This month's poll winner gets to be a "controversial" pick. Legend of Brandonia is a 1995 fantasy adventure and sole release of Riegs. Where it stands out is that this world was chosen as a "Featured Game" on z2, placing among titles like Winter, Ned the Knight, and Sivion. In short, it's a game that's been elevated to the big leagues.
But the thing with Brandonia, is that it's not that great. Or is it? That's what we're trying to find out with this one.
For its fans, Legend of Brandonia is a nostalgic ZZT adventure about a knight's journey to stop the evil Acro from cheating his way into becoming the kingdom's next "dragon master", fighting bandits and hostile forest critters, and helping solve people's problems.
For its detractors, Brandonia is undeserving of its "featured" status. It's a game with simple and repetitive action, a story that keeps going wild, and does nothing to exemplify what ZZT fantasy games can accomplish.
And it gets even spicier! A z2 news post from June 18th, 2002 lists the game being added to the site along with Flik! and Mission Renaissance as rediscovered lost worlds! For some time this game wasn't readily accessible. (I distinctly remember it being me on the z2 forums trying to remember the name of this one, though it seems the thread no longer exists.) So despite or perhaps because Brandonia went MIA for a bit, the game lived on in the collective memories of the ZZT community.
Obviously there had to have been something worthwhile here, right? So let's take a look at this controversial and/or classic adventure and see how it feels today.
I don't think anybody will be quick to defend Riegs's graphical prowess. The game looks like a rather early ZZT world despite being released a year after Super Tool Kit, a part of ZZT Tools that the song on the title screen would likely imply knowledge of. Not that a ZZT can't look decent without special colors, as any Chris Jong release would show. Brandonia is fairly plain with lots of very large rooms without a whole lot to do, and plenty of flood-filled normal walls or green fakes for grass.
As the introduction says, sir Alex is tired and so you can have him take a nap on his massive bed for an extra ten health. Riegs makes it apparent that the bed can be interacted with by having one tile clearly marked as different from the others. The nap is actually mandatory, as without resting up Alex refuses to leave his quarters.
One of the rooms of Alex's quarters is filled with treasure chests that give him plenty of supplies to get started on whatever his next adventure may be. Opening a chest causes the same sound effect to play as opening a ZZT door. I guess unlocking is unlocking.
It is a friendly game at least, offering up a bit of documentation right from the start to answer some basic questions. The zip file also contains a second world Objects of Brandonia which offers some more simple tips "save" and "touch things to interact with them" as well as a bestiary of foes and items seen throughout the game. It doesn't go into any details however so I didn't see much point in including it here. Having this information presented in ZZT isn't that unusual, but doing so in a separate world versus having the game start on a menu with a passage to this information is far more common.
The guide explains what should be some fairly basic concepts, getting money, points, and health. The answers are a little unusual though. Health is restored by defeating monsters rather than staying at an inn or drinking a potion or finding some food, or countless other more common methods for fantasy adventure games in the style of this one.
At the very least, Alex and Maria seem to be doing pretty well for themselves in this kingdom. Their home is within the castle and has its own private dining room and kitchen.
This is called world building.
Generally this sort of thing where the player has to actually prepare a meal, sit down, and eat it is more of a thing seen in games taking place in more modern times as a way to demonstrate to the player that the game they're playing is realistic. In a fantasy setting, grabbing some ham out of the cupboard and just casually cooking it comes off as far sillier to me.
Jokes aside, this actually will be relevant later on, but Riegs doesn't punish the player for missing it and provides an alternate solution when it finally comes up.
Each step is mandatory. You must find your hams, heat your hams, get your utensils, set everything on a plate, and then you can finally eat that ham.
The reward for doing so is twenty health.
Heading out the back exit, we get what's probably the most distinct board in the game, and I suspect once again it's a love-it or hate-it thing. We're supposed to be looking from a castle balcony at some kind of event going on in the field that it's overlooking. Either this is taking a complex perspective and translating it smartly into a simplified form for ZZT, or it's a stupid rectangle on an otherwise normal looking field.
