Tuesday, November 2, 2021

BRIEF: Sorderon's Shadow (1985)

The title screen lacks the subtitle, but the manual and box both have it.
Sorderon's Shadow: The Legend of Elindor
United Kingdom
Independently developed; published by Beyond
Released 1985 for ZX Spectrum
If there's one thing that we have to admire about Sorderon's Shadow, it's how quickly the authors produced it. The game is clearly inspired by Mike Singleton's Lords of Midnight, released the previous year. The manual says this explicitly. It uses the same sort of enormous game map with the same sorts of locations, and its claim to fame revolves around the same use of "landscaping" in which distant cities, objects, and people can be seen from the current square.
You play the "Unnamed One," plucked from your realm by Karavor the Far-Seeing to destroy the evil wizard Sorderon, who has conquered the land of Elindor. We just had a discussion, relative to "Nibenay," about how many fantasy authors consciously or unconsciously borrow their place names. "Elindor" sounds like one of those names that has been used a hundred times--in Tolkien, perhaps?--until Googling produces nothing.
A new day dawns in Elindor. I realize this doesn't look like a forest, but in "landscaping" games, what you see is always what's ahead of you.
Shadow aims to improve upon Midnight by offering more of an adventure game approach. Just like Midnight, there is a small selection of common commands (directions, inventory, pause) that can be activated with the right SHIFT and then a single key. But there is also a host of text adventure-style keywords like TAKE, CLIMB, KILL, BURN, OFFER, GREET, and so forth. You can even give commands to other characters with sentences like SAY TO JASON, "DROP THE SWORD."
These adventure game elements come at the expense of the strategy game elements of Midnight; there are no armies to manage or defeat, and the player controls only one character. In terms of RPG elements, the two games are about equal: neither is an RPG. Neither offers character development. Where Midnight had a basic "bravery" attribute that influenced combat, Shadow doesn't even have that. Combat is even passive; although you can type KILL SKELETON, you don't have to. Your character fights enemies automatically if they happen to enter his square. There are more inventory items in Shadow, but it's unclear what any of them are for or what they do, and the manual is no help.
Combat at midnight.
The problem, as pointed out in many contemporary reviews, is that this enormous game world and ways of interacting with it is mostly wasted on a completely linear plot that requires the player to consult the hints in the manual for what to do. This is evident from literally the opening moments. "As you awake in Elindor," the manual says, "a guide will go before you. Follow him north, stay close, and pay heed to his words." The "guide" is an NPC named Morrin, who runs five squares north to a cave and says ELIN BALOR, a magic phrase that reveals the hidden town of Balinor. Here, you get your next quest from someone named Lonar: go kill a Krillan (a zombie created by Sorderon). If you go the wrong direction at the start of the game, or if you dally on any of the squares as Morrin heads north, you don't arrive in time to hear him say the code phrase, and you can't continue with the game. 
Winning the game involves completing nine tasks, the first seven of which have to be completed in a specific order. I was going to try, but I can't get past the second task. I've killed numerous Krillans, but when I return to Balinor, Loran doesn't acknowledge that I've completed his quest nor give me the next one.
I'm trying!
Even if I was willing to play it to the end regardless of its RPG status, there are a number of things about the game that annoy me. The screen blanks and redraws every 10 seconds for what appears to be no reason. The only sound is a torturous, intermittent dripping. The apple that's supposed to show your current health changes colors seemingly at random. You can't backspace to correct spelling mistakes. Worst of all, the parser simultaneously over-reads and under-reads key input (this is probably an emulator issue, but still) so that if I type TAKE COIN at what seems to be a normal speed, it will come out TKEEE COOONNN. Trying to move north often looks like this:

I don't understand NORTHH.
I don't understand NORTHH.
I don't understand NOTH.
I don't understand NORRHH.
You travel north.
Assuming the keypress issue wasn't a problem for contemporary players, I can understand why they would have liked it. Like Midnight, it's relatively advanced for both a cassette game and ZX Spectrum game, and it was written in less than a year by two developers--Simon Welland and Nick Eatock (that's a name you don't want as a schoolboy)--who only have a couple of other games to their credit.
The game at least had an arresting advertisement.
I know I had a couple of fans of this game who wanted to see me finish it, but I have to start policing non-RPGs a bit harder.
I'm still struggling with Burntime but hope to get another (final?) entry out soon. In the meantime, we lost a couple of games from the "Recent and Upcoming" list, neither of which I feel compelled to even BRIEF. The only reason Hydlide II (1985) was on there is that someone insisted it was completely in English, but that turns out not to be the case. I was thus delighted to remove it. Meanwhile, Nomad (1993) was a spacefaring trading/combat simulation game with no character development. No game database suggests that it's an RPG. It was nominated by a commenter who hasn't been around in years and who himself admitted it probably wouldn't pass muster.