Champions of Krynn... A game containing everything you'd expect from a classic RPG: magery, knights, thieves, dragons, epic battles, tragic love, heroic deeds, unexpected allies... I could go on forever. Well - not really forever, but you can imagine.
For a long time I named this game as my favorite game of all times. I'm not really 100% sure if I would still say that, but it ranks quite high. But actually I guess... I'm ahead of things. I should first tell you a bit about this game.
The world of Krynn was the scenery on which the War of the Lance took place. This war is history now, the forces of good were able to win against the Dark Queen Takhisis. While the war might be over, danger is not. Evil is still around and about to return. There are rumors which have to be investigated. And that's where you, the gang of brave adventurers come in.
You start the game in an outpost near the city of Throtl. A group led by the wellknown hero Caramon is missing, so your task is to go to Throtl and search for them. From that on the story unfolds and soon you'll find yourself right in the middle of it.
What always struck me about this game is how the creators managed to create a fascinating fantasy story with only very little portions of text and only some small pictures. Technically you have your standard RPG here of course. The game uses the AD&D rules and the gameengine is pretty much the same as in Pool of Radiance and Curse of the Azure Bonds. This is not bad of course, but also - just looking at the sheer engine and its rules - it might seem a bit dull and complicated. The rules are based on the pen and paper RPG and that means the damage you are able to do is described in terms of dices, just as some other things are as well. Also the magery system might take some time to get used to. You have to memorize spells before you can use them - and as your memory is somewhat limited you have to choose carefully which spells you want to memorize. If you want to use a spell more than once you also have to memorize it more than once. All that leads to a lot of things you have to do that are not actually playing, but more like "administrative" work. But - I'm coming back to that point now - it just doesn't kill the atmosphere. You get used to these things very fast - and they become a part of the strategy you have to master to get on with the game. While you grow into the rules of the game, your characters get stronger - and of course the monsters you encounter do so as well. But it's not just that - the people you meet in game also notice that you get stronger and more important. You also get more important tasks and are treated with more respect.
Of course in modern terms there's one thing I would complain about: It's the linearity of the story. You pretty much have to follow one strict path. There's no going left or right from it. You aren't forced into your way, you just simply won't get on until you have reached the next part of the story.
When I first played this game - I'll say a little about that later on as well - I have been running through Throtl for days. Thinking about it now that seems strange, because you soon stumble upon the first clues and finding Caramon is not all that hard. Even if you just run around you'd find him within a few hours. If you really know what you're doing I'd say you'd find him in 30 minutes - 15 if you only count in the necessary fights.
But the game doesn't care how long you need to complete one part. Considering that healing the party after a fight takes up 4-5 hours ingame (just seconds in real life terms) this is also needed. It of course is a bit stupid that in cases when the enemy is rushing out of the room with dragon eggs (which you absolutely want to rescue) you sit down to heal and memorize spells and continue the pursuit five hours later just to find them two rooms further. But that's a necessity of the game's engine and quite easy to ignore.
I'd guess that a fullgrown RPG will not be able to enjoy anyone who just doesn't like RPGs. This one surely won't. Champions of Krynn utilizes approved rules and is set within a world many books have been written about. You do not need to know the books to enjoy the game, but you absolutely have to read the manual before playing. It's vital to know the basics about the professions and probably a bit about magery and weapons. If you're a bit into RPG you might actually enjoy that. Planning your party CAN be fun. If that does not sound like fun to you, this game is just isn't for you. If you aren't scared off by it you will get one of the finest RPG ever been made for the computer. Playing the game is a bit comparable to reading a good book. Only the best of them are worth being read again. This game belongs into that category. It's the only RPG I ever completed and played again. In fact I completed the game numerous times! Of course you reach a point then when you try to do things a bit different. An example is the partyplanning I mentioned before. I found out that there are some limits to your own creativity concerning the party.
There are some things you should know before creating your party: You absolutely NEED a solamnic knight in your party. You can get on to a certain point without one but there is at least one part of the game you cannot complete without a solamnic knight. Further you also need a thief and a mage (it does not seem to matter if it is a white or a red mage) - those are adressed in the game as well. In theory you should be able to complete the game with just two characters - as it is possible to create a thief/mage. Of course it would be more advisable to make this last char a fighter/thief/mage. This actually works, but you trying it you will soon find out the main problem with it: You do not have a character that is able to heal. Later on in the game knights can learn cleric spells and are able to heal then, but that isn't before the middle of the game or so. So you absolutely need a third char with the cleric profession. This profession cannot be combined with the thief and the mage profession, so it's definitely a knight, a thief and a cleric - one of the latter two can also be a mage. If you want to go for this minicombo make the thief and the cleric a fighter as well - or at least a ranger. But if you're just starting into the game don't go for experiments. Make a six char party and just go out with it. It makes life a lot easier. I already mentioned the professions that are absolutely needed. Consider taking a second knight and also chars with magery are not bad either. The manual also suggests some configurations that work. But basically everything will work as long as the professions mentioned above are present.
Now - as last words - I want to share my own Champions of Krynn experience with you. Back in early 1991 I got a magazine with reviews of the 100 best games of 1990 (according to the magazine of course). I had just been able to upgrade from my C64 to an Amiga and so a whole new world had opened for me. It must have been christmas 1990 that I got the Amiga and soon after I got myself the magazine. And there I saw Champions of Krynn. And I absolutely had to get it. And so I did. But it was only AFTER I bought it that I realized that the game was only meant for Amiga with 1 MB of RAM. I had the "standard" Amiga 500 and only 512kb of RAM. That means that the precious game I bought was not playable for me. A huge tragedy of course as there was no way I could afford the memory upgrade.
The solution was the younger brother of my best friend of that time. He had an Amiga with 1 MB RAM. So we played the game together. This might seem a bit strange today, but we had great fun discussing what to do next. It took weeks and maybe months, I don't remember that clearly, to complete the game. But we did! Sometimes in march I got the memory upgrade for my birthday and could play the game at home, but looking at this game I still always think about playing that in the little room of my best friend's little brother.
So to wrap things up: I found rating this game a bit hard as all the good memories might lead to me not being neutral on this one at all. Playing it again I noticed the repetitive fights, I noticed overly hard fights that are over just because of bad luck (one mage casts Hold Person on everyone and the fight is over if it sticks on all). But thinking about it again I had to admit that most of these downpoints are because of me playing my minimal party. With a full party of six characters you stomp through the easy fights that appear often and it's substantially harder for enemy groups containing mages to paralyze everyone. Also good planning before big fights (which is something I am usually too arrogant for by now - I already beat them almost 20 years ago!) lets you win every fight - usually even on first try. You just have to choose the spells you memorize carefully and also have to consider thinking about a strategy. So in fact some things are not really downpoints but the opposite: You have to put effort into important fights, they can be won more easily if you plan and use a good strategy.
After thinking about it long and hard I have to give it the full rating of 6/6. In my opinion Champions of Krynn is simply one of the best RPGs of that time (if not of all times).
Technical Note: Edit the file KRYNN.CFG, the line "D:\KRYNN\SAVE\" should be changed to whereever the game is residing (or rather the games subdirectory "SAVE").