Westwood Studios is probably best known for taking the RTS world by storm with Dune II and Command & Conquer, but they had also dabbled in other genres like action-oriented CRPGs such as the first two Eye of the Beholder games. But they also launched an invasion of the adventure genre with their Kyrandia series.
These were lavish productions with hand crafted art both in production and onscreen rivaling the work put out by either Sierra or Lucasarts back in the day. The original Kyrandia, from which the series was named after, was actually a text-based MUD by an outfit called Galacticomm which BBS fans may recognize as the makers of the Major BBS software.
That Kyrandia came out back in 1988 and Westwood eventually bought the rights to it. It would have completely slipped by me if it weren’t for the help of fellow gaming archaeologist, unwashedmass, who comments below. Looking at this thread back on Adventure Gamers, it seems that it was a fairly obscure game.
But its link to Westwood’s Kyrandia is as clear as day according to this interview with Rick Gush. You can still play it via telnet using this address — telnet://seabreeze.servegame.com. After filling in the blanks to create an account, and going through a few housekeeping rules, you can find it from the main menu under Adventure Games, in full ASCII text glory.
With Westwood, they adopted this namesake as the first game in their “Fables and Fiends” series which started things off with a huge bang thanks to a solid story, meticulously detailed artwork, and a few unusual surprises that made Kyrandia’s particular fantasy backdrop stand out.
The colorful manual relates the story of the Kyragem, a powerful artifact of magic that was gifted to the kingdom of Kyrandia long ago. However, Malcolm the Jester has betrayed the royal family by murdering the king and queen. The Mystics, who maintain magic within Kyrandia, have managed to imprison Malcolm within Castle Kyrandia. While the plan is successful, it has also cut the Mystics off from the Kyragem within. As the years pass, they’ve started cannibalizing other magical enchantments that had been woven throughout the land in the past just to keep the prison up.
Kallak, the leader of the Mystics, had also managed to save his grandson, Brandon, from the clutches of Malcolm. Brandon’s mother also happened to be the queen leaving him the only heir. Now that he’s all grown up, Malcolm’s prison has finally failed and the mad jester is out for revenge. Now it’s up to Brandon to journey throughout Kyrandia to find a way to stop him and save the land from his insanity. Without Kallak. He’s a stone statue now.
Despite how serious the fairy tale seemed in the manual, the game had quite a bit of lighthearted humor worked into nearly every line of dialogue whether it was Brandon commenting on himself or on the puzzles at hand. It could also be occasionally tough on you with the puzzles and wasn’t shy about killing you off.
One puzzle in particular had to do with that old cliche of adventure games: the maze. This time, it was a series of darkened caves. The only light you could use were glow berries that grew on bushes found every so often in said cave because the berries didn’t last very long. The trick was in trying to get through the dark caves, replenish your berries when needed, and find the exit. There were quite a few dead ends to find in there and it could take you some time to figure out just where you needed to go. And just like in Zork, once the light goes out, you’re a snack for whatever has been waiting in the shadows.
There was also something of a bizarre segment in the game where Brandon finds himself in a cavern with a thin bridge of stone reaching over a molten lake of rock. Brandon can also die here by catching fire, and when he does, he yells out “SHIT” just like I did in caps. It was as if the actor playing Brandon had realized that he was really on fire (not the voice actor, I played through the text-only version). I even remember someone commenting that they had enjoyed the game up until that point with their kids. Not sure if that was kept in with the later iterations of the game, or if it was patched out.
Other than that, Westwood also had the musical talents of Frank Klepacki to bring Kyrandia’s fantasy-scapes to life with his tracks. Kyrandia certainly had everything going for it in looks and sound, though some were turned off by the weirdness of some of the puzzles and the keyboard-crushing frustration of certain segments like the aforementioned cave. The interface was fine and different enough to stand apart from Lucasarts’ own look, though it could felt cumbersome in flipping through the inventory to get at everything.
The good news is that after your trials and tribulations, the ending was worth getting at and helped to pave the way for the sequel. Kyrandia would end up being a trilogy of adventures ending with Malcolm being the unexpected hero and Westwood would also ply its talents into creating an adventure game around Blade Runner’s unique universe.
Unfortunately, the game didn’t find much life outside of its PC-oriented peers such as the Amiga, Macintosh, and the PC-98 where it was ported after its DOS debut. It’s not even one other venues like Good Old Games. Instead, you can probably find it and its sequels either on Ebay or abandonware sites.
The DOS version game came out in August of ’92 and as Malcolm sneers overhead, the ad explodes with leaves, branches, screenshots, and a parchment-like backdrop to celebrate Westwood’s new adventure. It’s a solid, two-page spread that makes it seem so serious until you start playing the game and realize that it’s still all about having fun. Just as long a the occasional brush with bizarre logic doesn’t drive you as insane as its jester.