Yeah. So About The Old Man...
The small home on the riverside has a horrifying layout that divides it into two main rooms. On the left are all the old man's treasures, which make it clear that he was quite the warrior in his day. Starting with the cyan object and going counter-clockwise around the room...
These riches are too good for players to have to just look at them. I'm surprised Rivera doesn't offer players a chance to try and steal these things and be killed immediately. It seems like the kind of game where obvious bad choices that lead to game overs should be everywhere.
On the opposite side of the house is nothing for the player to interact with except for the old man, who it turns out doesn't get a name after all. The fireplace does animate though, a nice detail, and Rivera is nice enough to not make the fire hurt the player. Unlike some people...
An old man is seen, sitting in a cozy
rocking chair. As you approach, he slowly
rises and speaks...
"Aha, welcome! I've been waiting quite a
while for you- you took longer than he
thought! Well, no matter. You are here
• • • • • • • • •
He'll always complain about how long it took David to arrive, but I would have been really impressed if it the game actually tracked if I went to the castle first. This is where the greater story of the game is first hinted at. Yeah... the whole eastern cave and princess rescue are just mere steps on along the way.
Before getting into the details, the player is given the opportunity to ask one question. It's very annoying most of them don't actually provide anything useful, but players (especially when they're taking screenshots for an article) will want to reload and see all the dialog.
Who are you?
What's with all these monsters?
Who is the Shadow Master?
Only this last question really provides anything of value. As it turns out David Daron here has a destiny. It will be up to him to defeat the Shadow Master who fled back in the eastern cave, but to do so will require a lot to be done before David is ready.
After asking your one question, the old man makes an unusual request to take the red ring that was purchased earlier. You can decline, only to be asked again. A second denial results in the old man killing David on the spot, claiming it will only prolong the inevitable. This guy, and perhaps the ring, definitely have backstories that players aren't getting here.
Cooperating is recommended, as it keeps you from being murdered. In addition, you get a free long sword out of the deal! So for players that were unable to afford one in Tre 'La and spent all their gems to get past the thugs, rather than be stuck in an unwinnable state, they're instead put right back on track. Is this really the same Rivera who was locking players in rooms with bosses that were unkillable without specific and often unstated items?
The visit to the old man raises far more questions than it answers, but until all the game's quests are complete, David will get nothing more out of the old man. The only way to proceed is south towards the kingdom of Zahn to get to work on the peace mission, and hopefully find a few clues about the princess's whereabouts as well.
The Infiltration of Zahn
Having seen everything of interest above the castle's gate, David begins the short walk to Zahn. Immediately he's once again accosted by the usual ZZT baddies. The new Rivera throws ammo at the player again, which by this point has just been a complete reversal of fortune. Ammo is now officially plentiful.
He also returns to the sudden labeling of things with text on the board instead of describing things via scrolls. Perhaps he just really wants players to know they're back in the forest and that this is not tall grass even if there are some green breakables at the start. The action here is segmented first by breakables that are used to prevent the player from being ambushed by ruffians as they were earlier. Some forest is used to keep the last set of lions off to the side rather than giving them the chance to move in on the player.
A sign posted in the middle of it all provides directions. I'm loving this drawing of the sign itself with its off-center design driving home the idea that it's a hand-made object.
For now, David has no business in the Dragon Mountains, and they sound scary anyway, so it's off to Zahn!
What looks at first glance to be another linear path east towards Zahn is actually a four-way intersection offering players a lot of options with how to proceed. Another scroll once again provides some directions. The Murky Swamp to the north, the kingdom to the east, and the plains to the south. A warning is attached to the plains, stating that it's easy to get lost there. Players are advised to stick solely to the first board of the plains and not get wandering.
The plains are a very strange location. This is the "safe" board, where a hermit will yell at the player for not being worthy of their counsel just yet. No indication is given as to what it would take to be worthy, and I completely forgot about them in my playthrough.
Upon wrapping up the Zahn quest they'll have fallen asleep and will mumble some clues for how to navigate another area of the game: the Dragon Mountains. Thankfully the clues aren't necessary to get through the mountains. In fact, they're not really helpful at all.
Players that disregard the warning about the plains will find themselves on a board that wraps in all directions and have to reload their game. Yeah, this sucks. No getting around it.
The swamp has quite the look to it. For a world that doesn't use Super Tool Kit graphics, I guess green is the obvious color for a swamp, but that color's already been taken for literally everything else, and bright green isn't all that swampy. The mix of yellow and brown is probably the way to go. This board looks "ugly", but I mean that in a good way. It looks like an unpleasant place to hang out, and one where you should probably watch where you step.
The densely packed board requires players to shoot their way through, dealing with loose centipede heads and trying to not get bit by the sharks patrolling the waters. The large reserves of ammo players will collect up to this point get put to good use here, but once more Rivera is now happy to provide extra ammo to players. You don't have to do a whole lot of digging yourself, making this board go by a lot more quickly than expected.
