FF37: Portal of Evil

Guillermo Paredes
Doug Riddell
Laurence Sinclair
John Stock (spoiler - win condition)


[Guillermo Paredes]

Peter Darvill-Evans wrote only three gamebooks, all of which were part of the Fighting Fantasy series: Beneath Nightmare Castle, Portal of Evil and Spectral Stalkers. Of these three, I found Portal of Evil to be by far the weakest, but that doesn't mean it's a bad book at all.

The adventure is set in the southwestern part of the continent of Khul, in the forest range between the cities of Neuburg and Zagoula. However, the storyline is completely unrelated to that of the author's previous work, Beneath Nightmare Castle. This time, the plot revolves around the mining business in the mountain range near the forest. Strange dinosaur-like creatures have suddenly begun to appear and they have been attacking the settlers and miners in the unnamed forest. A reward has been offered for a warrior who can investigate the origin of this menace and put an end to it. As is usual, the lure of a profitable job turns into an epic quest against an enemy who wants to control the entire world of Titan.

I wouldn't go so far so as to call the book 'mediocre' as some other reviewer has, but to my taste, this is the least creative of all three Darvill-Evans books. The book is divided in roughly two halves: one deals with your exploration of the forest and some of the lands surrounding it, and in the other you are transported to another dimension in order to combat the main villain. The writing is very good for a Fighting Fantasy book, managing to add a bit of colour to the characters and conveying an effective atmosphere at every point in the adventure. The game design is also adequate, but way too orthodox. In fact, Portal of Evil seems to be a rarity among the other titles in the series which were released at about the same time; at this stage in the development of the FF series, almost every title was trying it best to be innovative and groundbreaking. Portal of Evil, on the other hand, seems intended for people who are beginners to gamebooks in general. The book is much more linear than is usually the case in this series and while the adventure is not without its challenge level, it still feels a bit easy compared to the other titles. The first part of the adventure consists of following a series of largely linear paths, looking for help and items which will turn out to be useful to complete the quest, while having some interesting encounters. One of the problems I found with it is that if the character manages to survive long enough, s/he will be given all the information needed to obtain all the items which will increase his/her chances of success. This sense of being "led by the hand" through the book did not help to increase my interest in the adventure. The second part of the adventure is far weaker. There are dinosaur-like creatures, but they are not very interesting opponents. There is also a native culture which almost totally lacks character development. As a result the second part of the adventure felt way too dull for me, even if it was not without its ingenious moments.

The main problem with the book is that it feels rushed, especially towards the end. While the first part is competently developed, the second one feels like it could have used more strategy and a longer path through it (this is one of those books which feels like it could have used a bit more than 400 paragraphs). It also doesn't help matters that there are very few effective linkages between the two parts; the first one seems unrelated to the second, and thus there is little in one part that serves to set the stage for the final one.

On the positive side, the book is a fun read and will fulfill the needs of those looking for a fantasy quest that is not that hard. To sum it up, it's an enjoyable but largely average adventure, which falls short of the potential shown in Darvill-Evans' previous work, Beneath Nightmare Castle. It's not an awful read, but it's not very memorable either. My advice would be to give priority to Beneath Nightmare Castle and Spectral Stalkers, which show much more creativity than this book.


[Doug Riddell]

This book is my all-time favourite.

The reason this book is so good is that it takes the reader through a variety of places, meeting interesting people and peoples, with more than a few enjoyable and thought-provoking subplots along the way, some optional some not. Places like frontier towns, dangerous woodlands, swirling monster-infested rivers, deserted towers, mysterious mist-hidden lakes, elven tree-villages, goblin tribelands, deserted mines, and course the mysterious lost world the dinosaurs come from. Something in this book for everyone, especially gold fiends.

It takes place in Khul, the Dark Continent, and it’s very Africa-like. A medievil gold-rush in untamed territory. Peter Darvill-Evans has done a brilliant job with the frontier/virgin land atmosphere of this book (especially with the superb illustrations of Alan Langford’s) even on a planet which is still mostly uncivilised, before you even get to the lost world. I’m not sure if that was his intention but it certainly made me re-read this adventure numerous times in 1993 - to take the different paths.

