FF46: Tower of Destruction

Nicholas Campbell
Per Jorner
Robert La Vallie


[Nicholas Campbell]

Life is tough in the icy wastes of northern Allansia. Returning from the nearby town of Zengis, you reach the outskirts of your village when it is utterly destroyed by the Sphere. Most of the inhabitants, including your mother and father, have been killed, and so begins a journey northwards to seek revenge and find the Sphere, and ultimately, the Tower of Destruction.

Keith Martin's books usually include a range of extra scores to track. In Tower of Destruction, you have an HONOUR score and a Time Elapsed score. The latter is only important when you reach the Sphere, as the monsters you will encounter inside it will gain in strength if you take too long to get there. Frankly, it doesn't matter all that much how long you take. That isn't the case with your HONOUR score, which you should make an effort to maximise.

Tower of Destruction can be divided into three parts. In the first part, you make your way to the Sphere, where you will find someone who is willing to tell you all about it and who created it. The second part sees you trekking to the Ice Palace which was built by the Ice Elves a long time ago; it contains many magic items which are more or less essential if you want to beat Relem, the Night Demon who, along with his servant, Zeverin the wizard, is responsible for the destruction of your village. The third part occurs within the Tower itself, and the final encounter with Relem. You'd better have the necessary magic items with you!

The difficulty level in Tower of Destruction, like a lot of Keith Martin's gamebooks, is fairly well balanced. Instant deaths are few and far between, and if you do die instantly, it's usually a result of making a really silly choice. However, you will need an Initial SKILL of at least 11, or preferably 12, although thankfully this is something you'll realise fairly early on. Relem is not easy to kill, even with all the bonuses and magical enchantments that you can obtain. Unfortunately the route you take to the Tower is quite linear, but when you reach the Ice Palace, you can visit up to nine locations in any order you wish. If you want to get all the magic items, though, you'll need to work out the correct order in which to visit them, which is largely a matter of trial and error.

Tower of Destruction, like any gamebook, has its flaws. The linearity is one flaw that I have already mentioned. I thought the story was a bit far-fetched; I might be able to believe a story about a flying sphere bringing death and destruction, but a flying tower? Hmmm... There is also too much focus on collecting items, and the route through the book is too long; 180 references is too much. Most gamebooks have at least one difficult puzzle in them, but Tower of Destruction has two quite unusual puzzles, one of which is extremely difficult indeed - don't say you weren't warned. There are also two or three niggling errors in the book, although none of them are serious. Keith Martin's books usually rank fairly high in my list of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, but this isn't one of his better ones.

Rating: 7/10


[Per Jorner]

One day Keith Martin woke up obsessed with breaking the world record for using the word "ice" the most times in a gamebook, and Tower of Destruction was the result. He used it so many times, in fact, that very few instances of the word could later be turned up for use in other books. I'm now going to go off on a tangent which has very little to do with the evaluation of this book. Several years ago, reading a programming manual, I quickly became annoyed by its overuse of the words "power" and "powerful" to describe just about anything that this language did, whether it related to zipping fourteen sprites across the screen or adding three integers together. To amuse myself I mentally substituted the word "idiot" every time I came across the word "power" or any of its derivatives. Try it out for "ice" when you get to the Ice Palace in this book - very funny, for a minute or two at least.

All right, back to the real world. Plot recap: bad sphere kills off most of your home village (actually all of them according to the synopsis on the first page, guess they just haven't stopped moving yet), you set off to punish said sphere. You eventually learn that to stop the bad man behind the bad sphere you need to plunder the Ice Palace, the last dwelling of the extinct Ice Elves (and if you don't learn this, you attempt to take on the bad man armed with a banana and all ends in embarrassment).

ToD has an almost Moorcockian touch to it, both in the nature and magnitude of the Threat To All and in the way the Ice Palace feels very alien, very removed from your regular Titan. Prowling the empty halls almost borders on science fantasy, with you as a post-technological savage scrounging crumbs from a lost civilization, glimpsing but never comprehending its workings and secrets, each new discovery a wonder better left unquestioned - or a reminder of your lowly intrusion. That's nice, and pretty far distant from whacking Goblins in the backstreets of Zengis - conceptually, at any rate.

I do however question the wisdom of laying out the palace in the way it's done here, with separate locations, self-contained in terms of paragraphs, that can be visited in any order but only once each. As I see it, being able to thread all encounters into different permutations of a single path isn't really preferable in terms of linearity, instead meaning you can cover too much ground in one game after which all that remains is mopping up. As always, some actions and events require that you've visited a previous location or acquired a specific object, but since the book has less information about what goes before what, the likelihood of triggering any such special event diminishes while the risk of continuity problems increases. For instance, to learn magic, something the rules section tempts you with, you must visit three of the palace locations in the right order and do the right thing in each. Something similar goes for acquiring an object vital to winning. Whereas in another book you would die because you didn't turn left and thus never found the green key, here you will die because you already passed by the green lock and would rather eat rotten cheese than go back. One middle road would have been to present the locations in sets of three instead of all nine at the same time; another to provide _all_ critical points with instructions along the lines of: "If ever you should find a purple mushroom you can return here and throw it in the pot, so make a note of this paragraph number"; yet another to use the time factor to justify the appropriate limitations on exploratory freedom.

Apart from this, the difficulty level oddly enough seems about right, once you realize that a high Skill is a must. A bit into the game there's a kind of difficulty bump involving fighting a Skill 10 enemy and unconditionally taking 6 points of damage; at this point if not sooner you will start to roll Skill 11-12 characters. After that there's plenty of Stamina-restoring stuff to be found, extremely few instant deaths, and few horribly unfair or unforgiving consequences overall. A harrowing fight near the end of the book is likely to leave you hanging on by a few points if at all, but it's certainly winnable.

