Champions of Krynn Review

Champions of Krynn Review

Why is this the first game to be reviewed?

Champions of Krynn has a special place in my heart. This is the first crpg game I ever played.

To learn more about the game go to Moby Games for screen shots and a more in-depth description or view the faq on GameFAQs to learn more about the game mechanics. Or you can view this Let’s Play by aulddragon to see the game in action.

Before I begin I should probably remind you of my crpg game review criteria, which explains my methodology.

And now we can move on to the story behind me getting this game and what I first thought about it.

First Impressions & Backstory

I got the game on my 12th birthday. Hours and hours passed before I could install in on the 40 Meg hard drive of my Tandy 1000 SX computer since I was not home at the time.

I used the agonizing wait to pore over the game journal and the manual multiple times; learning about the backstory of the game, the game mechanics and my introduction to the AD&D system.

I had recently started reading the Dragonlance books, starting with The Brothers Majere and the thought I could play in the same gameworld as a real life book from the library blew my twelve year old mind away.

One thing that stuck out in the manual was the story of Hal Horbin, the scout from Caraman’s party in Throtl that had died and preserved in a letter to his brother. Later I would find out that same brother was one of the pre-made characters that came with the game – I made sure to bring him along so that I could avenge his brother. He was the only pre-made character I kept.

My Original Party

From rereading the message the knight who was mentioned in the letter was Mothus Strongsword, which is where I got my human knight Sir Strongsword character’s name from. I never remembered that. And here I thought I was original with that name…


Champions of Krynn - Party Screen

The Party Screen

I previously mentioned Istan Horbin, brother of Hal Horbin who wrote the letter in the game journal. He was a default character, a human ranger and was the recipient of the best random weapon I found in the game – a +1 bastard sword. In a magic-rare world, it was the most treasured item in the party – even more than the dragonlance I later found.

I foolishly let my younger brother name a character, a half-elf fighter-mage-thief. He called him Backstabster and unfortunately the name stuck. Gamers with younger brothers, you’ve been warned.

The next character I created was a Kender Cleric/Thief of Kiri-Jolith. I didn’t know it then but I had stumbled upon a power-gaming trick with the +1 thaco bonus from Kiri-Jolith which worked out awesome with the Kender’s hoopak as a ranged weapon.

For my main healer and buffer I chose a female elf cleric Mishakel / white mage. I can never remember her name.

The final character was a human red mage whose name I have also forgot. Long before Drizzt fan-boy-ism was popular, twelve year old Raistlin fan-boys ruled the earth.

So in my review run I decided upon a party that would be very similar to my original one.

My New Party

Here’s an overview of the party I took through the game to do this review:

Name Race Sex Class Stats
Sir Strongsword Human M Knight of Solomnia 18/04 / 11 / 14 / 15 / 17 / 17
Brunn Ironfist Mountain Dwarf M Fighter / Cleric of Reorx 17 / 12 / 18 / 15 / 19 / 9
Kuros Fenthal Human M Ranger 18/00 / 15 / 15 / 17 / 16 / 10
Mela Windseed Kender F Cleric Kiri-Jolith / Thief 16 / 9 / 16 / 19 / 14 / 14
Aerith Redbough Silvanatesti Elf F Cleric Mishakel / White Mage 12 / 18 / 18 / 19 / 14 / 16
Joshua Fenthal Human M Red Mage 10 / 18 / 15 / 17 / 15 / 8

And here’s what a character screen looks like:

Now on to the review, I’ll try not to let nostalgia interfere with me giving an objective review.

CRPG System

To me “The CRPG System Matters”, one of the reasons why it gets 20 points allocated to it instead of 10.

Gold Box games use a version Advanced Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game system ported over to computer use. You can read about the differences between versions of DnD here.

Here are the main points that stand out to me about Champion’s AD& implementation compared to other Gold Box Games:

  • Cleric dieties and Dragonlance specific races give you more options
  • Better demi-human implementation than Forgotten Realms Gold Box games that makes them more useful
  • Good implementation of footman’s dragonlance
  • Dragonlance is a low magic setting which is a much nicer experience than the Forgotten Realms. Magic is rare and thus valuable
  • There aren’t a lot of good spells, you end up only using 5-6 total
  • A lack of skills or non-combat focus really limits the system. Charisma is essentially a useless stat

Verdict: 11 / 20

Gameplay

Here’s an example of a combat against a group of human mercenaries and hobgoblins:

Above: Kuros Fenthal is ready to rumble with his Bastard Sword. He’s hoping to get lucky and find a +1 Bastard Sword later in Throtl just like good old Istan Horbin did back in the early 90’s.

