Monday, May 28, 2012

Let’s Play Sphinx #2: Prince of the Fetch Quests

            When we last left our intrepid hero, he had vaulted over lava, acquired a mighty blade, slain enemies and dodged giant lasers, all before taking a magical portal to some unknown location. Coming up next in our engaging tale of heroics, we have…something completely unrelated.

Seems this kid just woke up! Presumably from dreaming he was in a segment with better gameplay

Fashion and Faffing About

            The next scene we see in the game after Sphinx is sucked into the creepy portal gods gaping maw is that of a Prince being awoken by his maid and told it’s his birthday. Bit of a tonal shift. Anyway, he’s told that everyone is preparing a party for him and that he should go see how things are going. You can actually don yourself in one of two pieces of attire in your room before leaving, one the blue get-up seen above and the other a garish pink affair. This serves no purpose gameplay wise other than to keep you from being able to progress and having people make fun of you until you choose blue. This was presumably left over from the fashion diva portion of the game that was later cut.

            Anyway, as you leave your room you see a clearly charming and innocent fellow coercing, er, persuading some girl that it might be wise to take interest in the prince’s brother rather than him. Captain Clearly-Not-Evil then stomps off and leaves a piece of paper behind him. Meanwhile back with the Prince, you’re told to go meet aforementioned girl, whose name is Nefertiti, out in the courtyard, as she was asking about you. When you get out there she greets you but mentions before you talk she needs you to get the piece of paper Captain CNE left behind, as it was blown up to a balcony she can’t reach.

            After a sequence chasing a crow all around a courtyard that really takes longer than it should, you manage to obtain the piece of paper. Now that you have that, you can finally have a nice long chat with…oh, never mind. It seems that Nefertiti isn’t actually going to tell us what was on the paper, why she wanted it, or…anything at all, really. She just says that you need to talk later (without specifying why you can’t now) and says to watch your back. Gee, thanks a lot, that’s so specific and helpful. Guess I’ll just go wander around the palace like an idiot.

The Grand Hall. For a game that came out in 2003, Sphinx actually looks pretty decent

            You can wander around talking to your brother and other people, but they don’t have much interesting to say. Apart from your brother alluding to being a bit jealous of you everyone is pretty much preparing and waiting for the party to start. However, there is one person who has something for you to do, and given that it’s literally the only thing for you to do there isn’t much choice in the matter. Seems some lady who looks suspiciously like the wife or sister of Captain CNE wants you to collect some old amulets for her. Not for any reason in particular, just to store them in the treasure room.

Suspicious old lady wants me to collect a bunch of ancient hidden artifacts for no purpose at all? Seems legit, I’ll take the case!

            And with that, we are once again given purpose. Now we’ve upgraded from wandering around the palace like a moron with nothing to do to wandering around the palace like a moron on a fetch quest! Progress!

The Most Circuitous Route to Accomplishing Nothing

            There are a mighty 8 amulets to collect in the palace, and whoever had them last was apparently part magpie. They’re found in places they have absolutely no reason being, like behind statues, in wardrobes, and littered around secret passages. Did I mention there are secret passages?

            As it turns out, something like half the bloody palace is comprised entirely of secret passages. You wander around them collecting amulets and solving puzzles for a bit. Then one of the secret passages happens to let out in a room where your brother and Captain CNE are talking. Hiding out of sight, you overhear them discussing some plans for today’s ceremony; talking about how the Sarcophagi are in place, and how they should hurry because Nefertiti is getting suspicious. They then mention how they have a surprise for the Prince today that he won’t soon forget, and walk away laughing manically happily.

“A surprise? I love surprises! Oh that wacky Captain CNE, always looking out for me!”

            So after your two kind and caring friends leave the room, you find that they’ve left a key on the table. Labeled the Sarcophagus Key, you can probably guess what it opens. Now you had previously seen some Sarcophagi suspiciously located in the Grand Hall. Or maybe it’s the Great Hall, or something else, I don’t recall. Anyway, when you head over to the Grandiose Hall and open one of the Sarcophagi you discover they have the mysterious power to warp you to another Sarcophagus. This can be used to both reach some previously inaccessible places in the Gargantuan Hall, as well as (sigh) more secret passages.