Other design issues: Two of the puzzles in here are _mean_ - it took me more than a little while to work one of them out, and the other, which I never actually came across while playing, had me stumped. You are told that you must keep track of the Time counter until you reach the Ice Palace, but in actuality it's checked in one location only (so once that happens you can stop updating it), and ultimately it's a very dispensable feature. The Honour stat is better integrated, but I dislike its character of moral barometer (unlike FF20 where it related to a specific honour code). The book's handling of food is also unorthodox and annoying; most often FF has wisely distinguished between regular meals taken in the course of a long journey and the abstracted use of Provisions or other foodstuffs for healing. Finally I must comment on the fact that there are few ways to replenish your Luck; if you begin with a medium score you may find yourself down to 3-4 at the end. Fortunately it doesn't mean you have no hope of winning.

Pete Knifton's art is strictly average by FF standards, but I must single out the lovely picture for 53 with the Ice Ghosts, and his Golems look suitably massive; I wouldn't want to run into the Great Golem in a dark alleyway. On the other hand the Polar Bear is horrible, and I don't mean that in a good way.

So far the good and the bad, now for the ugly: lots of bugs and inconsistencies, including a typo that technically makes the book unwinnable. Here goes: 366 should reasonably point to 111 instead of 224. Martin seems to mix up elk and deer. The Snow Fox in your inventory will turn into a Silver Fox while you're not looking. Paragraph 53 invents a whole new way of fighting multiple opponents, which is annoying because it's not supported by the computerized Adventure Sheet and takes forever unless you have a special weapon. 398 doesn't include the extra rule for Demonic Servants. Paragraph 375 should probably read "non-magical weapons", "or 2 extra", and "5 days or more". 246 contains a "not" too much. It's not possible to bring the bronze medallion past paragraph 152, making nine later paragraphs unreachable. 306 should point to 4 instead of 138. "Dark Elf crossbows are too light for you to use effectively" - what? "You just manage to avoid bumping into a Dark Elf in the far corner of the room" - if the room's _that_ small, how exactly does the Dark Elf occupy the far corner? 357 doesn't take into account that you may already have taken care of the issue, or that you may have been prohibited from taking either of the "good" options anyway. 92 should possibly point to 274 instead of 252; then again, the options in 300 and 80 don't correspond to those in 72 either, although they do match each other. The seventh hand in paragraph 14 seems to point to 1.30 rather than 2. Since it's taken for granted you have the book until the bird wakes up, I assume you cannot give the book in 164 if the bird is still clutching it - yet it's never said that the bird lets go of the book. "Elves are not suspicious folk" - guess that explains all the traps, huh? Paragraph 5 should say "rays", not "arcs". "You walk down the central aisle to the chancel and nave" - what, the central aisle is located outside the nave? Paragraph 56 describes the departure of spirits whose appearance takes place in paragraph 33, but the two are mutually exclusive. There's no instruction in 23 what to do if you have no valid destination; there is a paragraph which effectively adds such an instruction, but you will not necessarily find it. 217 becomes slightly odd if you already have Elokinan's endorsement; also, why are you given a name that can be used if you come this way again, even though your character wouldn't have heard it from anyone? Paragraph 3 should reasonably point to 189 instead of 88. It's strange what Elokinan does not tell you before sending you away in paragraph 42. It's possible to fall for the trap in 161 twice. "A passageway of black stone, lit only by a dull red glow which emanates from within the stone itself" - wouldn't you usually call that "red stone"? 126 mocks you for not taking into account a piece of information that you are not given on the optimal path. 283 doesn't take into account that you may already have used the Wand of Cold in this encounter. 325 can't make up its mind about anything - can you perform one action or three, and can you eat no meal or two? Do the bolts fired in 158 and 147 count as spells for the purpose of magical shielding? I hope 312 should say Attack Strength, and I would guess 173 should too since it's related to 24 which speaks of going above your initial Skill, but I'm not so sure about 280. 363 should reasonably say "fortunate". 330 possesses the clarity that 325 lacks, to no great use.

The bottom line: Tower of Destruction has its memorable parts, but is short-lived and consigned by its many bugs to mediocrity.

Rating: 5/10


[Robert La Vallie]

Tower of Destruction Lives Up to Its Name

Your village, your friends, and your parents have been destroyed by a devastating force, and you are determined to track down those horrors who slaughtered everything and everyone you have ever loved.  And when you do, you'll teach them a whole new meaning of suffering.

That's the premise of Tower of Destruction, written by Keith Martin (who, in my opinion, is the most underrated Fighting Fantasy writer -- bottom line, the man can write). And so, you journey to the Ice Palace, acquiring artefacts along the way. Once you reach this palace, it's time to bulk up, gaining some Ramboesque equipment. Then, it's on to the Tower of Destruction, where you come face to face(s) with the demon that brutalized your loved ones. Are you ready for this challenge?  The action is fast and furious. And if are not equally as quick and filled with rage, you will not succeed.

This is a thouroughly plotted and well-written adventure. Though your opponents are powerful (one demon has a skill of 14), the allies you meet provide you with enough ammunition to handle yourself. Tower of Destruction is challenging, without being overwhelming. A couple of unusual puzzles (ASIDE: James, what is a cleft, anyway?) prevent this book from scoring a perfect 10 out of 10. Still, not only can you complete this adventure, but you want to finish this epic. And when you reach passage #400, you, like your character, are ready for a well-deserved drink.

Rating: 9.3/10.0