As the title indicates there is a portal in this adventure which is responsible for the unsurfaced terror which is harrassing the miners. It’s important to note the portal does not actually lead to the past when dinosaurs still roamed (after all they still roam on Titan) it leads to another world where dinosaurs, including extinct Titan ones, still live. Presumably this is the portal that originally brought dinosaurs to Titan aeons ago. Anyway someone (you’ll find clues as to who during the course of the adventure) has discovered the portal and is now misusing its power to form armies of slave warriors (former gold diggers turned into zombies) who are riding captured dinosaurs from the Lost World with the intention of breaking out of the woodlands to conquer and enslave other civilisations. The wealthy mine owners of the closest frontier town Kleinkastel have begun sending messages for help to the outside world, this is where you come in. Not knowing what awaits you.

This adventure definetly gives credit to Peter’s imagination and plot and sub-plot-styling which is also demonstrated in his book Spectral Stalkers (FF #45 - but that one is on a literally more universal scale). "Portal of Evil" gives the reader the pleasure of not only being a hero of the story but of walking through this frontier world of his and seeing it for yourself. And I have no hesitation in giving this one a... .

Rating: 10/10


[Laurence Sinclair]

A summons has gone out for an adventurer. Gold miners are disappearing, and mysterious Zombies and prehistoric beasts are ravaging the area. Naturally, you answer the call, but must first prove yourself worthy in the eyes of the pompous Margrave of Kleinkastel.

This book is outstanding. It has an original and deeply sinister plot, none of which is known to you to begin with and which you unravel a piece at a time. But before you can even embark upon it you must find your way to your employers without falling foul of marauding Zombies or the people you are trying to save.

The variety of monsters that you encounter has been toned down in this book, giving a greater focus to the fact that you are facing a great enemy rather than a random assortment of bloodthirsty beasts. Peter Darvill-Evans has done truly great work here, creating probably the most coherent and fast paced storyline in FF. The paragraphs are all of a decent length as well, even the 'wild goose chase' routes are meticulously described.

There are of course combats along the way, and they are neither too easy nor too hard. There is even a way around the final foe, although it will take some time to find. There aren't many items to be found, and those that are you are mostly told of, so you don't have to blindly hope that the random item you found will come in handy; you'll know if it was. There are some pretty cunning traps however, as some items can be acquired in more than one way, one of which will take you past another that you need and only kill you off when you need it.

While it is set in Khul, my least favourite of the Titan continents, this book has one of my favourite backdrops. A frontier land gripped by gold fever, and filled with Elves and Goblins, who aren't in fact evil but merely repressed by the newcomers. And that's not even mentioning what lies beyond the portal itself...

To sum up, this is one of my favourite FFs of all time.

Rating: 10 out of 10


[John Stock]

And now, over in distant Khul, strange prehistoric creatures have been marauding over Khul from an unknown origin in the mountains. Upon where some rather too greedy gold miners set them free via the Portal of Evil.

And it's up to you to stop 'em. But this means going through the Portal. No shocks there then.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the plot to the somewhat mediocre FF 37 by Peter Darvill-Evans. The rules are fairly straightforward, nothing new there. The writing style is, on the whole, sound, but the illustrations suck big-time in comparison to those of Russ Nicolson or Martin McKenna. Sorry, Alan Langford, I don't think you're in the same league as them.

Fun parts - A very interesting competition involving duelling two opponents. While suspended over a river by one ankle. Crazy! And the atmosphere is very good.

However, I have many gripes - once you beat Horfak the big cheese on the other side of the portal, unless you leave a sack of Igneolite (gunpowder - where'd they get that in Khul?) by the Portal, you will lose; the sheer stupidity of the ending - who on earth could refuse their weight in gold? Not me for one; and finally some of the dinosaurs on the other side I'd never heard of - Erasmosaurus, anyone?

So if it weren't for these, I'd give it a healthy 7.4. But for now, it has to do with

MY RATING - 5.7/10