Swords of Twilight
(SoT) is an Amiga-exclusive game created in 1989 by Freefall Associates - the studio that delivered the immensely popular game Archon
six years earlier. It is no wonder, however, that Swords of Twilight
failed to become another pop-culture phenomenon as it is riddled with ambitious yet utterly failed concepts and implementations throughout.
Freefall Associates is a portmanteau of two co-founders’ last names, John Free
man (a co-founder of Epyx) and Anne Westfall
. A husband and wife team, John was in charge of the game design, text and art direction while Anne took care of the programming and program design.
The game itself sounds amazing, particularly when you read the manual. “Swords of Twilight offers you an extraordinary opportunity: freedom of action in a world of wonder—and sense. Eat, sleep, learn. Meet interesting people. Talk. Fight. Just like real life—with magic… Short of first degree burns, this is as close you can get to dragon’s breath or a wizard’s fireball.”
Like Archon, the game begs to be played by more than one person. To do so is a bit clunky, however. You are always Player 1, which is controlled by joystick. If there are 3 players, two play by joystick while the third must use the keyboard. However, to launch the game you need to use a mouse, then swap out the mouse with a joystick while the game is in the process of loading. Once the game has fully loaded you need to select your characters (always 3) via strange keyboard menus and keys (e.g. you use the right Amiga key to enter selections). If you are playing solo you still need to assign Players 2 and 3 to the computer every time you load the game (even after a save) and select which characters they should be from a static predetermined set.
From the get-go, there are 31 characters to select from. There are Champions, Knights and Mages and each bring their own personality, speed, magic and fighting abilities to the table. The manual encourages you to select a set that includes a champion and two knights, and avoid magic altogether in the early stages. Ironically, they also encourage you to avoid fighting as well. Why there isn’t a Politician class is curious, to say the least, as you are to talk your way out of every situation with a rather small set of repetitive dialogue choices.
When the game starts you find yourself in a castle in a top-down perspective. You direct your character (whose close-up profile is represented in a box in the top-left corner of the screen) using the joystick to guide him though the castle and explore a bit. This allows you to get a little accustomed to the physical and emotional pain you shall endure for the next few days as you play this game. For some odd reason, when you move your party, Freefall decided to literally always show the 3 characters in your party on-screen. So if you’re playing solo, the two characters controlled by the computer follow your character’s directions and at times help fill in the gaps, particularly with opening chests and beating you to the punch with dialog. But they also constantly get lost or get hung up on walls or other obstacles when you walk your character around various environments. You find yourself spending more time trying to convince the computer’s characters to follow you than actually just going where you want to go.
After returning to the main room in the first castle and moving your characters to the center of the room, a queen appears out of thin air and gives you your first set of orders. This is basically how this game works. Get a mission from the queen, go perform it, then return. Once you return you are given a chance to save the game. Once you do, the game quits and you are forced to re-choose 3 characters from the pool of 31 to resume playing. No, I’m not joking.
The game consists of 8 worlds. In them, you are to find the Seven Swords of Twilight. Each world looks maddeningly similar so trying to memorize the maps is not really worth the effort. Instead, take a look at the official EA clue book
, which was written by John Freeman. It does a very nice job actually adding some story and character to the game, and includes several useful maps.
To get to the different worlds, you must find and use a portal (which is in different locations in each world).