To me, it's not conveyed well enough to be immediately obvious, but upon talking to Maria here, it's made far more clear. This is no Final Fantasy Disc One or Warlord's Temple for sure, but this is using an extremely easy to reproduce perspective and trying to get the player's imagination to fill in the details.
Alex's plans to reunite with his wife and learn what he's missed are pretty much immediately discarded upon realizing that there's a contest. King Brandon of Brandonia seems to be involved and that gets Alex's interest.
And for some reason this scroll has a whole bunch of blank lines added to the end. Like enough to fill the window if you scroll far enough.
Sparse decoration to keep the game going is immediately discarded as the mess hall is full of objects. While the messages do repeat, there are several of them to see. It's enough that you'll likely stop rather than touching every single object, but you'll definitely get a few in before deciding to call it quits.
Riegs does understand the importance of guiding the player to where they need to go. This one object actually has a plate set down, and that's enough to make them distinct and clearly more important than the others.
KNIGHT: Are you Alex D. Vedina?
ALEX: Yes, I am... What do you want?
KNIGHT: I thought I might find you here.
I am your uncle, David. I am here to
tell you that your father has... Passed
ALEX: Thats terrible. What did he die
DAVID: I really don't know. I want you
to go to Ever Green Falls, where your
father died, to examine his death.
ALEX: Where's Ever Green Falls?
DAVID: From the court, travel west,
through Thieves' Forest.
ALEX: That I will do.
DAVID: Oh! I almost forgot! Here is
Recieved 250 gems!
• • • • • • • • •
So far Legend of Brandonia hasn't done a great job of sticking to any plot point it introduces. Here we get yet another plot-line, the death of Alex's father. Unsurprisingly, there aren't a lot of details on the how and whys of his father's death. There sure is an inheritance though.
And here's your reference for the game's economy. Each option here is a simple conversion of one gem into one health. It's still unclear exactly how easy money will be to come by, or what else it can be spent on. There's of course the usual fear that you can spend yourself into a corner and be unable to buy a mandatory item in order to complete the game.
The throne room is at least a little more elaborate looking, but continues the trend of big empty spaces. Two more NPCs wander around. One of them serves as a check to make sure you talked to David. The other sells arrows at a price of one per gem, matching the choices from the cafeteria. At the bottom are two guards that block the exit, telling Alex that somebody in the cafe wants to talk to him. Once Alex knows about his father's death they'll step aside and let him head out into the world of Brandonia.
Oh hey, it's that contest Alex and Maria were looking out at from their balcony... on the other side of the castle.
Don't think about it too hard.
KING: Hi there, er, umm...
KING: Ah, yes, Alex.
ALEX: What's going on out here?
KING: This is a celebration to the eggs
of the dragon. They should hatch in two
weeks, as the oracle predicts. As
always, I arranged for a contest to
ALEX: But, I've never been to this
KING: The dragon only lays eggs every
forty years, you're only twenty-nine.
ALEX: What's the point of the contest?
KING: To win you must be the first to
bring back an undamaged dragon egg.
ALEX: Sounds exciting! Can I
KING: Yes, of course. But the contest
doesn't start for a couple days.
• • • • • • • • •
The king finally provides the general quest for the game. The death of your dad is just a way to kill some time before participating in a contest to steal some dragon eggs. It's a pretty bad contest when you stop as think about it. Perhaps the secret to this game is to just run with it and never stop and think about the details.
The king doesn't know Alex's name, which in most games would just imply the king doesn't know every single knight in his kingdom, but with Alex's quarters being the only ones implied to exist in the castle, it's kind of strange.
I do find it funny that the one different looking chair is specifically called out as such. All the contestants have little to say other than that they're getting ready, though what that actually means is unclear. Where you can get some more info is by talking to Maria who also happens to be here now standing beside the king.
MARIA: Hi, Alex! What's going on?
ALEX: We are celebrating the eggs of the
dragon. In a few days, King Brandon will
be having a contest to see who can first
bring back a dragon egg.