One of the highlights of my experience, the combat gameplay sucked me into the series. While not overly difficult, it was also not a walk in the park and tactics did make a difference in your chance of success.

  • Strong tactical combat was what Gold Box games are all about. This game is no different
  • Challenge-wise the boss battles were not too hard. But some of the random battles could get difficult, you always had to be on your toes
  • Respawning after leaving an area restored the random monster encounters. Which often was the last think you wanted
  • On higher difficulty dragon breath could be a real killer, the more HP they had the more you’d want to kill them quickly. Which makes sense for a series called Dragonlance
  • When Baaz draconians died they turned to stone, often taking character’s melee weapons with them. That made secondary weapons useful, unlike in most games
  • There were many different kinds of draconians and dragons, the monster variety was much better than the other Gold Box games.
  • There were lots of undead, which made the Cleric ‘turn’ ability useful for once. I usually neglect it
  • Many fake journal entries led to story misdirection. That was a nice gameplay touch, even while it was horrible for copy protection. I might use that in future games, the multiple journal entries – not the copy protection

Verdict: 14 / 20

Fun Factor

Here’s one of the first major encounters in the game:

Fun is incredibly subjective but important in games. I had loads of fun when I first played Champions and even now as I had my most recent playthrough it was an enjoyable experience overall. That is one of the most important parts of any game in any genre.

In particular, these are the elements that stood out to me and that I scribbled notes about as I played:

  • It was my first CRPG, and it allowed me to enter a new world of awesome. I had lots of fun playing it
  • I had fun replaying it for this demo, the game did not disappoint my memory of it
  • In my opinion the Dragonlance games have more personality and flair than the Forgotten Realms ones, and it shows in Champions
  • The delight at getting a rare +1 Bastard Sword in Throtl drew me to explore every square of every map looking for exotic treasure
  • I included the long back story in this review to give you a clear idea of how much fun I had playing this game and how much I got into it. If only every game gave us an experience like I got with Champions of Krynn

The overall experience is what I like best about this game. That is why this area gets the highest marks.

Verdict: 9 / 10

Re-playability

Having played this game about 6-7 times earlier I would have to say it was pretty replayable back when I was really young and there were not a lot of gaming options for me.

Let’s see how I felt after playing it again as an adult:

  • I enjoyed replaying the same basic adventure
  • The plot does not change if you replay the game, so it loses some of its luster each time you replay it
  • Random battles are often harder than the set ones, which is nice and gives you at least a little reason to play it again
  • There are some random treasures, in my first playthrough in Throtl I got a +1 bastard sword, the weapon Caramon uses in the Brother’s Majere and I was over the moon. But having played it many times, cool random treasure rarely happens – just enough to suck you but not enough to reward many playthroughs

This is not a super strength of the game but it is not a major weakness either so I’m going to do the predictable thing and give it 5/10.

Verdict: 5 / 10

User Interface

I had a hard time evaluating the interface, parts of it I really liked but at the same time there was lots of minor annoyances that added up.

Here’s what I found:

  • Simple, mostly text based
  • Good use of keyboard while allowing mouse, a big advancement at the time
  • Take a few extra clicks to do things. Loses some points of usability, one of the big issues with older games
  • Supposes high level knowledge of system and gameplay, which is not as good for beginners.
  • I took that as challenge in my youth but now that I am making games I would prefer to make the user interface as simple and easy to understand as possible
  • Done and then Guard to end a turn in tactical combat was one click too many and got very annoying

As I’ve mentioned before one of the areas that newer games truly stand-out compared to earlier games is in user interface advancements. Playing an older game like CoK offers a good contrast to newer UIs.

Verdict: 5 / 10

Story

The basic plot of Champions of Krynn was very similar to most Gold Box Games – stop the ‘Bad Guy’.

Hopefully that didn’t spoil it for you…

To expand, these are the story elements that jumped out at me:

  • It tied in good with existing Dragonlance lore, including a lot of character cameos – too many perhaps but I enjoyed seeing them as other characters which contrasted my party as the heroes of the day
  • Basic human/dragon love story tragedy like in Dragonlance lore, check
  • Very few sub-plots such as Sir Dargaard’s tomb was a definite weakness of the game

Story was never a strength of the Gold Box games and helped lower my score for Champions.

