Magic Realms -- The Sword of Kasza

by James Mallette


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Heroic character put to the test..., June 2, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

On the surface, Magic Realms; Sword of Kasza is a nice but not too memorable oldschool quest. After being framed for the murder of the King's messenger, you escape and learn that the evil Rerex has reawakened. His first plan was to possess the magistrate of your town and let him throw you in jail to get you out of the way, for you have been foretold to be "The Chosen One".

But now you are free! After proving your worth to the king, you are sent on a quest to recover the fabled "Sword of Kasza".

The map is interesting. Five magical realms are accessible from a single convenient hub-junction. Each realm holds part of the Magical Sword or some wisdom to be gained or a foe to be vanquished in order to get closer to Rerex. The realms are self-contained puzzle areas. You do have to bring your backpack with you upon entering each one, but everything needed to advance in the game is in the realm itself. (The reason you need your backpack is to avoid the inventory limit and, more importantly, to have your beef jerky with you, should you get hungry...)

Sword of Kasza is fairly light on puzzles. Most are straight from the old build-your-own-adventure box for beginners. There is a code-breaking puzzle which left me scratching my head even after checking the walkthrough. And there is one truly fun variation on the distract-the-guards theme (although not that original).

There is a great and deceptively simple solution to getting into the king's castle. It relies on the player truly imagining what to do in the PC's place.

Instead of more intricate puzzles, the game relies more on the player finding the appropriate actions to trigger story-events. Sometimes these have a great dynamic effect (talking to the right NPC opens up a whole new set of locations), sometimes they are not so well executed (you have to SIT to advance the story...)

Nearing the endgame, there are some rather nice action-sequences. The text here is timed for dramatic effect, and although it may be too slow for some, I enjoyed this.

So far, a run-of-the-mill oldschool fantasy adventure that would not stand out among the hundreds of others of its kind.

The true strength of Magic Realms; Sword of Kasza lies in its completely new approach to player-immersion. Getting the player to forget she is playing a game was an explicitly stated goal of the Infocom Imps.

Authors have tried different ways to absorb the player in their stories. Some weave a story so breathtaking the player cannot help but be moved by the characters' fate. Some go to extreme lengths in building a detailed fictional world to mentally transport the player there. One step further, they might try to achieve a near-perfect simulation where almost every possible action the player thinks of is accounted for.

Here, the author takes a different path into the player's mind. Since interactive fiction is a textual medium, and players of interactive fiction may on average be considered to be more sensitive to language and writing than mere mortals, author James Malette decided to emulate the hardships of the questing hero in the player's experience through the cunning use of linguistic torture.

The most brutal yet least sophisticated example is the simple misspelling. "Messenger" becomes "messager". "Corridor" becomes "corrdior". These are the blunt-force weapons used to make the player feel the Hero's pain.

Of course, multiples of these can be joined together in a single sentence to act as a textual cluster-bomb. Consider this example:

> "This area has a fense inclosing a large field where horses are glazing."

A well-chosen rearrangement of letters in a single word can give new meaning, baffling the reader:

> "The village of Moon has been destoryed by the hand of Rerex!"

Far beyond mere destruction, we are facing a villain who can wipe a village from the story with a handwave!

More subtle than these are the slowly grating "mistakes" that get under the player's skin, making shouting at the screen or even throwing the computer against the nearest wall a real possibility.

> "You're" is "your". Every single time.
> Plural nouns become "noun's". Almost every time.
> The English past tense is written by gluing "-ed" to the verb. Just enough so it catches you by surprise every time.

The foulest weapon of all in this linguistic arsenal though is the dreaded "Seemingly Random Semicolon". It can show up in an innocent list of objects where, although painful, it is at least obviously out of place. It also rears its head in the middle of a descriptive paragraph, forcing the player to doubt her interpretation and reread the offensive sentence over and over, each time with a different emphasis. A truly haunting experience.

> "Beware the traps within, for amany bold knight entered; none never returned."

With this masterpiece I leave you to ponder the power of text, and text alone, to inflict harm upon the player comparable to the harm we put our protagonists through when exploring interactive fictional worlds.