Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Game 245: Les Templiers d'Orven (1986)

   
Les Templiers d'Orven
France
Loriciels (developer and publisher)
Released in 1986 for the Amstrad CPC
Date Started: 25 February 2017
Date Ended: 26 February 2017
Total Hours: 5
Difficulty: Hard (4/5)
Final Rating: 25
Ranking at Time of Posting: 104/248 (42%)

It's gotten to the point that French games give me anxiety. I managed to limp through Mandragore, but just barely. Fer & Flamme was just baffling. I've got a reboot of Tera: La Cité des Crânes coming up, even though I didn't understand it very well the first time and have little hope of understanding it this time given that French players can't even figure the damned thing out

In the middle of this comes Les Templiers d'Orven ("the Templars of Orven"), a game I'd never heard of, published by Loriciels, the same company behind Tera. The idea of three incomprehensible games in a row was filling me with dread. Imagine my sigh of relief, then, when I fired up Templiers and found it completely understandable. Very derivative, a little boring, and oddly difficult, yes, but at least not alien. Even the lack of a manual hasn't really hurt me.
     
Combat actions scroll past in a clearly Wizardry-inspired interface.
   
Clearly based on Wizardry, Templiers involves a party of up to 7 characters who venture into a series of dungeons from a central temple governed by a high priest. I guess the idea is that the party--the Templars of the title--are running missions for their boss. The wireframe dungeons comprise four scenarios of three levels each, for a total of 12 dungeon levels. In between expeditions, the characters retreat to a menu town with a temple, an inn, and an equipment shop.

Although it looks, feels, and plays like Wizardry, there are some key differences, particularly in character creation. Each character has six personal attributes--intelligence, constitution, observation, mysticism, agility, and skill--as well as two derived attributes: vitality (health) and concentration (spell points). They also occupy one of four classes: templars, warriors, guides, and scribes. You choose none of these things directly during character creation. Instead, after giving a name to your character, you distribute 30 training points among 8 skills: combat, meditation, long bows, dungeons, parchments (parchemins, which probably has a slightly more nuanced translation), sorcery, lance, and influence. These skills, in turn, affect your attributes and set your affinity for each class. The "dungeons" skill seems like something akin to rogue/ranger skills like pathfinding and trap detection.
     
Creating a character by adjusting the training statistics in the lower-right, which has consequences for the attributes in the upper-left.
    
Characters who invest in a combination of martial and magic skills score high in the "templar" category, while those who concentrate solely on fighting skills will probably end up highest in "warrior." An all-magic character is likely to be a "scribe," and a high "dungeons" skill puts the character solidly in "guide" territory. You also set your origin--city, village, temple, or "vagabond"--which has subtle effects.

A fourth class, "zombie," seems reserved for enemies that you somehow brainwash to your side.
    
At the armory. Some of these things won't be affordable for a long time.
   
Each character starts with a pool of gold to buy weapons and armor (most can only afford a weapon at the beginning). A set of paper dolls, seen only in the temple, change depending on your equipped items. That's cool.
     
Late in this session, the main menu shows my characters with their weapons, armor, and shields.
    
After that, there's nothing to do but hit one of the dungeon levels. Every time you leave the temple, you choose from among four scenarios: The Ultimate Dungeon, The Citadel of Madonas, The Caverns of Xand, and The Guardians of Knowledge. Their difficulty seems to scale roughly in that order.
    
Choosing from among the four scenarios.
    
The dungeons, alas, are pretty bland. I explored The Ultimate Dungeon and poked around the other three scenarios, and I never found any special encounters. Graphically, they pretty much look the same, too. The Caverns have irregular doorways, as if in a cave, but that's it. The monsters differ a little, from a classic D&D bestiary in The Ultimate Dungeon to Greek heroes in The Caverns of Xand.
     
The three levels of The Ultimate Dungeon.
    
There thus isn't much to do in dungeons but wander around and fight. Combat is entirely Wizardry-derived. Upon facing each enemy, each character has options to attack, defend, use an item, shoot a missile weapon, cast a spell, do nothing, or flee. All characters can attack, regardless of rank. Once these options are set for each character, they execute, along with the enemies', in an initiative order.

I've found combats pretty hard, even on Level 1. Enemies routinely hit for more than half of a character's hit points, and they rarely miss. The enemy AI is predictable and merciless, focusing on the lead character until he's dead and then moving on to the next one. Facing more than a couple of enemies in one party, at least at Level 1, is a near-death sentence. You have to retreat frequently to the town to rest and heal. In this, the game is again like Wizardry.
    
