Book 2 of Michael G Perrin’s martial arts inspired Shinté Warrior series follows on from the dramatic events of Trials of the First Moon (the first book in this series) and now requires you to scale the snow-covered Cadcliff Mountains in search of the legendary Rividia plant: a sacred medicinal herb with unique restorative powers. Forming a team of warriors, your mission is to find this rare species and return to your monastery, where the miracle plant can be used to counter the ‘Bloodbane’ disease – a plague currently afflicting all those wounded during the massive battle from the first book.
You play as Tsai, a young black-sashed Shinté warrior, whose personal attributes – strength, agility, stamina, intelligence, guile and will – are represented by individual ability scores. Additionally, you may select a number of animal fighting styles, which provide small ability bonuses and determine your skills in using specific weapon types. Each of these animal proficiencies grants you traits unique to that creature, and is then associated with a specific weapon from five classes (slashing/piercing, bludgeoning etc.). It’s a comprehensive system that allows for plentiful player customisation and clearly shows the author’s love for Chinese martial arts – Perrin is a 4th degree black belt in Shaolin kung fu and Tai chi chuan. The melee combat system is a simple formula where the attacker’s combat skill is compared to the defender’s defense skill and inflicted damage is then determined by consulting a table, as per the Lone Wolf series. It all works rather well and the overall game structure never interferes, causes frustration or adds too much unwanted paperwork.
Your adventure will see you facing encounters with goblins, mongreloid fighters with their war hounds, a massive mountain troll, and a giant roc eagle. Due to the group dynamic of this story and the importance of your mission, there are important and influential decisions to be made regarding leadership, trust and friendship. It is in these pivotal moments where this story really shines.
As this second book is a direct sequel to events of Trials of the First Moon, it is highly advisable (although not strictly necessary) to read the first volume before playing this book to better understand the ongoing conflict at the heart of this story. Returning players who have successfully completed the first book also gain benefit from additional animal and weapon proficiencies, plus are gifted more gear, a special item and an extra weapon.
Engagingly written and offering an enjoyable fantasy adventure through an imaginative world, The Quest for Rividia is an entertaining gamebook of traditional fantasy structure and content, with the key difference that you do not adventure alone and must make decisions based on who you trust and respect, and how you wish to proceed on your trek within this group dynamic. The world of Shanoong is an interesting and original setting for an adventure and the plot revolving around the welfare of your community is handled with skill and care, continually reinforcing the urgent needs of others over your own interests. These important elements are suitably detailed and investigated within the story, aiding your connection with this world and providing a direct sense of purpose to your travels.
As with the first book, the beginning of the story set within your monastery is relatively slow, however, it does link to the important events from the previous adventure and provides knowledge and justification for what is to follow. This early section nicely builds expectation for the action and crucial decision making that you will soon face.
This is very much a story-driven gamebook, and in this regard you will find that the tale being told is worthy of your time and attention. So, put on your black-sash and get ready to fight the numerous foul invaders that have decimated the Shinté people and now threaten all of Shanoong.
STORYLINE: A continuation of events from Book 1, the group mission to locate the medicinal Rividia plant adds absorbing interaction with others to the successful formula of the first book. Motivation drives your character, with a genuine need to act responsibly and without delay; the lives of many hang in the balance and your failure will doom them to a certain death.
GAMEPLAY: The animal proficiencies add a welcome strategic element to this gamebook series and give all players an opportunity to shape their character and fight in a manner they prefer. Your ability choices will provide various advantages in specific scenarios, often adding influential bonuses to aid your progress and defeat your foes. The overall system and general style of gameplay is easy to comprehend and play, and never interferes with the tale being told, which is the main focus.
PRESENTATION: The design and layout is serviceable, but lacking finesse. Interior art is provided by a number of illustrators, with many images unfortunately not at a standard that reflects the quality of the story. The vertically placed illustrations of a horizontal format are a bad misstep that should have been avoided. Cover illustration is suitably effective.
REPLAY VALUE: The incentive to reread story-driven gamebooks of this style is likely to be significantly less than for those with a more open type of task and path to follow – although there are plenty of additional options here to discover on further attempts. Shanoong is a world worth exploring as much as possible and selecting different animal proficiencies will deliver a uniquely new adventure.
Review by Michael Reilly