Shannara (1995)

Shannara (1995) Designed by Lori and Corey Cole, written by Lori Cole, additional writing by Josh Mandel, based on the books by Terry Brooks, developed and published by Legend Entertainment

Between the best entry to the Quest for Glory series, Shadows of Darkness, and the messy ending of it, Dragon Fire, Corey and Lori Ann Cole designed a Shannara game for Legend Entertainment. Just like the series the Cole's are the best known for, Shannara is a mix between adventure and RPG, but in this case, the RPG elements feel very light in comparison to Quest for Glory: there's no character progression of any kind nor is there any significant benefit of battling the enemies on the world map nor is there equipment management or potions and spells that could aid you.

I am getting ahead of myself.

So, Shannara is based on book series written by TerroyBrooks, I'm not overly familiar with, having only read one book ages ago. I recall it being an okay fantasy romp, nothing more, nothing less. There's also an MTV produced TV-series made of them, but the little I've seen of that, I can't say I'm a fan.

But, Shannara, the game, that's what I was going to tell you about, not the series of books or the TV-production. The hero of the story is Jak Ohmsford, a son of legendary Shea Ohmsford, who decades past defeated an evil warlock Brona. As luck has it, Brona has returned, seeking for more power and this time it is Jak, who must stop him. A mysterious, a tad dickish, druid Alannanon gives Jak the bare basics before he ushers the lad on his merry way of being chased by monsters.

On his travels, Jak needs to recover the sword of Shannara as well as several magical artefacts sewn all over the world to different species: elves, trolls, gnomes and dwarves. He also has to gather allies so that the when the time comes to power the sword, all the races would be present with their respective magical doohickeys. This also means, that you will have up to 6 people with you at best, whom all can help in solving different kinds of puzzles.

Shannara uses the same engine with other Legend Entertainment games of the era, so if you've played Death Gate or  Companions of Xanth, you should be right at home. The game itself is in the first-person view, where you don't see your own character elsewhere other than on a party roster menu. You move either by clicking directional arrows on the screen or by using the numpad, which ever you find more comfortable. Other than that, the game is a pretty standard point 'n' click fare with inventory- and other kinds of puzzles.

But unlike in many other Legend Entertainment games, Shannara also has a combat system as well as an overhead travel map, which is used when travelling between places. You can move on the map by using the cursor keys either on the screen or by using the numpad. On the map, you can also enter in combat with several monsters if you feel like it, but there's no practical reason to do so, as there are no rewards for doing so: no experience to level up characters nor any loot to get better weapons, items or gold. The story has a couple of mandatory combats in it though, which in some cases work almost like a little puzzle on their own.

The combat system is turn based, where you can give simple commands to your companions in the line of attacking the leaders, strongest enemy or using the only magical combat item, elf-stone. It isn't a complex system and in many ways it feels like something that was meant to be a bigger part of the game, especially considering how big the world map is, but was ditched in the end. Like I said, you can do combat if you feel like it, but there are no rewards from doing it, so why bother beyond a couple of fights that are plot related.

As an adventure game Shannara doesn't manage to get to the same level of sophistication as the Quest for Glory series did. You can solve the puzzles only in certain manners, where as in the QfG series the solutions were at times dependant on what class you played. In that, Shannara is a step back for the Coles, but understandable in this case, as you do play a predetermined character and not something you create yourself.

I'm hesitant to call Shannara a pure adventure/RPG hybrid, as while it does have some RPG functionality in it, it never feels like those elements really are something the game would need. The structure of the story is relatively linear, the combat is almost redundant and the puzzles are tied down to a single possible solution.

Graphically Shannara looks pretty great thanks to nicely hand-painted backgrounds and character models. There's not much of animation, besides ugly pre-rendered CGI scenes here and there and overall the game does look and feel very static, especially in comparison of Sierra or Lucasfilm adventures. But then again, that was the case with a lot of Legend Entertainment games.

The voice acting is surprisingly solid and there's quite a bit of it. But then again, the cast does have some pretty seasoned names in it, like Earl Boen, Susan Silo, Jack Angel and Lori Alan, who all have an extensive voice and acting work in games, TV and movies. The dialogue also is well written and there's even some of the trademark Cole humour thrown in for a good measure, which this cast manages to bring alive pretty nicely.  The soundtrack is okay, but nothing extremely memorable.

If you are looking for a solid adventure/RPG hybrid, I don't think I can really recommend Shannara, as it doesn't do the RPG side of its design very well. As an adventure game, it does manage to do a lot better, but it still isn't the greatest adventure title out there. If you like Legend Entertainments games though, it's not a bad choice.

To my knowledge, Shannara isn't sold anywhere at the moment, at least digitally, so if you want a legal copy of it, eBay or Amazon might be your only choices.