I was able to defeat this little dragon. Note my "zombie soldier."
    
Outside of combat, characters can cast spells, use items, or use an interesting mark/recall system to save a waypoint and then "guide" the party automatically back to the stairs or, once you've re-entered the dungeon, back to the waypoint. It fails and you get lost quite often.

Spells work a bit differently from Wizardry. Spellcasting characters--those who invested points in meditation, parchemin, or influence--have three types of magic: influence, invocation, and abilities. Under each of those headings are listed several "spells" such as "Le Mal," "Douleur," "Vitesse," and "Vitalite," along with a number of castings that you have for that spell. Lacking documentation, I've had to experiment. "Douleur" (pain) is a mass-damage spell that affects one enemy party, and "Vitalite" is a healing spell, for instance. Casting them depletes the number of castings but not the "concentration" score, so I'm not sure what that's for.
     
This character can cast 3 "Le Mals" and 3 "Douleurs."
    
I had a much easier time once I realized that the "Effroi" spell (fear) lowers enemy morale to the point that they might offer to join your party as "zombies." Enemies typically have much better armor class than the party members, so putting one in the front slot can give the "real" party relief for a few combats while enemies whiff their attacks at him.
   
Damian demoralizes and enlists a soldier.
   
The temple serves as "home base," much like the top of the dungeon does in the typical RPG. The high priest is supposed to level you, but leveling is slow in this game. You need around 650 experience points to go from Level 1 to Level 2, for instance, and the typical Level 1 combat might only deliver 5. Equipment upgrades, from money found after combat, are similarly slow, with each character getting only a handful of gold pieces for a successful fight. It was 4 hours after their initial purchases that my party members could buy shields for 150 gold pieces each.
   
So, you're saying this is going to take a while.
   
It took me a while to figure out how to rest and heal. You have to remove each character from the party and add them back in. This requires typing each character's name as you add them. You also have to type the character's name when examining him. I began to wish I'd given everyone single-letter names.
    
Returning characters to the party from rest requires typing everyone's full  name--which the game doesn't even show.
    
Templiers is notable for what it lacks. I haven't found a single fixed encounter, message on the dungeon walls, quest, or quest item. Enemies don't seem to leave any items after combat, just gold. There are no treasures or chests in the dungeon rooms. Navigation puzzles and traps are few.
           
Random notes:
   
  • If you walk into a wall, the game says, "Plaf!"
  • Notes online suggest that parties who die in the dungeon might return as enemies for the next party.
         
"Sorcerers, demons, and undead welcome you among them" is the full-party death message.
          
  • One of the options in the inn is called "(C)offres." Choosing it just brings up the message "Vide!" (empty). I have no idea what's going on there.
  • The dungeon levels have several inaccessible areas that in a normal game would suggest secret doors, but walking into every wall produces no results. If there are other ways to find secret doors, perhaps discussed in the manual, I don't know them.
  • Fleeing has not worked for me once. 
  • There does not seem to be any way to trade gold from one person to another.
  • There is no mechanism for raising dead characters--they disappear from the game when you return to town. Perhaps later there are resurrection spells you can cast in-dungeon; I didn't get that far.
  • The only sound in the game consists of beeps when you run into a wall.
     
Level 2 of the Ultimate Dungeon brought an area of traps and a few one-way walls but no other special features. Level 3 was about the same, although it had a door leading to a corridor of darkness. When I reached the end, it teleported me back to Level 1.

I'm not sure about the issue of fixed combats. No square seems to inevitably offer a combat, but a number of squares have a tendency. For instance, there's a square in Level 1 on which a guard usually appears. Sometimes you have to enter the square and turn a couple of times. Sometimes he just never shows up at all. There's a similar square with a dragon on Level 1, and with other monsters on the lower levels. If combats were inevitable, I never would have mapped all three levels. It was only by reloading and squeaking past such squares that I managed to make complete maps.
    
This square on Level 3 generally has some combination of sorcerers, knights,and dragons. I'm nowhere near able to take on these foes.
    
In about 5 hours of gameplay, with lots of reloading, I only managed to amass around 250 experience points--less than half needed for Level 2. I touched every square on the three levels of The Ultimate Dungeon and didn't find any messages or anything that seemed like a quest reward, although it's possible that these exist and depend on defeating the quasi-fixed combats. When I return to the high priest in the temple, he says something like, "You haven't accomplished anything," suggesting that there must be some kind of quest. On the other hand, it's possible that it's his "you can't level up yet" message, and there truly is no quest in the game--that the four dungeons offer different maps and monsters, but no real purpose or endgame other than (very rarely) leveling up. It's further possible that the manual would give some more clues about this, if anyone can turn it up.
     
