MINI REVIEW: Spellbreaker

There mere mention of Spellbreaker can bring some Fighting Fantasy adventurers to their knees, so having recently discovered that 2018 marks the 25th anniversary of Jonathan Green’s notoriously difficult gamebook, I decided that now would be the ideal time to undertake a journey within this infamous adventure, experiencing all of the joy and (no doubt) pain that it has to offer.STORYLINE: When the Black Grimoire, a dangerous book of dark magic, is stolen from the holy ground of Rassin Abbey, the land of Ruddlestone is plunged into an epic crisis. You have just four days to stop the ancient book’s thief, the evil warlock Nazek, from unlocking the Demafrauge – the legendary Casket of Shadows – and unleashing the Infernal Beast from its prison. Hundreds died the last time this monster walked on Titan. Can YOU become the Spellbreaker – the heroic adventurer who overcame the forces of evil?

Jonathan Green’s first Fighting Fantasy gamebook is already a part of the legend that continues to fuel interest in the series. It’s also a memorable introduction for a new author, showcasing Green’s obvious love for the genre, whilst offering a punishing level of complexity and a substantial challenge. The storyline presents a task – effectively a time-limited chase – across North-Western Ruddlestone to locate Nazek and the stolen book. Along the way you’ll be confronted with all sorts of challenges, puzzles and odd occurrences – each moment building on earlier events and incidents, adding further trials to triumph over. The narrative is always interesting and often surprising in its breathless intensity, merging new game mechanics with the time limitation to form an adventure that always keeps you on your toes.

GAMEPLAY: Thoroughly enjoyable but extremely difficult to complete, Spellbreaker will likely break YOU before it gives up all of its secrets. Like many other Fighting Fantasy adventures this is a hoarder’s dream, featuring a very long list of pick-ups that are essential for reaching a successful outcome. You’ll be making good headway and feeling pretty pleased with your progress when, at the turn of a page, you’re greeted with ‘your adventure ends here’ due to the lack of one specific item. Several of these vitally important items are at first glance unimportant or trivial, however, without them in your possession further progress is wholly impossible. This situation is quite annoying the first time it occurs – and completely infuriating thereafter. It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll curse loudly at some point whilst reading this gamebook.

Jonathan Green certainly knows how to craft an atmospheric and detailed gamebook, with Spellbreaker containing many classic fantasy situations, confrontations and characters. Additionally, these encounters will often test your Skill or Luck, testing your judgement in identifying who is helpful and who waits to deceive. This also incorporates your Faith score, which differs from the usual Fighting Fantasy attributes as it tracks correct and positive actions taken during your journey, resulting in the much-needed ability to successfully resist a corrupting evil at the end of your adventure. Also, there’s a requirement to track your Infection exposure to the plague, and various other afflictions to avoid (Beggar’s Curse, Rat Bite and Lycanthropy). Green keeps the difficulty and tension high as there’s always a new peril to circumvent or overcome.

PRESENTATION: Both the Puffin Books and Wizard Books versions of Spellbreaker are neatly presented (they share the same text layout for their adventures), although the reproduction of the interior illustrations in my Wizard copy is rather poor, resulting in very dark images that lack the fidelity of the original prints.

Alan Langford has produced some memorable art for the interior, with a good range of linework, contrast and details, and a variety of menacing poses. I especially like the powerful Barrow Guard (top strip, centre); the mounted Wraith Rider (above, centre); Hemlock & Hogweed (above, right), who look like they’re particularly keen to profit by deception; and the hooded Piper (below, centre) who possesses a tangible sense of mystery and threat. Unfortunately, the cover illustration on the Puffin edition, as seen in the summary box below, isn’t of a particularly high standard (and I loathe the lame choice of font), with the subsequent Wizard release (see the header image) portraying the evil Kurakil with significantly better style and strength courtesy of Martin McKenna’s superior illustration.

REPLAY VALUE: You’ll certainly be replaying this one – just to finish it! It’s never a breeze to make your way through to the end of Spellbreaker, so there’s plenty of replay value to be had as you attempt to complete the adventure without the failure of an untimely death. There are quite a lot of decent alternative choices to make and new areas to explore, so players will continue to uncover new content on further playthroughs. The narrative requires you to arrive at specific points to achieve victory, so you will always pass through various important sections, however, there is a good level of variety in many of the situations and encounters that exist away from the ‘true path’. There’s a genuine joy of discovery in Spellbreaker, which helps the adventure to avoid any monotonous drudgery, even though the difficulty is set a little too high.

Review by Michael Reilly

5 thoughts on “MINI REVIEW: Spellbreaker”

  1. I really have a love hate relationship with Jonathan Green’s gamebooks. There’s no doubt he was one of the better (if not the best) writer of the Fighting Fantasy gamebook series and his adventures were well written, oozed atmosphere and had engaging plots but… god… were they hard and not in a good logical sense – often sucking the fun out of the experience like a Skill 12 Stamina 24 Vampire Lord!

    So, yeah, pretty much think your review is spot on. 🙂

  2. I like the original cover myself, but agree that that font’s not the best choice. Needed something more ‘fantasy-esque’.
    Hard’s the word. I don’t beleive I have completed this one honestly! I almost always get screwed by rats (ooe-er) at some stage, one way or another.

  3. Pingback: Comic Creator Spotlight: Alan Langford –

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