MARIA: Wow! What does the winner win?
ALEX: I don't know... King Brandon?
KING: The dragon of course!
MARIA + ALEX: The dragon?!
KING: Yes, the dragon. You, Alex, would
become a Dragon Master, and you, Maria,
would become a Dragon Maid.
MARIA: That would truly be fun! Please,
Alex, do compete!
ALEX: Of course I will! You wouldn't
think I'd give up a chance like this, it
only happens every forty years!
MARIA: Oh! I can't wait!
ALEX: ... Maria, I have something awful
to tell you... My father... has passed
MARIA: Oh, Alex. Don't cry. He was an
old man. Every thing dies, sooner or
ALEX: The cause was unknown, so I will
travel to Ever Green Falls, the sight of
his death, to investigate this tragedy.
MARIA: I'll stay here.
• • • • • • • • •
This whole "father's death" thing is brushed aside for the chance to become a Dragon Master and a Dragon Maid and to own a dragon! Goals.
Maria assumes that Alex's father's death was just due to his age, but Alex still intends to listen to his uncle and travel to Ever Green Falls and investigate himself. The fact that there needs to be an investigation is enough to make me think there's more to it.
From the contest area Alex is free to travel to the south or the west. The eastern path is blocked off and unsurprisingly isn't available until the contest begins. Heading south here serves as an easy starting point to see what combat in Brandonia is like.
Did you guess that it wasn't great? Good job.
The "woodbeasts" as they're called move slowly. They run at cycle three, once towards the player, and then twice randomly, before pausing in place for a bit. The overall bias towards random movement and the natural stops make it very easy for Alex to avoid monsters rather than fighting them.
The one more interesting aspect of the design is that shooting one causes them to turn into a small circle. This rewards the player with five points, and touching the defeated enemy restores ten health and lets the object disappear.
Generally for a game of this caliber, you'd expect the enemies to just
#die once they've been
looted ...consumed? Riegs avoids this by having them turn into green fakes instead preventing a combat scene from ending in a bunch of holes around the board. Small details like this are the sort of thing that separate a beginner to making ZZT worlds to somebody with a little more experience. As we continue throughout the game we'll see Riegs rarely disappoints in missing little touches that add a bit of polish to the game's feel.
The end result is that when all is said and done, I've taken no damage. Slow melee attackers are no match for Alex's arrows.
Lastly, there's the hut itself. There's a little bit of intrigue built here as the passage is blocked off by a boulder, making it clear that this is a spot to return to later.
The hut also contains a chest with 30 gems, and a very oddly detailed statue in the corner.
I mean, it's the object with the most descriptive text by far up to this point.
For now though, the only way forward is to the west towards the town Alex's father died in.
There's really not much to say. There are more creatures to fight or avoid, and another split path.
The only thing really of interest is the tiny blue wall in the top right corner which prevents the player from trying to travel back east and bump into the castle walls. It's a smart inclusion, but having there just be this single tile rather than extending the castle out a little bit would probably look a lot more pleasing aesthetically.
Still, I'd say it counts as something a beginner would overlook that Riegs catches.
As a big fan of not going where I should be, I changed directions yet again and headed to the north where a lumberjack had gone to town on quite a number of trees. The scenery also gets mixed up a little with a winding river coursing its way across the board. It's a nice change from a perfect border of trees along the edges to block Alex off.
Alex is quick to help out and produces the solid gold bar from his quarters to give away so this dude can get a new axe. In exchange, the lumberjack gives Alex his old axe which is capable of cutting down only certain trees.
There's no other way to go from here, so it's time to turn back and return to the critical path.
Except we never left the critical path at all. Ever Green Falls is currently blocked off by some small trees and Alex will need to acquire
HM01 from the S.S. Anne the axe in order to CUT them down.
Lurking outside the village are a small group of bandits who see Alex as easy prey. Compared to the woodbeasts, these guys are much more aggressive, only ever moving towards Alex rather than having any randomization. They still have a moment where they pause in place, but this time the pause is a warning that they're about to shoot in Alex's direction as well. Again, like the beasts they move at cycle three so they're still pretty easy to avoid.
