" instructions which describe what happens if you visit a place more than once. There are no notes pages or record sheets in the books, so you'll have to use scrap paper if you don't want to rely solely on memory. Last but not least, each book includes a set of maps for the different areas you'll be exploring, which are not only helpful but also highly increase the visual attractiveness of each volume.
Overall, while not being my favourite fantasy pick-a-path series (the winner in this category is Endless Quest by far), I believe this series, together with Escape from Tenopia, deserves a place in the annals of interactive fiction. Each book provides a couple of hours (or maybe a bit more) of light entertainment, and as a kid they also helped pave my way to more advanced stuff (like computer adventures). It won't please someone expecting the detail and intensity of series like Fighting Fantasy, Fabled Lands, Fatemaster or Skyfall, but it does suffice when a break from more complex stuff is needed.
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