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Spheres of Chaos, by Chris Grant

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A Large Puzzle Fest Across A Sprawling Rural Landscape, January 3, 2024
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Large, Odyssey, RISC OS, Puzzle Fest, Parser, NPCs

Spheres of Chaos is a rara avis indeed - that is a large text only RISC OS adventure consisting of over 250 locations written by Chris Grant in 1994 (his only adventure as far as I can see) and I played it via the RPCEmu Emulator.

It is a linear odyssey with the goal to collect seven spheres of chaos scattered throughout an impoverished rural kingdom in an indefinite (seventeenth century?) bygone age and then to harness their power to prevent an evil king using them to his nefarious ends.

The white text on black background display is easy on the eye and the excellent location descriptions show that the author has a real eye for creating a believable milieu. The game also features sixteen NPCS which is more than most adventures of its kind; these range from friendly ones (the Giant and the Hermit) to those of a less philanthropic bent (the somewhat incongruous Lager Lout who vacillates between trying to kill you and calling you his best mate). Most of them can be addressed and often they proffer up useful information or objects; some need bribing. Generally "say x to y" covers all conversational bases although I struggled with the jungle king and his guard. Some of the NPCs appear to possess an adventurous spirit as they wander quite widely across the game's canvas; I once stumbled across the farmer tidying up in the network of caves - I have a strong suspicion his ambit should not exceed the farmhouse. Another NPC (the shambling mummy) seems to be directly lifted from the mainframe giant Acheton although I doubt if it has had the pleasure of meeting Mike Oakley.

The landscape itself is split up into several regions, namely a windmill surrounded by corn fields, a large forest, a lake with a water mill and central island, an interesting "city in the sky" constructed of bridges and tree houses high in the trees of a forest, an overgrown crater, a large castle replete with cesspit (don't try swimming!) and a village. Some of the regions cannot be revisited so it is important to work out which objects you need when leaving one particular region as the inventory limit is set at six and is predicated on number, not weight. There are three objects for which there appear to be no use and a few small mazes but they can be entered and exited fairly quickly via random movements with the exception of the small maze in the mine which can be mapped in the old fashioned way by dropping objects.

Given the size of the game the actual puzzles themselves are not great in number and I can't help but feel that the acquisition of the spheres could have been made more interesting and difficult as none require strong powers of reasoning to acquire, with the exception of the Sphere of Despair. Maybe my exposure to much tougher mainframe adventures recently has improved my forensic abilities but few people should be stumped by the puzzles contained herein.

There are a few bugs scattered throughout the game, i.e. you can carry all seven spheres if you drop all and take all but only six of them if you pick them up one by one. Another annoying feature is that the HELP command admonishes you for your stupidity and exits the game play session. There is also only scope for one saved position so I ended up moving saved game states and renaming them as back ups.

The parser is run of the mill and recognises EXAMINE and TAKE ALL. The game has no score or progress indicator but does exhibit an occasional dry wit, i.e. attempting to kill someone who is not present elicits, "There is no-one here to kill. What a shame."

Overall an interesting and none too easy diversion but most of the problems come from the sheer size of the game, working out which items to carry on to the next region and the phrasing of commands when addressing the NPCs. I recommend drawing a map as some regions are difficult to reconnoitre from memory. Interestingly there are no dark regions at all and no hunger or thirst timers. I can't think of a similar sized game with no light source whatsoever.

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