FF7: Island of the Lizard King

Robert Douglas
Per Jorner
Demian Katz
Simon Osborne
Laurence Sinclair
Jason Smith
Bryan Spargo
John Stock


[Robert Douglas]


After the success of 'City of Thieves', and the legendary 'Deathtrap Dungeon', Ian Livingtone's adventure on Fire Island seemed a little lame in comparison. However, besides that, it is otherwise quite an acceptable - although average - addition to the FF series. Livingstone delights in exploring his arch-villains to the full, and 'Island of the Lizard King' is no exception. There are some shocks and surprises, a multitude of monsters, with items necessary the reader must collect in order to defeat the evil, ambitious Lizard King. And watch out for the fatal Gonchong! Overall, an interesting adventure - but definitely not Ian Livingstone's best.


[Per Jorner]

IotLK is in my experience the easiest of all the FF books I've played. Not that you're likely to finish it on your first attempt, but there's really little to stop you except for a string of unavoidable, over-powered enemies at the end. There's next to nothing in the way of required items, knowledge or references, and what there is can pretty easily be acquired along the decidedly linear journey. Hence, if you sit down with the book and give it a few tries, in a couple of hours you'll have rolled (or given yourself) a Skill 12 character, avoided the Skill penalties along the way, made your Provisions last all the way, fought the battles and won. After that there won't be much to hold your interest except for the picture of Raquel Welch. (Speaking of which, it's too bad you could neither kill nor befriend her, but I guess the latter would have been tricky given that the FF hero is supposed to be gender-neutral.)

I don't know if the problem is that the setting Livingstone chose to exploit for this one - the sub-tropical island - is too uninteresting, or if the encounters are just too routine in their design. Alan Langford is a competent illustrator, but few of the images here seem memorable to me. For instance, on the title page there's a small image of the Lizard King himself wearing robes and looking quite cool, but when you meet him in the book, he's buck-naked! Fighting a Giant Crab or some Headhunters doesn't seem in any way urgent, they're just some arbitrary obstacles brought on by the fact that for unclear reasons you chose to land your boat on the wrong side of the island. They don't even hide any numbered keys to be collected! And as has been mentioned by others, the trek to the Shaman seems utterly pointless in light of the fact that nothing changes if you fail his test. I can't really recommend this if you have other options.

Rating: 5/10


[Demian Katz]

Plot Summary: While visiting an old friend, you discover that his village has been attacked by reptilian kidnappers from a nearby island; you vow to stop their foul activities....

This, the third Ian Livingstone book in a row, is sort of a conclusion to a trilogy; just as Deathtrap Dungeon mentions that you've come to Fang from Port Blacksand, so this book mentions that you're journeying on from Fang to a new destination. Although this adventure is often overlooked by fans of the series, it has some merit. Certainly, it's not as innovative or important as City of Thieves, but it's a lot more fun to play than Deathtrap Dungeon, even it doesn't have as creative or compelling a backstory. This book also holds a rather special place in my heart since it's one of the mere two Fighting Fantasy adventures that I managed to complete back in the old days before I learned that it takes hours of devotion and excessive mapping to survive most of these things.

Now that I've examined the book more closely for review purposes, I'm not too surprised that I won it all those years ago. It's not very hard at all, especially when you look at it next to the viciousness of Livingstone's two previous entries in the series. It's almost entirely linear, so there aren't too many chances to get lost; it's nice to be able to play a gamebook without having to stop and map things out every two seconds. It's also extremely forgiving -- even if you miss a few items or fail a crucial test, you usually still have a shot at victory if you're clever and a little lucky. Even the numerous combats in the story aren't insurmountable, thanks to numerous pieces of armor and special weapons scattered about. Perhaps in another context I might have actually complained that the book is too easy, but at this point in the series, I consider it a relief.

