And finally, we have Last Dynasty, a medieval fantasy game with this fun looking title screen. I'm a sucker for flags in ZZT. Like basically all the other demos, this one clearly wants to be a large game as well, with its demo touting itself as being "File A - Cray". BroKen, (the author, not the description of the game) seems to have suffered from a demo curse, with their two ZZT releases being demos that were never completed. So let's see how huge this game is supposed to be.
It continues on, definitely too long for nothing new to be introduced. The boards remain pleasant to look at, but it takes only a few before you'll decide to just try and avoid fighting.
Finally though, the end of the forest is reached with some passages at the end of the board leading to the next cinematic.
Despite the rough ending though, Last Dynasty might be my favorite of the bunch. Its basic combat system isn't too exciting, but you can actually kill your opponents unlike in Land of Gannon. It's RPG battle engine was broken in programming, and yet still plays better than Flame Frost Blade, and has a really clear way it can be expanded into something truly unique for ZZT. The story is straightforward, but makes sense. Bad guys are invading, good guys are going to help. There's a lot of ambition in having a group of five characters, of whom we only meet one and don't get much more of a personality out of Cray than "hero", but everything here works. Last Dynasty doesn't seem like it wants to be the greatest RPG ever made. The lack of hype makes me more confident in its ability to succeed despite things really falling apart by the end.
Seriously though, I love the idea of "Item Points". It's an extremely ZZT solution to an extremely ZZT problem. I feel like BroKen was much more likely to deliver on his promises than Lab was.
There's not much to compare here with Kings. Last Dynasty definitely feels more coherent of a story at least.
It's biggest competition among the demos we've seen here is with Jurassic Park ZZT, but really none of these demos were even released in the same year. There's no actual competition here beyond picking which feels like the biggest shame to not have been completed. JPZZT is probably the sensible choice for that with its lack of bugs, actual gameplay, and source material meaning it can be more easily understood by those familiar with it. Last Dynasty is unintentionally doing a better job of what Flame Frost Blade was meant to be, an exciting RPG system with unique abilities and spells all while telling an epic story. BroKen was just smart enough to not put a spotlight on it where it can more readily face scrutiny. It's very likely a full game would not have lived up to the expectations I got from playing it, but in that case the problem is with me expecting too much. With Flame Frost, you're told what to expect, and that it will be unparalleled. That means you know who to blame if a full game never lived up to those expectations.
Final Final Thoughts
As messy as most of them were, these demos were a treat to play through. Land of Gannon was a bit dull, but all the others had something to offer I feel. The era of the demo is long past in ZZT, with three in the past decade. With the significantly reduced number of releases compared to ZZT's hey-day and the general shift to shorter games, there's little need for a demo. In their time they worked as a tool to gauge interest and just show off if you thought you had something cool. The more insular community today lends itself better to just asking folks to provide feedback on a work in progress rather than going through the trouble of releasing a proper demo. Back then you had competition for the community's attention with new releases almost daily. The briefness implied by a demo made it approachable for folks to spend a few minutes seeing what would be coming out eventually. With a bit of luck, when they saw the finished game on the front page of whatever site was hosting ZZT worlds at the time, they'd immediately want to download the recognized title first.
It's pretty clear which of these demos I'm genuinely interested in (Jurassic Park ZZT, Last Dynasty), which might be good for a laugh (Kings, Flame Frost Blade), and which I have no interest in (Land of Gannon). For picking so arbitrailly, I'm glad I got a nice mix out of the group. There are good ideas in these games, and the more middle of the road ones aren't beyond saving. (Although if the player finishes your demo not caring about the final product, you've probably screwed something up). What's most important though is their historical value. The disposable nature of the Internet means that these demos are often the only trace of a game we have left. You can't quickly dig up posts about how great Flame Frost Blade is going to be, and your best bet for more info on Jurassic Park ZZT is to hope it's mentioned in an Interactive Fantasies magazine somewhere.
The skewed ratio of ZZT games finished versus started means that there's not much reason to get your hopes up that one day a finished version will fall into our laps. Short of the authors revisiting content on a 20+ year old computer stored in a basement and hoping it works, I don't think we'll be seeing any more of these titles, but maybe that's for the best. These demos give us those mysteries and let our imaginations come up with what might have been, without having the tragedy of know there's a full game lost to time out there. (I don't hold my breath on rediscovering any specific lost ZZT games these days, but Kings being made from a more complete game is the most likely contender to having a more complete version out there somewhere.) These demos are a glimpse worth taking even knowing you'll never get a happy ending from them.
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