Knights Of The Crystallion, as the name suggests, is a huge quest set in a fantasy world of its own. It's a sizeable work of a similar ilk to Lord Of The Rings (but thankfully not as big) where the author has attempted to cover all apects of life in this world and specifically in the city of Orodrid.
Orodrid, as a digitised voice will tell you at the beginning of the game, is 'The City Of Bones'. It was built into the skeleton of a humungous sea monster. Each rib, as big as a tower, houses a 'Haresh', or commune of seven or so Orodrid families. The mountainous skull became the Tsimit, comprising a temple in the cranium and a cavernous maze system in its buried depths.
You get to play Master Adreni - now head of the Adreni family - with aspirations to become a Knight Of The Crystallion. This is a desirable position of influence in the city which entails hatching your own crystal stallion. (The Crystallion - geddit?)
To achieve this, you will have to convince the city's priestly class, the Keepers, that you are a worthy subject. This involves venturing into the aforementioned maze - the four veils of the Tsimit - in search of magical crystals (formed from the fossilized brain of the sea creature). This is the main part of Knights Of The Crystallion but apart from this there are several subgames to master in order to succeed.
As well as your quest, you'll also have to manage your family's economic affairs. This entails setting the price of the three commodities they produce whilst bearing in mind the prices of similar goods in the Haresh. This is done by clicking on the various pointers and icons on two main screens. You will also set donations to the Tsimit and there will be random opportunities to invest in different ventures, such as establishing new markets with neighbouring villages.
When you go to the Tsimit, a keeper will lend yo a Crystallion suit. This conveniently glows blue in the dark and casts some light on the gloomy veils. It also has three life-saving charges which is fortunate 'cos it 's a bit dangerous down there!
So, armed with meaty plasma balls, down you go and start collecting crystals. There are monsters to be zapped including the pesky Shorgi - flying things that pick up crystals. Once you've got enough crystals, you can either retrace your steps and leave or you can complete the veil. Erm... I'm making this sound easy aren't I? Well, actually, it's not...
If you decide to leave, then take your crystals to Proda in order to recharge your Crystallion suit. This involves laying them all out on the floor. In numbers they generate a charge which can be aimed at the 'Prods' in the centre of the room and then bounced upwards into the charge collector. You'll have to be rather careful of the Cripids, more crystal pilferers and also of stacking too many crystals together.
If you choose to move into the second veil on the other hand, then the keepers will give you two tests. The first is on your knowledge of the Tocanon - a collection of Orodrim verse that accompanies your game. The second is to beat them at the locals' answer to Triv, the board game Bosu. This is quite a complex single screen sub-game. Fail either test and you won't be permitted to continue, fail the first and you won't even get to keep your hard-earned little crystals! What reason is there to continue then? The fourth and final veil contains the crystal eggs from which the Crystallion is hatched.
Oh, and there's also a sub-game called Dekata. This is a card game to heighten your telepathic powers and the psychic link with your unborn Crystallion - which translates to you being faced with several face down cards from which you'll have to find the pairs.
The more successful you are, then the numbers on the cards will start to glow through (this represents your telepathic powers being heightened). You can't access the Deketa in the middle of the Tsimit, so you are advised to do this at the start. Once you've established this 'psychic link' with your super equine chum, you'll find he will help you out as you proceed. In the maze and also in the economic scenarios. A crystal stallion's head will appear advising the route or course of action to take. Neat, eh?
That in a nutshell(!) is Knights Of The Crystallion. Your ultimate aim is to get to the fourth veil of the Tsimit, find the Crystal eggs and hatch your Crystallion. All along the route the Keepers will be watching you and testing you before you proceed into the next stage.
Spig Of The Whastes of Elfin Buttock: Greetings. I am Spig and I am heavy with child. (You what? Ed.) Er, sorry, you see Knights Of The Crystallion is such pure fantasy escapism that I had difficulty 'getting out of character'.
Bill Williams, the writer, has gone to great lengths to create a whole environment, providing a manual full of insights into the Orodrim way of life and an evocative soundtrack. The graphics are very colourful and detailed and the control system simple.
Although US Gold claims that the soundtrack could stand on its own as a 'concept album'(!) (erm... I don't think it'd grace my record collection) it contributes greatly to the whole package and helps you immerse yourself in the world of the Orodrid. The game will include an audio recording of this which apparently if played backwards(!) will provides further clues!
As I said, the game controls are simple. Everything is controlled by mouse,w ith you moving an eye icon (your inner eye) and clicking to initiate an action. I liked the way the game knew what you were up to; I mean the seemingly innocent Deketa section almost gets you thinking you're telepathic!
Having tried to find my way around the Tsimit unaided, I was chuffed to find the Deketa paying off and a crystal stallion's head paying off and a crystal stallion's head suddenly appearing to help me out.
Some of the screens in the Tsimit are completely dark and your vision is thus eerily limited to a small circle around you, illuminated by your Crystallion suit. Fortunately the Shorgis also glow in the dark. Finding your way is tricky but the computer won't let you move over an edge. If you can't reach a certain position, then it'll make a complaining sound. You can also illuminate your path by lobbing slow plasma balls (yep, they've got two speeds). If there's a crystal on a dark screen, then grab it and hey presto, all will be revealed.
Incidentally you can access any part of the game (except the later levels of the Tsimit of course) from the main menu screen. This means that you can practice the sub-games before you get to a stage in the game where the outcome is crucial.
I found the Bosu game tricky to master even at the easiest of the four levels of difficulty but fortunately there is a tutor mode to help you and also the ability to pay this separately as a two player game! Since progressing in the game will hinge upon you defeating the Keepers progressively at each level of Bosu, you'd be advised to get to grips with it.
So you see, there's a lot of depth to Knights Of The Crystallion and it's a game that will require a bit of intellect. Makes a change from all that mindless zapping, doesn't it? Anyway, that, as they say, is that. A huge involved fantasy adventure offering atmospheric graphics and sound, with gameplay intricately crafted with enthusiasm.