The biggest problem with the book is that it's not all that memorable. It starts off well, with Mungo being a fairly detailed character (for this series, at least), but once he's out of the picture (and it doesn't take long!), it becomes a fairly blurry series of random encounters that feel like a slightly more tropical rehash of Forest of Doom. It all leads up to a final, large-scale battle that should be exciting but ends up feeling merely like a missed opportunity to do something innovative. The Lizard King himself, too, doesn't live up to his potential, especially if you face him with sufficient foreknowledge to have an advantage over him; it almost makes one long for another shot at facing Balthus Dire. Perhaps the author was simply getting tired by this point; I certainly wouldn't be surprised -- he churned out a lot of pages in just a few months. It's a shame, though, that the miraculously non-frustrating gameplay didn't get a good accompanying story. This isn't a bad adventure, but it could have been a great one.


[Simon Osborne]

The main thing that strikes me about FF7 is how un-memorable it is (for me at least). Much like Demian, I liked the difficulty level; being able to complete an adventure on the second or third attempt can be enjoyable. The illustrations by Alan Langford are also worthy of note, capturing the primeval quality and essence of Fire Island. The back story is certainly more compelling than that FF6's. Despite all these good points, the whole doesn't seem to gel with consistency.

The addition of nice magic items to help on the way is good because, for once, you don't need all of them to complete the adventure. Items such as the Horn of Valhalla, Sog's Helmet, the Magic Sword and the Pouch of Unlimited Contents are all fairly easy to find, but they help out rather than leading to InstantDeath (TM) if you don't find them. This leeway allows for more exploration and makes the game rather enjoyable. The problem is that it just doesn't really stick in my memory. The odd encounter (like the woman with tiger, or the Black Lion) stays in your mind due to the illustration rather than the actual encounter or the text. The text seems rather tired and cliched. The encounters are, as Demian puts it, 'random,' with little real consistency or depth. The army sections are also poorly done, and are quite unengaging. The final battle is just that - a couple of combats.

I should probably point out that FF5 and 6 both have their covers proudly displayed in the FF Poster Book. In the brief description of FF6, it is noted that Ian McCaig also did the cover for FF7. I'm not surprised that FF7 didn't make it into the FF Poster Book as I don't think it's very good, particularly considering McCaig's abilities, both in pen-and-ink and in full-colour. (I'm obviously talking about the UK cover here!)

Despite all this, FF7 isn't a bad book. It's certainly no worse than FF6, just for different reasons, and despite the hammering I gave FF6, it isn't one of the worst by some way. I wouldn't quite say it was a missed opportunity, but it didn't do anything to enhance the series, or play with game mechanics. It is tired and predictable, but acceptable enough to play more than once. Maybe I'm expecting too much from the series during it's infancy?


[Laurence Sinclair]

Visiting an old friend, you are persuaded to help him mount a mission to go to Fire Island and kill the Lizard King, to put an end to his slave taking exploits. It won't be easy, as he has an entire army at his beck and call, as well as the powers of Voodoo magic...

This book fails to live up to its promise. Looking forward to companionship on your adventure, you are cruelly robbed within moments of landing on the island. To compound this, after the well thought out twists of Livingstone's previous book, you are treated to an unbelievably mundane journey. The later stages of the book are linear, but not because of the need to gather items. Such things are not needed, you just have no choice about where you can go. And the path leads through several SKILL 11 opponents, many of whom feel like they've just been thrown in because the book wasn't quite 400 paragraphs.

My main gripe has to do with the sub quest for the Shaman. This is obligatory, you have no option to march straight on the Lizard King's stronghold. This would be all right if you learnt anything useful, but instead whether or not you pass the Shaman's tests is irrelevant to your ability to overcome the Lizard King. The one item that you would find useful in overcoming him isn't well hidden even, it's lying directly in the middle of the above-mentioned linear path.

This book is a stark contrast to the earlier Forest of Doom, but I dislike it just as much for very different reasons. Too much is dependent on the will of the dice here, and having one of your first opponents on the island SKILL 10 is pretty much a betrayal of the 'no matter initial dice rolls' promise.

Rating: 3 out of 10


[Jason Smith]

The year was 1984. Steve Jackson was busy, slaving away over a hot typewriter, creating the second and third instalment of his excellent Sorcery series. Meanwhile, Ian Livingstone was working long and hard on his third successive Fighting Fantasy gamebook for the regular gamebook series.

