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The Hand of Fate, Westwood, 1993

Also known as The Legend of Kyrandia 2, Fables and Fiends 2, and The Legend of Kyrandia: The Hand of Fate.

The first game in this series, The Legend of Kyrandia, was a mildly interesting King's Quest ripoff, with pleasant graphics, and not much else of note. This game, The Hand of Fate, is easily one of my favourite adventure games, simply because it is so entertaining. Parts of it are silly, parts of it enigmatic, but gameplay is very balanced, and everything feels right. The third game in the series, Malcolm's Revenge, totally falls apart, and I was so turned off I didn't finish it. How could Westwood fumble it so badly? I guess it's hard to make a game as polished as The Hand of Fate.

Xanthia is a character that we met briefly in the first game, and here she becomes the main character of the game. Westwood made a good choice, getting out of the business of the stereotypical male adventurer. Some of Xanthia's actions themselves are a bit stereotyped, like her fixation on changing outfits, but on the whole, she seemed like an interesting person. It was a relief to spend time playing this game, because Xanthia was never tedious or annoying. I can't stress enough the importance of this for an adventure game of this type: I think this is why I didn't stick it through with Malcolm's Revenge. Malcolm was a wisecracking idiot who got on my nerves and the game soon became unbearable.

Interestingly, the graphics in this game are also much more appealing than the first or third game in the series. Westwood adds many small touches that help make the overall feel of the game so inviting. As I've already said, The Legend of Kyrandia felt very much like a King's Quest game, with standard pseudo-medieval scenarios. The colours of Malcolm's Revenge looked washed out on my screen -- I fiddled with the settings for a while, but to no avail. In The Hand of Fate, the colours are bright when they need to be, the atmosphere cartoonish as necessary, and the events even gloomy or spooky. There is a sequence in Hand of Fate set in a place called Herb's Shack -- it features talking frogs, carrying on with their lives, and I felt like I was in a place where talking frogs might actually live. An island named Highmoon was also interesting, especially the design of the buildings near the harbour and the ship itself. Having houses shaped like giant fish is not particularly efficient, or even esthetically pleasing at first, but I found I liked visiting. As for the ship, it had an interesting means of propulsion -- think of dangling a carrot in front of a donkey. Westwood includes a sequence with an Abominable Snowman that didn't live up to the same standards, partly because the graphics were so drab.

Counter to the experience of many computer games, I didn't encounter any bug or flaws in this game as I was playing The Hand of Fate. I appreciated being able to focus on playing the game and not fighting bugs in the programming. The interface for the game was pretty standard, and very easy to use, so that's another plus. Games that accumulate lots of junk in your inventory can be a pain, but this game at least gives you an interesting place to put it. You have two rows of a wooden shelf on the bottom of the screen, and you can turn a little crank to look at the other two. It was a handy way to have the inventory onscreen, yet not take up too much of the game window.

In fact, I think this kind of good-humoured balance between the mechanics of the game and pleasing the player is what makes this game so good. It's there in the way the inventory is set up on the screen. And it's also there in my favourite sequence in this game: the Island of Highmoon, before you get through the city gates. Xanthia arrives on the island with nothing and, with only a few screens to explore, she needs to find a way to get through the city gates. The problem is that the guards won't let her through. Now this is typical adventure game fare -- some obstacle that you need to surmount. But most games are completely humourless, and often illogical, about this basic structural necessity, which only makes me tend toward the frustrated end of the interested-frustrated spectrum. Here, Xanthia is dealing with two irrational and exasperating guards, who sound much like the French Taunter in Monty Python's Holy Grail, and the fact that this is an obstacle becomes a big joke. You know they won't let Xanthia through, yet they keep giving her lines like, "No admission except on alternate Wednesdays," and "No people with big hats allowed." Completely ridiculous, and of course quite witty. The solution to the problem is just as amusing. Westwood handles this balance with such grace and cleverness that it leaves the player wanting more games like this.

In the years since this game was released, the adventure genre of computer games has pretty much disappeared; Westwood itself was for many years one of the few recognizable and quality game companies, but it too has gone the way of the adventure game. And due to the rapid obsolescence of computer technology, the pleasures of The Hand of Fate are a thing of the past (unlike books or music, computer games rely heavily on their technical format and I'm not sure if I could get this game playing on my current computer even if I wanted to). Hopefully the tradition of the adventure game returns soon.


First posted: December 5, 1997; Last modified: February 19, 2004

Copyright © 1997-2004 by James Schellenberg (james@jschellenberg.com)


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