Ugh. So close. Sooooo close. I've been mainlining a bit of Challenge of the 5 Realms in lunch breaks recently, and had managed to get all the way to the last dungeon. In fact, I could even see the final bad guy on my screen, and then things started going wrong. I came upon a new enemy type - Demons - and even though I could kill them, every time a battle finished a set of my characters would randomly die. That includes the main character, meaning instant game over. That can't be the expected behaviour. I've reloaded a previous save game and played to that point and found the same thing, so I don't know if it's a glitch, but it's making the game almost impossible to complete. I've probably only got about 3 more demon fights, and then maybe 3 more with another enemy I haven't fought yet (but can see on the screen), but I can't lose 2 or 3 characters to each demon and still make it through. There's actually currently someone Let's Play-ing it on YouTube, so I'm very interested to see if they face the same thing. They're a little while away from where I am now, but I'll keep an eye on the channel and see what happens. It's annoying, because Challenge of the 5 Realms turned out to be a pretty fun game. You play a prince whose dad is killed by the big bad guy who says you have 100 days to give him the crown or the realm will be destroyed. This time limit is displayed not by a clock or anything abstract, but by a huge black cloud creeping slowly across the game map. You can't enter the cloud, so the longer you take, the less of the game world you can still enter. Obviously, the map is set up so that the starter towns are at the bottom and the end game area is nearer the top, but it's still definitely possible to scupper yourself if you take too long (especially if Pendar - the major port town - gets cut off). I'm not a fan of time limits at the best of times, but but at least this one is a novel and interesting mechanic and brings a real feeling of threat to your actions - travel is slow, so you want to get some horses for all of your party members as soon as possible; or, even better, fly or teleport around, but those use up precious magic points that only recuperate over time. The same goes for healing - do you rest a couple of days with a healer to get hit points back, or do you spend those magic points on a Cure spell instead? For me, I'd have preferred to have a few more magic points to play with (or potions to get them back), but it was a well balanced trade off and keeps you thinking right up to the end of the game.
So, you travel around righting wrongs and gaining party members. The party can get bigger than it looks. There are only 5 slots visible on the screen, but you can have another 3 (I think) party members who don't show on the main screen but you can still view and use as normal. Interestingly, the party member slots don't just contain single characters. There are at least a couple of places in the game where you can recruit squads of fighters or archers into these slots. These only take up one party slot, but expand to the full 5 (or however many it is) characters in combat, which can be a life saver in later battles. You have to travel round the 5 realms of the title, getting the crown from each kingdom (usually by solving quests and recruiting the prince/king) and use them all to cast the final spell (that you can only learn after getting all 5 crowns) to defeat the big bad. That reminds me, the magic system is set up so that you can only learn spells that you have the correct ingredients for. These are collected from various places along your travels, so again, it's very possible to lose out on spell ingredients if a key town gets swallowed by the darkness. As I say, it's a fun game with a lot of traveling and a deepening plot. Your party changes as you go, keeping things fresh, and the combat system isn't too bad once you get the hang of it. As I say, I'd have preferred more magic points so I could have played with spells a bit more, and I'd have preferred a few more weapons and armour to play with in combat (I don't think I found any magic weapons, and there were some monsters at the end that couldn't be hit by standard weapons), but it was enjoyable all the way to the last castle. I just wish I could have got through to the end... (I won't delete it yet, just in case that Let's Play video reveals something that I missed).
Next up on the randometer is...Strife! Ooh, I played quite a bit of this back in the day. Can't remember how far I got, though. It was hailed as an RPG in the Doom engine, though it wasn't *that* much of an RPG. They released a slightly updated version for modern computers a few years ago, so that's the one I'll be playing.