As you might expect, the combination of walking and shooting towards Alex at all costs means there's plenty of opportunities for easy crossfire scenarios. Standing still and dodging past the shot of whichever thief is in front is all it takes to get most of them to shoot each other to pieces.
If a thief happens to catch Alex though, he'll be mugged and lose five gems as well as five health. (If Alex has no more gems he'll lose ten health instead.)
Once the thieves are dealt with and the trees have been cut, Alex can finally head to Ever Green Falls where his father's death is apparently a hot topic.
As far as ZZT towns go, this feels like a very early one. In particular it reminds me of the starting area of The Crypt.
The red building is an inn which mirrors the cafe from earlier in terms of pricing and health restored, but slightly more involved as Alex will need to stay here to advance the plot shortly.
Two buildings on the bottom contain "caskets", which I think are intended as in wine, but it's easy to misinterpret them as it looks like Alex is going to be on the hook for his father's funeral.
The other buildings contain chests with health, ammo, and gems. The gems give Alex enough money to pay for the inn regardless of what happens with his spending habits at the cafe, arrow salesman, or any ineptitude handling the thieves outside the town gate.
Going by the rest of the townsfolk, something terrible has been happening here with lots of mysterious deaths lately.
Finally it's time to get to business and learn the truth about why Alex's father was killed.
Did anybody guess this? Acro stole the pocket teleportation device and either killed Alex's father or had the beast of Blackwood do it. Either way, this is a game where such devices apparently exist and are not allowed in dragon-related contests.
This is the part of the game where you're going to decide if this is the stupidest story you've ever heard or if you're going to go all in and see what other absurdities are to come.
Once Alex reads the note, the guards block the exit and require Alex to stay at the inn for a night. Even without the gems from the chests Alex is able to stay a night no matter what.
So again, as goofy as this game may be, Riegs is doing a good job finding ways the game might be broken and making sure to prevent those situations.
This time, the player gets their health, and then gets locked inside the inn by an invisible wall while a small scene ensues outside.
Alex recognizes it as the beast of Blackwood and prepares to fight the monster. The beast is no different than the bandits in terms of moving and shooting, but it does move a little faster and takes a few arrows to bring down. You're still in a wide open space so there's not much to worry about with just one enemy.
Once the beast is dead, the guards open up the gates again (they weren't much help). From there the game just resumes. There's no comment on how the beast has been terrorizing the town, killed Alex's father, or any reaction from the townsfolk now that it's been defeated. You just move on.
It's unclear how things are going to change once Alex returns to the castle, but the king brings up speaking with uncle David so there won't be any aimless wandering waiting for the contest to start.
DAVID: Do you know how he died yet?
ALEX: Yes, the legendary beast of
blackwood killed him.
DAVID: But, isn't that only supposed to
happen in blackwood forest?
ALEX: A man named Acro led it into the
town as a diversion, so he could steal
my father's teleportation device. Now
Acro plans to use it in the contest!
DAVID: The king will find it for sure.
ALEX: No, he won't. It's too small to
DAVID: Then, just tell the king!
ALEX: Oh, yeah! I'll do that. Bye!
• • • • • • • • •
David turns out to be one of the smartest NPCs in a ZZT game. It would seem like this should be pretty straightforward. Acro's got the teleportation device, so how about you just tell the king and get him banned from the contest.
Nothing is discussed of having Acro charged with what sounds like multiple murders in his quest to obtain the device in the first place.
Ok, well, it should have been an easy solution.
Once Alex is in position the contest can begin with the king pacing around and explaining how everything works.
Apparently the idea of cheating via teleportation is a known issue. Alex does his best to get the king to acknowledge him, but to no avail. Instead the contest starts as planned and all the contestants, save for Alex immediately go running off on their journeys.
I mean, I guess this works.
Admittedly, I'm teasing how much this is a problem. In reality, although Acro will be disqualified, he's planning on doing a bit more than cheating in the contest.