After the outstanding Fighting Fantasy number 5; City of Thieves and Fighting Fantasy number 6; Deathtrap Dungeon, was it possible for Ian to produce another winner of such calibre? Well, I know it's a matter of personal preference, but I believe that he did!

Fighting Fantasy number 7; Island of the Lizard King, following hard on the heels of it's predecessors, has all the ingredients of a rock solid Fighting Fantasy gamebook! Original story, well planned out and written, set in the medieval world of Titan and an ample assortment of monsters to slap around, that should satisfy the most bloodthirsty paperback adventurer, make for a sure winner in my opinion!

For our next foray into the Fighting Fantasy world, we find ourselves helping an old friend from Oyster Bay. So, it's time to settle in a comfortable chair, buckle on your sword, check your backpack for the last time, then set off to do battle with the evil denizens of Fire Island! Kidnapped by the vicious Lizard King and his cold-blooded, reptilian cronies from Fire Island, the young men of Oyster Bay face a grim future of slavery and starvation!

Hearing this news from an old friend of yours, you decide to set sail for the Lizard King's lair on Fire Island. Once there, your audacious plan is to rescue those poor souls and give that oversized lizard and his scaly henchmen a damn good kicking that they'll never forget!

But this won't be no walk over, oh no! For Fire Island is not only the personal empire of an eight foot tall iguana with a serious attitude problem, no! It's also populated by a hostile collection of killer dinosaurs and nasty monsters! Not only do you have to face the mother of all crustaceans, dinosaurs, carnivorous and poison plants, but the Lizard King's personal garrison of armoured green skins as well!

Shall I tell you any more about it? Hmmm... No, I don't think so. It'd be much more fun to let you find out the hard way! Hey, I wouldn't want to spoil your fun!

The cover illustration, by Iain McCaig, is cool. Internal illustrations, by Alan Langford, are also very good. Both add immeasurably to the atmosphere, making this an all round, first rate Fighting Fantasy gamebook...

Rating: 7.75/10


[Bryan Spargo]

In "Island of the Lizard King," the third Fighting Fantasy gamebook in a row written by Ian Livingstone (following "City of Thieves" and "Deathtrap Dungeon"), Livingstone continued to work in the traditions that he had set forth in those previous two gamebooks. While "Island" was not quite as successful as "City" or "Dungeon," Livingstone still was able to create another well-written, exciting entry in the FF series.

"Island of the Lizard King" resembles Livingstone's first solo FF book, "The Forest of Doom," in that the majority of the story takes place in a wilderness setting. However, unlike "Forest," "Island" has a slightly greater difficulty level that makes the story more engaging, and the final third of the book, where the reader enters the Lizard King's mines and eventually confronts the Lizard King, helps the book surpass "Forest" easily.

Where "Island of the Lizard King" comes up short is that, other than the final battle, there really isn't any other memorable encounter that stays with the reader after the book is closed. Since the book follows "Deathtrap Dungeon," which had several such encounters, one can't help but feel a little let down with "Island."

Despite this, though, "Island of the Lizard King" is still a good, exciting read. Recommended.

Overall grade: 8 (out of 10)


[John Stock]

Another Livingstonic FF, this one sends the player rampaging round a desert island in search of the Lizard King who is enslaving people from Oyster Bay and making them work in the salt mines on Fire Island.

Well the book in itself ain't bad at all. The writing is impeccable as it usually is with Livingstone. Illustrations are good ones by Iain McCaig, in my opinion one of the best illustrators. The writing and pictures are superb.

Now the best parts of this book is its atmosphere. Livingstone gives off a feeling of desolation on the isle and also one of its virgin state. Well, up until you decimate the local tribe of natives he does.

Standard rules here, no new devices as such. You do have to collect various items from the isle before meeting the Lizard King though. And towards the end of the book there are several high-SKILL enemies which, although not a match for you if you've high stats yourself, can prove nasty in clumps.

However, I do have a big gripe with it - upon starting this book within an hour and a half I had finished it with a successful ending. Too easy! Being able to complete and FF on Try #1 is not a good sign.

However, overall, I.O.T.L.K. is one of the better FFs but not in the same league as some others, i.e. Legend of Zagor, Moonrunner.

MY RATING - 8.0/10