While I won’t normally give you the whole ‘my video game history’ spiel in these articles, being that it’s the first one I hope you’ll indulge me. If not, skip a paragraph and move on to the game review.
I started gaming in 1982 when my father would bring home an IBM PC XT for work reasons. Naturally after he was done we’d also play some games. In 1983 we acquired the PC full time. She had two 5.25″ drives, 512K (Yes Kilobytes) RAM, 4.7Mhz (Yes Mhz, not Ghz) CPU, a 12″ colour monitor and a Colour Graphics Adapter, capable of displaying four colours on the screen at once from an available palette of 16. It sounds terrible by today’s standards of course, but back in the day a machine like this would have cost about $4000. Think about that for a minute, $4000 in 1983. That’s about $10,000 today! Thankfully my father needed a PC for work and we were able to claim the entire thing on tax over a number of years. Growing up I was always a cut or two behind the technology, while friends had 386’s or 486′ I was still fooling around with a 286. When others had 256 colour VGA, I still had 16 colour EGA. While others had 20-50mb hard drives, I was still using floppy disks. I collect ‘Vintage PC’ games from the 1980’s and 1990’s, for the most part anything on a floppy disk. I’m a big fan of Sierra adventure games and have fond memories of role-playing games such as ‘Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord’ and ‘Ultima III: Exodus’.
I could could prattle on about this topic for a while, but I’ll leave it there. Suffice to say I’m a passionate about old PC games.
So to kick this (hopefully long running) series off I thought I’d start with something simple – ‘The Prophecy’.
The Prophecy (also known as ‘Ween: The Prophecy’) was a simple point and click adventure/puzzle game developed by the French video game designers ‘Coktel Vision’ and published by ‘Sierra On-line’. It was probably the artwork on the front of the box followed by the screenshots on the back that caught my attention. I can tell you I paid $24.95 for it on Saturday the 29th of April 1995, thanks to the faded receipt still in the box. Looks like I picked up a box of 1.44mb floppy disks for $6.95 as well. I was in my final year of high school in ’95 and didn’t have a job so this would have been a couple of weeks worth of pocket money from chores.
Reviewing old PC games by today’s standards would be a silly waste of time. Of course the visuals, music, controls and the like are (for the most part) inferior to their current counterparts. Likewise it would be foolish to completely forget where we are today and to excuse the flaws of poor game design as nothing more than a sign of the times. So bear with me as I try try to find the middle ground.
The Prophecy was released (according to Wikipedia) some time 1993, obviously it took a little while reach my PC. I’ll let the back of the box explain the premise –
“The Kingdom of Blue Rocks is in peril! The great Eclipse will come in three days and the evil wizard Kraal has plans to take over. The prophecy proclaims that Ween can save the kingdom if he can find the missing pieces to put back in the Revuss of Time.”
That grammar mistake at the end there isn’t mine. They didn’t have Google translate in 1995, although even if they did I doubt it would have made much of a difference.
You play as ‘Ween’, a young apprentice magician according to the included manual. Basically a nasty sorcerer has dashed off with the princess and plans to take over the world at the time of the great eclipse. You have to ‘heal’ the Revuss of Time (a big hour glass) by placing three grains of sound back inside. All sound a bit Dark Crystal? Yeah but that’s okay, Dark Crystal is cool.
To help you on your journey you have your magical brass ball, twin gnomish looking servants and a vampire bat who eats fruit (I don’t know… I didn’t write the story!). Oh and Petroy, some old mystic dude that you’ll forget is even there and is basically the games way of giving you some indirect hints on solving puzzles. The ball is really, really annoying. You can use it in conjunction with a ring, necklace or tiara to make it change into a cauldron, pipe or sword respectively. A number of puzzles require you to change it’s form a number times in succession. Why the couldn’t simply give you a cauldron, pipe and sword is beyond me, perhaps they needed a way to tie in the whole ‘you’re a wizard Harry’ thing.
The game takes place from a static, first-person point of view. You interactive with objects within the play area, adding some to your inventory, manipulating others and ultimately using a combination of the two to solve puzzles and move from one location to the next. It’s akin to the current day ‘hidden object’ games but without the hidden objects. Or perhaps more aptly it reminds me of early adventure games that added a graphical element to text adventures, such as Demons Forge. Most of the ‘interactive’ elements are fairly obvious, but beyond that you can move your mouse across the play area and anything you can click will be named below. I never came across a situation where I was really ‘pixel scouring’, especially when you consider the games resolution is only 320 x 200 and they play area is closer to 320 x 100.
Considering the limitations of the times, visuals aren’t too bad. A lot of the backdrops are plain and utter rubbish but some of them are really well done, so it’s a mixed bag. The same could be said for the animation, or what little there is. The ‘in-game’ stuff is pretty simplistic but the game also makes use of brief (and low quality) FMV sequences which are mostly done in 16 colour. They don’t look too bad, although one can’t help but feel the game would have looked better in the 640 x 480 resolution. As the game was also released for Amiga and Atari ST, I’d imagine the lower resolution was designed for these machines and the game was ported to PC (See?!? We’ve been having port issues for a long time!). There was supposed to be a CD version of the game, the manual even makes mention of it, but it never happened. One can only guess that it would have included more complete FMV sequences and possibly speech as well.
There are very few sound effects in the game, the odd evil laugh, demonic scream or what have you, all basic samples. The game contains a half dozen or more midi/synthesizer tracks which for the most part I really enjoy. Like a lot of hidden-object games, I find if the score is good you enjoy working the puzzles while you hum or bop along. I’m a sucker for good midi music from the 90’s! Again, I’d have been interested to see how a CD version would have worked out, although I suspect it would have contained some tragic French voice acting.
It’s been a long time since I first played the game through to completion and I’ve managed to retain most of that knowledge, so giving you an accurate play through time would be difficult. It’s always easy when you know the answers. If you didn’t use an online guide or click the hint button every scene I’d hazard a guess and say there is easily an afternoons entertainment here, possibly a weekends. It’s worth playing through a second time, as there are a few branching paths throughout the game (although only one ending) and a fresh set of puzzles in those locations. Beyond that though you’ll only take it off the shelf to reminisce.
Unfortunately there is no legal way to purchase and play The Prophecy online. Normally in these reviews if the game is available on GOG, Steam or a similar site I’ll link. I’ve seen copies of the Amiga version go for between $60 and $120 AUD. Not bad for a $25 pickup!
SUMMARY: All in all The Procphecy isn’t a bad game, it’s just not a particularly amazing one either. Putting on the rose tinted glasses however, means it has a special place on the shelf next to my Sierra adventure games such as King’s Quest and Quest for Glory.