            You wander around these various passages collecting the remainder of the amulets. They really do weave all around the palace. Hell, one of the passages comes out inside a wardrobe in your own room! And that passage has a key that lets you open another wardrobe to discover the second secret passage into the prince’s bedroom.

Leaving out what a ridiculous gap in palace security this is, are you telling me I’ve gone my entire life without ever opening literally half of my wardrobes?

            We’re almost done with this fetch quest, but let me say that the last room in these secret passages is bloody enormous. It’s a giant room with a bottomless pit that you have to shimmy and carefully navigate above of. I have to say that the prince has got to be really damn devoted to this lady to openly risk his life multiple times just to do her a favor. Or he could just be a simpleton. Take your pick. The other thing that bothers me about this room is that it has several gigantic windows along the walls. Now, this certainly makes the scenery look nicer but think about that for a second. We are in a secret, undiscovered part of the palace which just happens to have what must be at least 20 foot tall windows clearly exposing it to the outside world. So how exactly has it remained a secret?

            So anyway, we finally finish collecting all 8 of the amulets and bring them back to the totally unsuspicious lady (I would call her something else, but I can’t remember if she’s given a name). She is very grateful for your assistance, but also wants you to take the amulets to the treasure room for her. She asks this because she is reportedly, and I quote, “too tired” to take them herself. Lady, I have been searching all around this bloody palace, pulling statues, solving puzzles, crawling through hidden passageways and dangling over freaking bottomless pits, all to get these amulets for you. In the meantime, you have been handling the extremely strenuous activity of standing in place chatting. Remind me again why you’re the one that’s tired?

            Of course we’re not given a choice in the matter, so off to the treasure room we go. When we arrive, we find the treasure room empty and your head of security waiting inside. He tells you that somehow, the contents of the treasure have been stolen! It seems that the only thing the thieves left was some strange Sarcophagus in the back of the room…

A puzzle of this caliber would absolutely stupefy Horus

            Now, you’re probably thinking several things at the moment, but if you’re like me one of them is not “It’d be a swell idea to blindly wander into that Sarcophagus without telling anyone”. This is a point that has been bothering me for a while. The whole time you’ve been cavorting around hidden passages several times your head of security has noticed and expressed concern for your safety. He’s cautioned you about wandering around and generally seemed like a good guy. And yet, at absolutely no point are you allowed to talk to him about anything. You can’t tell him about the mysterious note, or collecting the amulets, or the sinister conversation you overheard, or even about the Sarcophagus you’re about to blunder into.

            I understand why this has to happen from a gameplay perspective. You need the narrative to go a certain way and can’t have the player just sit back and wait for the game to make the next move. However, I certainly feel that this whole segment with the prince, though a nice sentiment as a break from combat and so forth, is a bit contrived. If they could just come up with a better reason behind why you’re doing these things (and perhaps shorten the fetch quest a bit), then it would help things a lot. But due to your protagonists mute status and the overall structure of events it feels like the only motivation for doing any of these things is because the game is telling you to and it’s the only way to progress, which is never a good thing.

            At any rate, we don’t have a choice in the matter, so into the Sarcophagus we go. On the other side we see our brother and Captain CNE rallying a bunch of troops. Could it be that they are not, in fact, of entirely of noble intentions? Not Captain CNE! Clearly his completely unexpected betrayal will cut deep into our hearts. Apparently they are planning on using this Sarcophagus to storm the palace and take the throne, and it is at the opportune time of just after they announce this that you walk straight out of it. Your brother yells for the guards to seize you and the screen fades to black.

            When next we return to this series, we’ll switch perspective to a random palace maid who has to collect a dozen sacred lost feather dusters to…nah I’m just kidding, we’re going to get back to the interesting part.

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