J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: Volume One


Review by · June 8, 2001

I have never liked games based on books. Perhaps it is due to some bad experiences of mine in the past, but I’ve always thought that book-based games are never half as good as they sound. Plots get maimed, characters get removed, and things always seem so much different than the way you had them visualized. Now, while I’d like to say that J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: Volume One has changed my view on these games, I’m afraid it hasn’t. Instead, it has deepened my hatred for this genre more than ever, and in case you’re curious as to why I hate it, here’s my review.

Three Rings for the Elven Kings under the Sky,
Seven for the Dwarf Lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for mortal men doomed to die,
One for the dark lord on his dark throne,
In the land of Mordor, where the shadows lie.

One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them,
One ring to bring them all and in darkness bind them,
In the land of Mordor, where the shadows lie…”

-Elven Verseem>

Although more fully explained in J.R.R. Tolkien’s story, “The Hobbit”, there was once a hobbit named Bilbo who lived in a hobbit hole and hated adventures and so on and so forth. To make a long story short, various circumstances led him into a peril-fraught journey for dwarven treasure. Along the way, he killed spiders and fought goblins and nearly got eaten repeatedly and… well, you get the point. After his journey, he brought home several sacks of gold and other treasures and trinkets, but his most curious souvenir was a golden ring, imbued with strange powers…

Years past and yet Bilbo never seemed to age. In fact, by the time he was 111 (or eleventy one as he called it), he looked no different than the day he returned from his trip. However, on his momentous birthday, he invited all his neighbors and family together for a speech. Along with the usual comments about how all of them were such fine people and how he wished he could stay longer, he declared that he felt a touch of wanderlust in his old age. With that, he bid himself farewell, plunked the ring onto his finger, and vanished from sight.

Before the seemingly insubstantial hobbit could escape from town however, he was confronted by his nephew Frodo and his old wizard friend Gandalf. The wizened magus in gray greeted his old friend, but fearing the dark powers of the ring, demanded that Bilbo relinquish it to his nephew for safekeeping. Frodo was then handed his destiny. The ring was evil, that much was sure, and it was now his quest to bring it to Rivendell. From there, the ring’s fate would be decided. If only Frodo knew of the terrors that lay in his path…

TLotR: V1 is a substandard Action RPG that tried to squeeze some money out of a well-established story, but failed miserably as the game is not worth playing at any price.

As Frodo, you begin in the small village of Hobbiton. The game turns out to be an extremely dull dungeon crawler. As soon as you begin, you are immediately faced with a rather boring fetch quest: find the gaffer’s glasses. Now, as the gaffer is quite elderly, your first instinct would be to search around town for it. Don’t waste your time. I’ll tell you as a free hint that the glasses are in the deepest recesses of a seemingly endless cave to the west of town. Don’t ask how the old man got his glasses down there, but that’s where your quest takes you.

After you manage to spelunk your way to the missing eyewear, you bring it back to the old man and your good friend Samwise joins you. However, due to the computer’s pitiful AI, the chubby hobbit was torn to shreds by wolves within three minutes after I got him.

The battle system basically involves stabbing at enemies with one button and blocking with another, but the computer rarely does either. Instead, it follows you until it hits an obstacle and then gets hopelessly lost off screen and/or dead. You can control your partners by holding down the R button, but you can’t control just one of them. Instead, you have all of your friends perform the same actions at the same time. I admit it was cool seeing my parade of people marching around, but some level of precision control would be nice.

Should someone die, those characters are completely beyond healing. In fact, the only way to get any health whatsoever is to find various healing items that restore a small portion of your life. This led to my policy of allowing all partners to die as quickly as possible, as only two or three near the end are worth training to the point of usefulness. What I wouldn’t give for an inn…

The rest of the game beyond this first quest is suspiciously similar. You wind up performing fetch quests throughout the entire game, only each set of caves or forests you search becomes more and more convoluted and confusing than the last. I must have wandered for hours before I escaped the Barrow Downs. However, once you do manage to navigate an area, you are usually confronted by some character that will tell you that you missed a treasure and need to go back and look for it. The simplistic battles mixed with the mindless wandering and shabby dungeon design makes for a very monotonous gaming experience, and the shortage of enemy variety and almost complete lack of bosses makes the situation even worse.

As for weapons and armor, equipment can be picked up throughout your quest or bought at one point. Mixed with the fact that each level gives you a little stat bonus, training and searching for gear can help make battles far less aggravating. However, the makers of the game included a small bug that can easily ruin your game. Should your offense or defense ever pass 99, they immediately revert to 00, 01, 02, and so on instead of 100,101, 102, etc. This means that if you inadvertently pick up a weapon or armor that gives you the necessary boost, you become a weakling again. Also, since gear is automatically equipped, there’s no cure.

As a final insult to the player, the game has no save option. Instead, there is a password system that takes an irritating amount of time to use (even though it reminds me of the good old NES days). There is one advantage to this system though: if you feel like cheating really badly, you can simply guess random passwords until you get a good one. After only ten minutes, I wound up with over half the game’s key items and a rather well trained party. It still wasn’t much fun, but I managed to beat it much more quickly, even though it wasn’t that long to begin with.

At first glance, the game looks quite impressive, but the graphics are not really that much of a boon to it in the long run. All characters are simple-yet-smooth sprites that seem nice enough at first. However, you soon realize that there aren’t that many different varieties. The same thing goes for enemies. There are only half a dozen or so varieties, and after that, the game only throws in a few palette swaps.

Backgrounds are a bit better though. Your first sight of the Shire or the inside of a cave might be nice as they are very well detailed and even animated a bit, but with a few later exceptions, that’s all you’ll be seeing. Once you’ve seen one strange stone structure or luminescent rock formation, you’ve seen them all. If they had put more effort into the different areas, I think the game could have done well here. They didn’t though, so be prepared for some dull visuals.

Like everything else in the game, sound and music could have been nice if there was some variety. However, there are only a handful of songs in all, even though I did like them. The medieval fantasy theme is very fitting and well composed, and if it didn’t get played everywhere, I think I could have appreciated it. Of course, some areas simply have ambient background noises like water dripping. As for the sound effects, there are only a few weapon noises and death cries to speak of, but they suffice well enough.

I’d say that the game’s biggest weakness is the story, but by now the game has so many other faults that it would be overkill. In the very beginning, you are told what your quest is in a short text sequence. After that, your entire non-item gathering experience consists of talking to people who tell you various hints and tips concerning where you should go. Considering the fine story that they stole the title from, you would really expect something good. However, you’ll get nothing more than a completely gutted rendition of the fine novels.

Last, but not quite least, we have controls. Your characters move slower than dirt, diagonal motion is not allowed, and battle is so blindingly simple that you can’t help but get bored of it after a few hours. In short, this is just another reason as to why this game is a complete waste of time.

Unless I am gravely mistaken, games are made for the sole purpose of entertainment. However, I can’t think of any part of this game that would appeal to anyone, from the lowest denominator to the highest echelon of society. In short, stay far, far away from this little cartridge of boredom, and if a stranger drives by offering it to you, just say NO.

Overall Score 56
For information on our scoring systems, see our scoring systems overview. Learn more about our general policies on our ethics & policies page.
Andrew DeMario

Andrew DeMario

Andrew went by several names here, starting as a reader reviewer under the name Dancin' Homer. Later known as Slime until we switched to real names, Andrew officially joined RPGFan as a staff reviewer in 2001 and wrote reviews until 2009. Andrew's focus on retro RPGs and games most others were unwilling to subject themselves to were his specialty.