Plus Rivera does a great job of getting the atmosphere going with that opening scroll. The narration here is some of the strongest yet.
It's still an instance of players going to places just because they're there though. I have no idea what I'm looking for in this swamp, or this dark cave at the end of the path. I guess the princess could be here?
The nature of the game means that picking any place to explore is usually a gamble as to whether or not it will hold something essential for the main path or will be the main path that's blocked off until you find something somewhere else.
And for a bit, I began to suspect that this was nothing more than an opportunity for players to get some more resources if they were willing to do a bit of shooting. The cave also has its share of ammo and gems, and seems devoid of a greater purpose.
A more thorough exploration will reveal another path that's barely visible in torchlight as it requires shooting through some breakables to see it properly. This is the cave's critical path which leads to a dead end with a dead body, some treasure, and a golden (not yellow) key.
It seems to be another instance of Rivera's world having more to it than players get to see. There's obviously a story here, with players left wondering who this person was, what they were doing here, and what that key is for.
Players that reach the place the key is needed before heading to the swamp will at least know the answer to that last question. As for the rest, Rivera isn't telling.
The last path finally takes players to Zahn proper. Rivera's trademark house designs are adorable as always. Next up is finding a way inside the gates.
"What is your business here?"
"We do not allow "travelers" here in
wartime! Begone with thee!"
"WAIT!", calls a voice from the top of the
battlement. "Let this traveler through! I
know him well, and he should pass!"
"Fine, fine.", grumbles the guard.
• • • • • • • • •
I didn't actually think that the way inside would be so simple. Lucky for David to have connections with somebody living here.
But then the twist! David doesn't know anybody here. This is all the work of the Great Redwood, and I just eat it up. I've just never seen these kind of mystic forest guardian characters in ZZT games actually influence the events of the game. It's so nice to be able to list of things they make happen instead of just being this character players are told is important without every demonstrating why.
Rivera really loves his split paths. This time it's the castle up north, the barracks to the east, and the town to the south. David refuses to do something as stupid as walk into a war camp and say he's from the kingdom they're about to go to war with, so the choices are narrowed a bit.
Talking to the guard at the gates brings up a variety approaches to take in order to be let through. It's been awhile since Adventure has shown us some humor, so I simply had to pick "Yo, dude!" first.
The direct approach almost actually works. Except of course, that the king gave us a scroll to make it known that we are in fact with the enemy kingdom. So whenever guards happen to discover this fact, they assume that David is a spy and have him killed on the spot.
At least, that's what I imagine the scroll says. It really causes nothing but trouble for David. Getting into the castle is going to require some actual infiltration.
This means heading south into town and entering the only building you can.
I was really let down to discover that Zahn wasn't the new Tre 'La. The old man's house doesn't actually connect with the starting canyon board making returning to Tre 'La a considerable undertaking. The first castle has no shops, and now the same is true for Zahn. A second inn and a chance to buy ammo and torches at a shop would be really welcome additions to the game. Concepts like the collector's shop have just been abandoned entirely instead of getting a chance to reappear here, once again drawing a stark line between Tre 'La and post-Tre 'La.
Even the homes look kind of dull here. They're all too tiny to have windows and come off as filler. Which is a bit ironic given that most of the board is taken up by what I'm interpreting as yellow wheat fields that I think look fantastic.
For whatever reason, this one large building can be entered. Inside is an old foe, the Evil Knight from the second level of the eastern cave! They ran off on the brink of being defeated in a puff of smoke which surely counts as foreshadowing. After all, the Shadow Master also wasn't killed and they're now the main villain of the series. Just who this guy is exactly remains unknown. I'd also love to know why he's in this random house. Is it his? He was sitting in a cave before, so I guess this is a step up for him.
The knight's first move is to throw a star directly in the path of players who won't have even had a chance to enter the main room of the house before it starts heading their way. Instinctively taking cover in the corner, David dodges the star only to have the wall that's meant to trap players inside the room trap him on the outside, resulting in a soft-lock.
What ends up being a better strategy is using the table for cover instead, popping out when needed to strike. The knight's code is fairly long for a boss fight. It kind of goes to waste, with all his phases and attacks blending into one another while players figure out what they need to do. Unlike the previous encounter which was entirely based on touching the enemy to attack with your sword, the knight is invincible until he's been shot enough times for his armor to be destroyed.
David's "chosen one" status shows itself through a battle cry that surprises even him. I do appreciate the way Rivera's boss battles, even if frequently tough-as-nails, try to be dramatic.
Upon being defeated for real this time, Rivera sets up the next foil for David Daron. Of course the evil knight has an evil brother. David's going end up expecting a boss fight every time he opens a door for the rest of his life.