The back of the box suggests there are things to "résolvent" (solve), but whether this is just advertising hyperbole or something I didn't discover remains a mystery.
     
I opened the files in a text editor and scanned them for messages that might indicate some kind of quest--or anything other than dumb exploration and combat--but I didn't find anything.

The existence of a second disk was a little puzzling. The game calls for it for a split second during startup and then never again. Curious, I checked the catalogue on the disk, and it has an entirely different game called Duel Master: Blood Valley (1987), an action game based on a couple of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, published by the UK's Imagitec. I can only imagine it was crammed onto the disk by whoever ripped this particular copy of Les Templiers d'Orven, but at the same time I can't imagine what files Orven is accessing on this second disk.
     
Where did this come from?!
     
Absent any further intelligence or documentation, I'm going to assume that the game has no quests and it's something like a Temple of Apshai approach--you can explore several dungeons from a central hub, but with no real purpose--crossed with a Wizardry interface. As such, it earns 19 in a GIMLET, with the best scores in economy (4), equipment (3), and magic and combat (3). A good character creation process is rendered inconsequential without much to do with the characters and very slow character development (2). The interface is fine, but wireframe graphics were pretty passé by 1987. A lack of NPCs and quests hurts the game. If I get any information that suggests the game has a raison d'être beyond random combat, I'll re-open it.

At least I basically understood what I was doing. Let's see, in contrast, how I do in a re-match with Loriciels' other 1986 offering: Tera: City of Skulls.

39 comments:

  1. Coffre is a chest, so perhaps there's a way to store items at the inn? I'm not sure what the benefit of that would be... maybe you can transfer items between parties?

    The graphics look pretty nice for a 1986 game. Maybe that was a selling point for the Amstrad CPC.

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    1. Yeah, I think the graphics look great, especially considering the age of the game. Have to agree with Clarco below about that terrible font, mind...

      Also, The Ultimate Dungeon first? The developers could use a dictionnaire...

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    2. I believe the chest in the inn is the way to transfer money between characters by acting as a proxy.

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  2. Just a small correction: Loricels -> Loriciels

    The company use to be quite popular in Spain, but I never heard about anything CRPG-like from them. I still can play Skweek for hours non stop.

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    1. I don't know why I kept making that mistake. Thanks.

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  3. Paperdolls in 1986? Isnt that a new first?
    Game looks interesting enough, but as with many old games, the style of the font gives me a headache just trying to read the few screenshots.
    How is that for you? Can you read all the different fonts just fine, or do you have something similar?

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    1. I used to have an old 8086 machine with a Hercules card and an amber monochrome monitor. The Wizardry games apparently drew its own font when you had the Hercules TSR installed and it looked very similar to this...and just as unreadable.

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    2. Not quite. The Black Onyx seems to have done it first in 1984.

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  4. Hey Chet,
    I have scanned the manual for you and you can download it here: http://dl.free.fr/j4GAonopr
    Also, side 2 is the save disk, so it accesses the game status.
    As for the quest, it is the standard kill the big bad at the end of the dungeon (if I remember correctly), although you can only do so after levelling up (by how much, I don't know...)
    Overall, cool game, especially on the CPC (the selection was quite barren, to be honest), but also extremely derivative.
    As a side note, the author also worked on a game called Inquisitor - Shade of Swords, which is another cool little game. A little more casual, maybe, but also quite innovative for the CPC. He also started working on a game called Haruspice, but never finished it (such a shame, really).
    Anyway, for anything CPC related, don't hesitate to ask, there is a fair chance I can help :)

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    1. Man, what a pain to register an account. anyway, I should now be able to post under my name.

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    2. Wow, what an awesome, detailed manual! Sure didn't expect that.

      It details the inn's chest ("coffre") behaviour: according to this manual, you can't hold multiple pieces of armor or gear sharing the same spot. When you buy a new one, the old one goes automatically to the "Coffre".

      Also, by the way, the plural form of "le mal" is "les maux", not "le mals" (although you should drop the superfluous article in front of either word when counting them. 3 "maux" would be the correct form. end of the boring Frecnh gammar exposition).

      As a CPC magazine avid user and reader of that time, I had never heard of that game. Awesome read, as always!