The portals are guarded by various dragons of differing colors. After a bit of useless chit chat, which they always want to do, the dragons often offer at least one item to the party of use. This honestly feels a bit like a loophole cheat. No matter how many times you enter a portal doorway, you are always given something of value to take. In any case, after some tiresome and repetitive dialog, the dragons will ask you to identify a Crest. These symbols were printed on the inside cover of the box, shown elsewhere on this page, with labels. This was the game’s off-disk form of copy protection. You are to type the tiny labels into the computer - with no letters on-screen to show you any feedback of what the heck you’re typing - in order to proceed. Interestingly, after close inspection, several of the crest labels are drugs: Percodan (narcotic pain killer), Tessalon (cough medicine), Fiorinal (barbiturate to treat tension headaches), Inderal (chest pain and high blood pressure) and others. I’m guessing the development of the game was hard on the team…
Once you enter the portal you travel along a very trippy “Rainbow Road”. Now, the first time you enter try to ignore the psychedelic effects flowing across your eyeballs and focus on the circle in the center of the screen. That color in the middle is your way back (spoiler: it is green). Every 20 seconds or so it changes to a different color. If you press “fire” on your joystick when the color changes, you enter one of the other worlds. It becomes incredibly tiresome and slow to enter the world you want, and you have no idea which one you need to enter until you ultimately enter them all, ask a commoner where the hell you are, then jump back inside. Honestly, that becomes the pattern of this game - tedious repetition and aggravation. And boredom. Be prepared to waste an hour just identifying the 8 portal colors and their corresponding worlds, something that should have been included in the manual or told to you by the queen.
Once you enter a world, you must lead your 3 characters across the geographical map to find castles and other structures to complete your quests. Watch out for those forests, and mountains! Your computer buddies will constantly get stuck on corners or go wandering off in the opposite direction when all you want to do is go THAT way. THAT way, damn it!
I nearly broke my joystick as I pressed and pulled it so hard in various directions I could hear the plastic base housing creak and groan under the strain. I apparently thought that if I pressed it as hard as possible the computer characters might actually follow me. It didn’t work.
When at the world map level, the designers should have displayed only one character on-screen (even if they force you to use 3 during party confrontations) and not show 3 during the travel stages. It was simply a horrible idea that wrecks the usability. This also should have been the case when inside castles. Show one character on-screen, the have the 3 appear in the corners when approached by various NPCs, foes and allies. Had a player decided to hook a second joystick up for his buddy to play, THEN show the second character on-screen if nothing else to make that player feel involved. But ultimately forcing this game into a multi-player experience is unnecessary and, more importantly, kills the entire game.
The three characters you semi-control on-screen are all brandishing swords, helmets and shields. In the manual, you are heavily encouraged to talk your way out of most everything and be as friendly and polite as possible to all foes. It appears to have been some sort of message to gamers at the time: violence does not pay.
As a result, during the several hours of playing this game, and multiple worlds visited, this reviewer never entered one single battle. It was simply Greet, Offer (who you were), Ask (what they knew) and bid farewell. Over, and over, and over again. Sound fun?
From an artistic aspect, there were some interesting things done graphically that raised my hopes before playing the game. It appears the art team used Digi View on, quite likely, actors and actresses faces and/or detailed illustrations. Converting them digitally the fidelity of some of the character and building images are quite impressive, albeit static.
The creators also tried to insert a bit of nerdy humor. If you control Valor, the pointy-eared elf Champion from Vale, he always says “Live long and prosper” when you tell him to depart from a confrontation.
All in all, the game has some interesting ideas and graphics for the timeframe it was developed and released. But the entire experience is so clunky, it’s pretty awful.
Review and installation notes.
Not only is SoT an Amiga exclusive, it is also a WB 1.3 exclusive. This game would install on an Amiga 1200, and run MUCH faster and smoother, but the code would become unstable and collision detection breaks down. Your characters will walk through walls, or get stuck on invisible walls (where the walls should be). We could only get this game to run off floppy disks on an NTSC 500. It is likely intended solely for the 1000, 500 and 2000. All other stay far, far away.
Also, this game can be installed to hard disk, but can only be launched via the CLI. Not awesome.
Lastly, we had the original disks, but you must copy the Data Disk in order to play the game. (The ADF on this page is the copy version, so it will work). It is vastly important that the name of the disk be “copy of Swords Data Disk”. Ironically, after following the games own instructions, it named the copy incorrectly. Renaming it by hand did the trick.
There is a WHDLoad version of this game (see the External Links section on this page), which we did not test. Presumably some of this headaches would be solved if one went that route.