The knight also drops a key to the backroom where some mining equipment can be found with a tunnel leading to an underground passage. You can safely assume that it will lead to somewhere in the castle grounds sure, but Rivera doesn't justify any of this whatsoever. There's no reason for Daron to think to enter random buildings, no reason for this one in particular to have the knight, and no reason for the tunnel to exist as it does either. You can get away with all kind of weird places when they're found in a monster-infested cave, but this is just a normal town. Even so much as a random NPC claiming to know a way into the castle or something would go a long way to making this section of the game feel like it has a reason for being other than to solve the problem of how to get David from point A to point B.
The tunnel is, well, a tunnel board. It's dark. It zig-zags, and it's full of bears and bugs. ...Not to harp on the lack of "realism" in this fantasy game, but this should be a tunnel that was dug out, not an already existing cavern. Who let these bears in?!
There is one conspicuous cyan solid wall, that's just a mean, albeit non-fatal, trick by Rivera. If the player touches it, the blue wall next to the torch on the right that's out of bounds will lock itself. For players that ignore it and opt to touch the wall next to the torch, they'll discover a secret cache of extra torches. Punishment for examining things is not a good look.
The tunnel is short enough and has enough torches provided freely that I made it through with just one fewer torch than I started, so it's not that important of a secret to find
...unlike the canyon one that I missed at the start of the game *sob*.
The other side leads into Zahn castle, though there's a catch. A golden door blocks the path to the treasury. This is where that key in the swamp comes into play. Again, nothing is rationalized. The dirt-filled mine carts imply that this tunnel must be freshly made, but the door had to be here for quite some time as its key was found next to a skeleton. Likely the tunnel is meant to be used to steal from the treasury, but then perhaps just continue to dig and avoid this weird door entirely.
It's not that important.
The point is, that this is David's way into the castle. (Mind the visible invisibles, I still had the cheat on since the mirror maze back in part one.) Whether the invisible walls are meant to be an extra form of security or just Rivera's way of ensuring that the force for justice that is David doesn't do a crime is unknown. Two gems are actually in the way, allowing David to actually collect them. Upon doing so they immediately reveal themselves to be fakes, with one containing a spare key to the main treasury door where David will face his next obstacle: the guards.
Every last one of whom is sleeping. That's fortunate.
The armory and explosive rooms are locked up with blue doors, and one of the guards just so happens to have the key. David's mission is meant to be a peaceful one, but who can resist all that ammo, or the opportunity to play with dynamite again! It's such a nice touch to include that recognizable in there.
Attempting to take the key is a trick though, resulting in David being caught and killed as a spy yet again. At least this time it probably wasn't the scroll's fault and more the exiting from a secret tunnel somebody dug to access the kingdom's treasury.
Because this is Rivera we're dealing with, even selecting the "No thanks, I don't do crimes." option still causes the guard to wake up and end the game. Choosing not to decide is the correct choice here.
Thankfully the Zahn castle sequence isn't dragged out. The very next board is the throne room, with a lot of very much awake guards instead. With David not really being allowed to hurt anybody here, we're lucky to not get a prolonged stealth sequence. Instead, the player must move into the crowd, passing a certain point sending a group of guards rushing in his direction.
"You are here on unauthorized entry, and..
-You show them the scroll-
Suddenly the King speaks:
Let him pass!
The guards reluctantly move, fingering
their weapons anxiously.
• • • • • • • • •
Of course the king of Zahn is the only person actually willing to listen to David. These guards just want something to do. (murder)
All my complaints about this part of the game can be disregarded. It's all worth it for that incredibly ZZT line about drinking more coffee.
Except now the justification for the war is the absurd part. Perhaps you can solve your "everybody gets lost in the flat featureless plains" and our "we need to expand somewhere" problems by expanding into the great empty space just south of here???
Whatever. Crisis averted. The king of Zahn is willing to find a peaceful solution because he was asked nicely not to do a land-grab. It's all quite idealistic.
I couldn't miss the opportunity to share the exterior shot of the castle here. Suddenly the guards are so friendly.
This is a good time to tell the first king the good news. It's a brief trek back through some already cleared boards, which is a bit more walking that seems necessary, but it's nothing too terrible.
David acquires DRAGONSLAYER. Once held by THOR HAMMERHAND. Great names all around here.
The only thing left to do is rescue the princess. There's still no information as to where she can be found, but with just one place left in the game to visit, and the guild master in Tre 'La pointing out that dragons are always involved in quests with princesses, the Dragon Mountains are the sensible place to head next.
I would say that this is the last real opportunity to head back to Tre 'La for some last minute shopping if the player was low on supplies, but look at just how much this game has turned everything around. Never in a million years would I have believed the final quest of Adventure would begin with the player in such good shape.