Verdict: 3 / 10

Modability

With modern games, one of my main requirements is modability. If the game cannot be changed easily I probably won’t get it.

The most enjoyable games to me are ones with thriving communities of people making their own additions.

Unfortunately games were not made that way back when Champions was created. The three main reasons I come up with were disk space requirements forcing data to be compressed, a lack of Internet communications which meant communities were harder to form and a desire of most companies to put copy protection ahead of ease of use for customers – in my experience most companies then did not want the mechanics of their games known.

How does this relate to CoK?

  • It is not moddable per say – if someone was dedicated they probably could mod it, but it would take a lot of work… any volunteers?
  • Champions is editable though if you have a hex editor and the patience to play around with it. And I did… I made my ranger a +1 Bastard Sword (actually a two handed sword that said it was a Bastard Sword) in homage to my first game…
  • To save space you have to use pre-defined text for item names which limits the names you can give items but saves some disk space, which was important at the time but makes playing around with the system harder

Verdict: 1 / 10

Graphics & Sound

Graphics are not my main priority, I would view passable graphics with an awesome RPG system and engaging gameplay as the best kind of CRPG. But with older games like this it is harder to get drawn into the world. Music and sound play a much more subtle but powerful role in bringing the gamer into the game world so I would actually count those as more important than graphics.

In Champions some of the graphics like the cut scenes are fine while some of the tactical combat icons and characters are too pixelated in my opinion and subtract from the gameplay experience.

The music in this game is as good as you are going to get on a PC speaker… the sound, well once you’ve heard a death scream you don’t want to hear one ever again.

In summary:

  • Bright, colourful art in the opening scenes helped draw you in
  • There were wonderful drawn cut-scenes in the classic Dragonlance style
  • Unfortunately the rest of the graphics did not age well and show up poorly compared to modern games
  • The theme song very good, even on old PC’s speaker. I had a Tandy 1000 so it had a slightly better speaker than standard PCs at the time. You can listen to it on YouTube
  • The death cries were really annoying, and the movement and missed attack sounds grated after a while

Verdict: 4 / 10

Design Lessons

Based on the above ratings, I think I can draw ten design considerations:

  1. The point of a game is to be entertaining. The should be the number one priority
  2. The CRPG system matters, and the AD&D system in the Gold Box games had its flaws
  3. Usability flaws can take something as awesome as the Gold Box’s tactical system and make it worse. Always look to make things more efficient and easier
  4. Games should try to do one thing awesome. In this game it was tactical combat. Being awesome at the one thing players spend the most time at in the game makes the entire experience better
  5. Side quests, random encounters and random treasure if used properly make a big difference. Having only the main quest is no longer good enough
  6. If you are going to include a magic system, try to add variety or if there are only a few spells make them useful in more than one way
  7. Only having combat related skills seems hollow, combat isn’t the only thing players should be doing in a game. Non-violent solutions should be available to suit certain player’s game-styles
  8. Look at even the smallest details. The more the world seems alive, the more you will draw in players. If it doesn’t look like the world can be affected, players might not want to replay or even finish your game
  9. Tactical combat if done right can be more engaging that Final Fantasy or even blobber (Wizardry 7) style combat. The wealth of options it brings makes the experience much more engaging
  10. Make sure your game is as modable as possible. That will extend the game’s lifetime and give reasons for players to keep coming back to it

Now that we’ve reviewed the game and drawn some lessons from its design failures and triumphs we can recap.

Rating & Final Impressions

Here are all the scores listed together:

Criteria Score
CRPG System 11 / 20
Gameplay 14 / 20
Fun Factor 9 / 10
Re-playability 5 / 10
User Interface 5 / 10
Story 3 / 10
Modability 1 / 10
Graphics & Sound 4 / 10
Total 54 / 100

Final Verdict: A passing grade… barely. Time has made a lot of the games issues more egregious. As a Gold Box game it possesses all the strengths and weaknesses of the series. The Dragonlance setting and rule changes based on it gives this game a certain amount of charm compared to Forgotten Realms based games.

Despite its flaws, this game will always hold a special place in my heart and I will continue to replay it every few years just to recapture the magic of my first crpg experience.

Now I turn it over to you. What do you think? Did I get the scoring right? What are your favourite Champions of Krynn moments? I am looking forward to getting other perspectives about this classic game.

Greg Caughill

Greg Caughill

Greg Caughill is the owner and creative director of Broken Staff Studios.