It’s not that hard to find a bad game based off a good movie. It’s a tragedy that occurs more often than it should and, sadly, there seems to be no cure to this gaming epidemic. Fortunately enough, most of these get cast aside into the dustbin of history within a month or two of their release date, and I’m truly glad that the GBA rendition of The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring was no exception. It brought the world of idiotic movie-to-game ports to exciting new lows, and I’m here to tell you why. Here’s my review.
A long time ago, an author by the pen name of J. R. R. Tolkien wrote a trilogy (at least; more if you include the prequel and the histories and all that) of books called “The Lord of the Rings.” It was a wonderfully written series, pretty much everyone agreed, and the books were printed and spread far and wide. Roughly the entire human race has a decent idea of what the stories are about, so there’s no need for me to paraphrase. However, if you haven’t read/seen them yet, and you’d like a quick, butchered, defective summary, this game is a good place to find it.
Gameplay is nothing more than your usual generic turn-based RPG. You move around towns and forests and caves from a ¾ overhead perspective, carrying out very loosely defined goals as you reenact a good portion of the first Lord of the Rings movie. You pick up objects along the way, such as equipment, money, healing items, quest items, etc. Outside of battle, there’s nothing you haven’t seen before and the execution isn’t even that great. Puzzles are either nonexistent or too hard for the game’s own good, some of the quests are too buggy to actually complete, and near the end you can tell that the game’s designers sort of lost interest in the project and started drinking salt water in great quantities as things seem to become less and less connected.
Combat is even worse. Your party begins with just Frodo and Samwise, but you collect more members over time, eventually gathering every member of the Fellowship. When battle begins, you give each member of your party a battle command and let the good guys and the bad guys start whacking each other. I never really saw any logic to the combat order, so I’m pretty sure it’s just random. Anyway, throughout the entire game, no matter who is in your party, your battle command options never deviate from either “Attack” or “Use Item” (such as a Healing Herb or a Firework or a- actually, those just about cover everything). Enemies are equally limited. You’ll face maybe half a dozen monster types throughout the game, and no bosses. The only other thing that adds any variety to the fights is the addition of ranged weapons, which are almost exactly like melee weapons except that they’re a lot better at never hitting their target. Thankfully, the battles aren’t random; once you get tired of fighting you can simply walk around at least some of the creatures in your way.
One of the more frustrating game aspects is the leveling system. Instead of having an easily understood experience-based leveling system, you gain levels simply by meeting certain requirements. Beat a certain fight and Frodo will gain a level. Give a certain item to a certain person and Samwise will gain a level. Walk down a certain path and see a certain cutscene and Aragorn will gain a level. This might not seem like a bad thing, but the problem is that you can never tell if any event actually will or won’t give you a level. This means that you’ll wind up fighting every fight and collecting every useless item (and there are quite a few that have absolutely no purpose) you come across, no matter how pointless they may be, just so you can slightly improve your accuracy or give a minute boost to HP (not both, mind you). The worst part of all this is that fighting every fight is just brutal on the life of your party members, and the only way to heal yourself is by using items, of which you never have that large a supply. If someone should die, oh well, he’s gone for good. If you don’t have enough herbs and potions to get through a particular area, too bad, you have to start over. Or just stop playing. Either option is perfectly acceptable.
Actually, if you do wind up losing a character here or there, it’s nothing to worry about simply because the game is so buggy that, statistically speaking, you will probably never beat it. You’ll come to an area and a key item you need won’t exist. You’ll find an important NPC who, for some reason beyond the ken of mortal man, simply won’t talk to you. Be sure to save often and load when things seem to fall apart. The list of things that can and likely will go wrong for you goes on and on. I recommend that you quit while you’re ahead. Spend the time on something more constructive, like Solitaire, or staring into the inky void of space.
Storyline is even more of a letdown. The game sort of more or less follows the events of the book, though with a few huge holes gaping through here or there. While dialogue and story are very scarce throughout, what snippets do exist are usually sucked right out of the literature. For example, the opening bit shows Bilbo addressing his friends and then disappearing, only to run into Gandalf when he gets back to his home. While both the book and the movie make this encounter into an emotional, epic battle against Bilbo’s festering addiction, the game’s rendition of this scene has all the rage and fury of the following:
Gandalf: You should give Frodo the ring, Bilbo.
Bilbo: No, I rather like the ring. It’s mine. Precious, precious, and so on.
Gandalf: Do not be such a big meanie, Bilbo.
Bilbo: Oh. Okay, you have shown me the error of my ways. Here you go.
This opening sequence is actually one of the meatier segments of the game, plot-wise. With very few exceptions, you almost never hear anything of interest out of anyone, and most conversations, even during the few cutscenes, are maybe five or six sentences long. This would be horrible enough as a standalone title, but it has the added shame of being based on one the most influential works of fantasy fiction of all time and still botching it. In its defense, however, it is conveniently available in English, Francaise, Espanol, and Deutche! Perfect for any polyglot with bad taste in video games.
The graphics, while not astounding, weren’t quite as bad as everything else. Not that that’s saying much. The character models were decent enough that you could make out who was who, and the environments weren’t terrible, but nothing really stood out. I can even forgive the lack of creativity in the area design on account of the fact that Tolkien never had deserts or submersibles or space adventures in his books, but it’s still tedious. Not too much changes throughout the game, aside from the occasional new enemy or poorly drawn piece of equipment, and the extremely heavy emphasis on earth tones for coloring is sort of depressing. There were a few attempts at spicing things up by throwing in movie cutscenes, but these were just single snapshots from the movies, shrunk down and pixilated horribly. I was not impressed.
Sound and music both suffered from similar problems. The entire soundtrack consists of generic, easily-forgettable fantasy tunes, none of which really cause you to suffer, but none of which really stand out from the crowd. Depending on your level of patience, you might not wind up muting the music and just listening to your own, but that really depends on what kind of person you are. Sounds are perfectly average and roughly approximate what happens on screen. Nothing more to mention, really.
Even the controls were a hassle. First off was item management. Each character’s inventory is only six spaces large, and in some parts of the game you accumulate a dozen or more key items easily. Once one character’s inventory is full, you have to switch to another character to lead the party, which allows you to fill his inventory instead. This wouldn’t be so bad except that you have nine party members, and it’s really annoying having to keep track of who is carrying what. Later in the game, during the Mines of Moria especially, keeping track of all the keys you have is a nightmare, and switching between characters will take up a decently irritating chunk of your time.
Button presses are unresponsive. Walking around is slow and you tend to drift a little before walking in the right direction. Saving, a game challenge long considered perfected, is annoying. Every time you save the game, you are returned to the main menu and forced to reload your save file. Gah.
So that about sums it up. Monotonous, unstable gameplay with virtually no artistic merit and shoddy controls await you in this fun little package. My theory is that the game’s developers had something against the human race and decided to vent their hatred in GBA cartridge form, but I could be wrong. Anyway, I’m afraid I have to declare this game unfit for human consumption, and the only good thing I got out of it was the mental image of J. R. R. spinning in his grave.