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    3. Hello Anonymous, the manual is missing on CPC-Power, maybe you can send to them ? (i can do it if you want)

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    4. Hum, I am aware. Let's just say this is a complicated issue.
      Long story short, Bruno can get the scan if he wants, but I'm not making them available for many reasons (among them counterfeiting & lack of respect for my work).
      I will eventually release all my work at some point, but only when I feel the CPC world has matured a bit (the road is very, very long...).
      In the meantime, anyone asking for specific scans can do so, as long as this is for a good cause. Of course, Chet is welcome to any of the material I have scanned & dumped for the CPC (and Amiga to a lesser extent).

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    5. Loic, thank you so much for taking the time to scan the manual. It basically suggests that the first dungeon--the one I spent so much time on--is just a starter dungeon to give the player a feel for the rules, and that the other dungeons may actually have a theme.

      Given that, I think I'll have to keep LTdO active for at least one more entry.

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    6. Well, always a pleasure to help a fellow CRPG addict :)
      I scanned it a while ago & have a huge collection of scanned CPC & Amiga boxes, manuals, disks/tapes/CDs (over 15 000 done by your truly, for consistency) and dumps (100% identical to the orginals, no cracks or modifications to the disks - in RAW & IPF format, so it's the real thing). So, if you need something, just give me a howl, I might be able to help.
      In the end, this is a cute little game and one of the only decent attempt at a CRPG on the CPC (sorry, I love Fer & Flamme... Even though I recognize its many shortcomings). The last dungeon does get partcularly fiendish towards the end, I never could finish the game.
      Cheers

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    7. Speaking of dumps, I have a semi clean dump for Fer & Flamme. By that I mean that the only things modified on the disks are the saves (no crack, PEEK or POKE...). The game is still buggy as hell (Ubi soft, already ahead of its time :), but maybe you could get something out of it.
      Don't feel obliged on my account, but if you want to give it a shot, I can provide you with the RAW files (no IPF since the disks are modified by the saves).
      The fun begins when you realize that you have to learn how to use a specific emulator to use these files (Sugarbox or Caprice Forever - apologies if I forget another emulator). Of course, I can help with that also if you need help.

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    8. "The last dungeon does get partcularly fiendish towards the end, I never could finish the game." Ugh. That sounds too much like a challenge for me to ignore it.

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    9. Well, I was 13 and an inexperienced CRPG player at the time. I just got my CPC and it was my first computer. I had dabbled a little bit with Sorcellerie (the French version of Wizardry) on Apple II at a friend's place and was absolutely fascinated by the gameplay. Who knows what I would think about the game now than I'm a lot more experienced with CPRG... Everything was new and wonderful at that time :)

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  5. Not sure that lance is meant to be translated into lance. lance can also mean throw (as an action, though the verb for 'to throw' would be lancer). Maybe combat determines close combat aptitude and lance is the ranged combat skill

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    1. We're both right, in a way. Yes, the skill undoubtedly refers to throwing, but the only item that you can throw in the game is...a lance (although perhaps this is better translated as "spear").

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    2. Nowadays it would probably better be translated as a (throwing) spear. but I think you can guess by now where the lance got it's original name from. In early medieval cavalry, the cavaliers didn't have seat-like saddles yet which hold them firmly in place in case of a clash. Hence why they rode close to their opponent and threw their lance at almost melee distance upon them to avoid pushing themselves from their horses when hitting the ennemy.

      After the introduction of the seat-like saddles and better stirrups, the riders could take the pushback of a direct clash without getting thrown off their horse. Thus the lances became bigger, longer and heavier, almost like a shorter pike, and weren't intended to be thrown anymore, but still kept their original name

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  6. Best part of long games wrapping up is the explosion of one-shots. Thanks Addict, keep it coming.

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  7. Loriciel -> "oric" (the Not very common home computer from the early 80s) + "ciel" (which means "sky" in english)

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    1. Hm, most likely the name is a play on the word "logiciel" (software), but yeah, Loriciels was pretty active in the Oric world, so maybe there's a bit of that :)

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  8. >>If you walk into a wall, the game says, "Plaf!"

    That's the French version of "Splat!" :)

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    1. I remember seeing that a lot in Asterix comics.

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    2. Now I'm going to pretend that the singer Edith PIaf is really named "Edith Splat."

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  9. Bastien MarchinaMarch 7, 2017 at 2:30 PM

    ''Parchemins'' may translate to ''scrolls'', as in ''scrolls use'' I think.

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    1. That make sense. While I was writing it, I felt that something obvious was eluding me, and that was it.

