Kingdom: The Far Reaches

Posted by Erik-André Vik Mamen.
First posted on 27 January 2010. Last updated on 24 February 2010.
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Kingdom: The Far Reaches
Torlok the Twisted brings his reign of terror to the Five Kingdoms.
Kingdom: The Far Reaches
The wise Mobus divides the powerful amulet into pieces to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.
Kingdom: The Far Reaches
Lathan finds a piece of the missing relics.
Kingdom: The Far Reaches
The wizard Daelon gives Lathan a magical scroll.
Kingdom: The Far Reaches
Lathan must be careful not to get caught in the swirling dust storm.

Kingdom: The Far Reaches (also called Kingdom: The Far Reaches: Book One) is an animated fantasy adventure game released in 1995. History has not been too kind to this game, as it is now mostly a forgotten title. Yet, fans may recognize the name of the game's creator, Rick Dyer, who is also the co-creator (along with Don Bluth) of the far more popular Dragon's Lair and Space Ace. Still, Kingdom: The Far Reaches is a game with a credible production value, beautiful animations, and a grand soundtrack. The game is truly an underdog of the genre.

Long ago, the Argent Kings ruled the Five Kingdoms. An evil warlock named Torlok the Twisted hunted down the Argent Kings and killed most of them, so he could become the ruler. To protect the kingdoms, a wizard named Mobus made an amulet of power called The Hand of Mobus, containing 5 relics that were then given to the 5 kingdoms. The evil Torlok wanted the amulet himself, as he knew that he would be defeated if the amulet would fall into the wrong (or right, or rather righteous) hands. As if this trouble was not enough, a self-proclaimed king had kidnapped a princess named Princess Grace Delight, who was the supposedly rightful heir to the throne.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, a great wizard named Daelon summons a young boy, Lathan Kandor, to be his new apprentice. While Daelon has had many apprentices before Lathan, all of them have died. He now believes in Lathan to be his true disciple, since he is a descendent of the Argent Kings, even though Lathan is unaware of his royal heritage. Lanthan's mission is simple: to recover the lost relics of the kingdoms and to help the princess to ascend to her throne.

As the player, you control Lathan, traveling around in the kingdoms and meeting people who can aid him in his quest. Most of these people will have some information of use to him, such as where to find the relics or other vital clues. Moreover, whenever Lathan returns to visit Dealon, he will not only be given more clues to aid his mission but also magical scrolls that will help him survive in the dangerous world.

The graphics and sounds in Kingdom: The Far Reaches are really special. The game looks very much like a classic Disney film, with beautiful cel shaded animations (over 57,000 hand-painted animation cels captured in full-motion video) and a digitized soundtrack. While it is not uncommon for games of that era to have voiceovers and musical scores, this game still impresses by the quality of its production. The animations, which make up most of the game, are accompanied by great background music. There is also synthesized music being played while the game waits for the player's input; however, in this case the tune is largely repetitive and can get annoying quickly.

How can this game be so unique but yet almost forgotten? Astute gamers may notice that this game looks oddly familiar. This is because Kingdom: The Far Reaches is not really an original title, and the game is actually much older than its 1995 release. Rather, it is remake of another game first released in 1984 called Thayer's Quest. Thayer's Quest is a LaserDisc game released for the short-lived Halcyon console. In that game, you control Thayer, an apprentice on a quest to find 5 magical relics take make up The Hand of Quoid. Sound familiar? Kingdom: The Far Reaches is, as revealed, a retelling of Thayer's Quest. It is more than just a port, however. Most of the names of the characters and places in the story have been changed (such as Thayer into Lathan). It is rumored that the changes are made in order to avoid paying royalties. It is also rumored that the developer are afraid the original story may sound too outdated for a new audience. The new game employs a different interface and navigates with the use of a mouse.

Each scene in the game begins with an animation sequence that plays back as an introduction. When the playback has stopped, the game freezes and waits for your input. In many scenes, the only choice is to leave the current area or head for another. In other scenes, Lathan gets into danger and you have only a limited time to make a choice to escape. Some of the magical scrolls or other items may be used to save Lathan from danger. If you fail to make an action within the given time limit, an animation will play showing Lathan being killed or wounded. In most scenes, Lathan is not in any danger so that there is no time limit.

The bottom part of the screen has a log to store some of your inventory items. If you see an item there, it means that it may be used in the current scene to solve a puzzle. Some items are simple red herrings or do not trigger any effect, while others are used in alternate solutions or lead to different outcomes. The upper part of the screen has a branch that represents Lathan's lifelines. Lathan starts off with 3 lives. He can be hurt or become fatigue; in that case, a third of the total branch will turn into a grey withered branch. If this happens, the next time Lathan is in a dangerous situation he may die. While there are a lot of dangerous characters and situations that you must avoid, the near constant threat of death does not ruin the gameplay too much. There are places where you can heal up and restore up to your maximum number of lives.

Other gameplay issues are less forgiving. A particular issue is the fact that you can get stuck after using the wrong scrolls or items in some situations. There is no way to replenish your scrolls beyond the original 3 of each kind that you are given. You may also unwittingly destroy an item that is needed later or use it in the wrong situation. In some cases, you may be able to reacquire the item to continue the quest, while in others you cannot and are locked in a dead end. When this annoyance is combined with the fact that there is only 1 game save slot, the game can become an exercise of repetition in which you may have to restart from time to time.

An interesting element of this game is the fact that it has 2 difficulty settings. The easier setting, "Apprentice", has much less dangers and an easier objective. It may be a good option for novice players who are not familiar with the gameplay. Gameplay is also shorter, and it is less likely that you can get stuck, since you can afford to waste a few of your scrolls. The more difficult setting, "Wizard", is the setting required to play the full game. At this setting, you will find that your path is littered with more surprises and traps. There are also several places where you must secure another key or another item which you do not otherwise need when playing in the easier setting. You will find more locations to explore for subquests as well. Some of these extra locations are available in the "Apprentice" setting, even though they serve no function towards your ultimate goal. There is an option in the game to repeat playback of the last animation sequence. This can be a valuable function if you worry about missing clues in the dialog. The game does not have subtitles, so you probably need to hear the dialog a few times. In general, the voiceovers are good, but pronunciations of some of proper names are a bit hard to catch.

When you are wandering around, you may encounter a few annoying random hazards. For example, you may get stuck in a dangerous dust storm and have to move to another location. You may also get robbed of all you inventory items. If this ever happens, it may seem first that you are stuck in the game and have to start over. Have faith, however; there is a way to recover your loot!

Some players may be surprised by the ending of the game. The game ends after only 3 (not all) of the 5 relics are found (and just 1 of 5 on the easier setting). The remaining 2 relics kept in the other kingdoms are not accessible in this game but are accessible in the sequel.

A sequel was supposedly planned for the original Thayer's Quest, but this was never released. Rather, a sequel to Kingdom: The Far Reaches called Kingdom 2: Shadoan was released later in 1998. The original Thayer's Quest was also released as a DVD-ROM video game in 2005.

Why has Kingdom: The Far Reaches never gained an instant popularity is a mystery. It may be that adventure game fans are tired of dying or running into dead ends in the game. It may be that they are tired of trying out an old game originally made for a failed console from more than a decade earlier. Whatever the reasons may be, this is a game unlike all others. Kingdom: The Far Reaches is a true underdog: despite a few flaws, it still carries an epic story and a classic production that continue to impress.

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