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    2. I searched a bit and there doesn't seems to be any french dictionaries that gives "parchemin" the same meaning as scroll. If I had to take a guess, the association between the two words is probably relatively recent. It probably came from the fact that there are no good translation for scroll in french, so when someone translated "magic scroll" for the first time, they had to chose something. And now, we have "parchemin magique", but it might as well have been "papyrus magique".

      This is all guesswork though, so don't take this theory too seriously.

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    3. Parchment is made from animal hide. Papyrus is made from the pith of the papyrus plant. Paper is made from cellulose fibers, usually extracted from wood or flax (flax being the really high-quality stuff due to much longer fibers and natural whiteness.)

      So, what you'd call it would technically depend on what it's made from since they're basing the name on material type instead of construction... In Spanish and French, scrolls seem to simply be referred to as "rolls"... Probably a lot of interesting etymological strings in that which I do not have time to unravel at the moment.

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  10. Brainwashing creates zombies? Is that a misnomer? Wouldn't a "convert" be better in this context? Unless Templars really were orgy-organizing, devil-worshipping, virgin-sacrificing, paganistic necromancers alleged by King Phillip IV.

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    1. I think they're going more for the original Haitian zombie myth. A zombie is just someone who has been brainwashed to act like a puppet for someone else in that context.

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  11. I'm from Montreal, Canada, and love reading the CRPG Addict blog! I've got to say these French games are truly obscure to me, they never made it here back in the day, at least not to my knowledge.

    "Parchemin" is definitely the word for "scroll" in French. It's always the term used in French medieval fantasy novels, movies, TV shows, etc., especially in the context of reading a spell or some lore from an unrolled scroll.

    According to the screenshot, "lance" seems to translate to the verb "throw", and not specifically just for lances, more as in "throwing weapons" skill. The specific lance weapon used by knights is spelled the same in French and only refers to that kind of weapon when used as a noun. If the only throwing weapon you found in the game were lances, then they're being ambivalent as to the exact meaning of the word "lance" in the skill list.

    The back of the box translates as follows, with an exciting and epic sounding marketing style:
    "Whether they confront the powers of a sorcerer, storm a distant citadel, plunge into the depths of mythical caverns, or solve the enigma of Lost Knowledge, the Adventurers of Orven are always ready for the ultimate crusade!" It's essentially describing the four scenarios.

    The last sentence is poorly written due to being a hyped up marketing blurb, so the translation is equally clunky:
    "A fantastic role playing and adventure game to penetrate into a new fantasy world for many long hours...".

    "Plaf!" translates roughly to "Smack!", as in the sound made when a cartoon character walks into a wall. :D

    The game developers are just being odd and confusing when using the term "zombie" in this context, exactly as if it was in English. They seem to be using it in the 'brainwashed slave' Haitian myth way, not animated corpse way.

    I hope that helps eliminate the confusion caused by the more obscure aspects of French translation. :)

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    1. Thanks. "Lance" is, in fact, the only throwing weapon in the game, which is why I didn't know whether the skill meant "throwing" or literally "lance." I figured if it was the former, the skill would have been rendered as "lancement" to better follow the form of the other nouns in the skill set.

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    2. Hello from Vancouver. Nice to see someone from a city I've lived in post. (Point Claire/Kirkland for two months).

      I'm now wondering if there are any RPGs written using Quebec French, or Belgian French or if they are all in France French.

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  12. I'd like to visit Vancouver one day! :)

    For various reasons, French RPGs are all in France French or a 'culture neutral' International French. However, Belgian and French Canadian gamers can certainly understand France French, and fantasy RPGs contain the French version of the usual 'fantasy vocabulary' and use a pseudo-Medieval writing style. Games (and software in general) that are localized from English to French use France as the primary target. There just aren't enough French speaking people outside of France to justify specific localization in terms of profitability.

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    1. Makes sense. I wound up at a conference in Poland, and the only grad students it was easy to have a conversation with in English were two French Separatists from Montreal, and someone from The Netherlands, so I got to hear a lot from the two Quebecois about how they disliked the French assuming that France French was the only/better form of French.

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  13. Duel Master is its own series of gamebooks notable for being player versus player, though there are options for solitaire mode, I believe. I find it amusing and confusing to see the bit about fighting fantasy in there and I note that all the screenshots I've found are lower case "fighting fantasy" and not "Fighting Fantasy". I'm guessing they just used "fighting fantasy adventure books" to refer to gamebooks in general.

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