Review: Aragorn’s Quest

I am about to reveal something that might shock some ardent fans of Lord of the Rings: I don’t like Frodo. As a character, I think he’s annoying. Sure, Pippin makes mistakes more often than Frodo does, but the mistakes Pippin makes are small compared to Frodo’s, and Pippin is a much more likable character anyway. But, even so, Pippin is not my favorite character either. Neither is Merry. Nor is Sam. My favorite characters are Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf, and especially Aragorn. Because Aragorn is my favorite character, Aragorn’s Quest is one of my favorite Lord of the Rings video games.

Storyline: The game starts at the end with a “Prologue” called “The Black Gate”. It seems a very strange way to start a video game, because from the outset, I am thinking, “Where are they going to go from here? Coronation? Unlikely–there’s no conflict. Backwards? Why would they do that?” As I continue to play the level, I notice that a Balrog has come out from the Black Gate to attack me. “Wait, what? A Balrog? That’s supposed to be in Moria! Did they even read the books or watch the movies?” And that’s where the children interrupt…

Aragorn’s Quest is set after the end of the events of The Return of the King, while Aragorn is king of Gondor and Samwise Gamgee is mayor of Hobbiton, and Sam is married to Rosie Cotton and have four children, Elanor, then Frodo, Merry, and Pippin. Quite original names. Frodo Gamgee is the main character in this story, and essentially players take the point of view of the new Frodo. The entire story is set in Hobbiton or in nearby Bywater, both in the Shire. Hobbits everywhere, especially their leader Sam, are preparing for a party of grand magnificence. A birthday party? No. Rather, this is a party to celebrate “King Elessar” coming to visit them all the way from Minas Tirith.

I say that the entire story is set in Hobbiton, because even when you take the point of view of Aragorn, off in Rohan or Gondor, you really haven’t gone anywhere. You’ve stayed in Hobbiton as Frodo, whose vivid imagination allows you to play out these events as Samwise Gamgee tells him and the other children stories about the adventures that Aragorn had now long ago. These adventures include The Flight to the Ford, Rivendell, Mines of Moria, Fangorn, Rohan, Helm’s Deep, Pelennor Fields, and the Black Gate, the second time.

The problem that I see in this storyline is the occasional lack of canon continuity throughout. I can forgive the Balrog at the Black Gate earlier, because it is explained away by the interruption later, but the attacks on Rivendell are not canon. Rivendell is supposed to be a safe place, and not because Aragorn helps to make it that way. He is a Ranger who keeps the Shire safe; Rivendell has its own army of elves and magic for that purpose. Granted, these levels wouldn’t be entertaining or challenging to most if there weren’t some attacks here and there. That’s what we call conflict. Stories without conflict equal boredom for the reader, or in this case game-player.

This game creates more conflict and suspense by extending the encounter with the Balrog in Moria, which, according to canon, only Gandalf faces while the rest of the company runs. Instead, Aragorn shoots arrow at the Balrog in order to protect Gimli as he tries to raise several gates in order to escape. However, why not add levels with conflict already inherent in the canon? Amon Hen, for example? Why go directly from the Mines of Moria to Fangorn Forest? Presumably the game-makers wanted equal playing time among all three stories, and adding Amon Hen would have made it too long in favor of The Fellowship of the Ring. Also because Rivendell is a much more memorable location than Amon Hen is. Regardless, Amon Hen isn’t skipped entirely, as Sam wraps up Fellowship and pieces it with Two Towers–by showing pictures drawn on pages in a book.

By having so few levels, the scope of the game is simple, geared towards an audience of amateur gamers: children.

Gameplay: Rather than including more levels to play as Aragorn, as an adult throughout Middle-Earth, more levels are juxtaposed between these levels to play as Frodo Gamgee, as a child in Hobbiton. It is through these levels that the game-player learns how to use the different weapons that Aragorn will need to use as he also advances his journey in Middle-Earth.

Frodo Gamgee learns how to use play-weapons: wooden swords against dummies, a bow-and-arrow to shoot at crows, a torch that merely smokes, and a wooden shield. Frodo also learns other Ranger-like abilities, such as searching for things. He finds food and silver coins and little scraps of a map in various places in Hobbiton, whereas Aragorn needs to find many of the same things in Middle-Earth, but instead of food, he finds Athelas to restore his health, or green orbs which serve the same purpose. As Aragorn finds coins, he can buy more items, such as bigger quivers for his arrows so he can hold more along the way or items that increase his abilities, which are really the best kind of items.

Aragorn’s Quest allows for two-player interaction as well. As adults, the second player plays as Gandalf, and as children, the second player plays as Elanor, Frodo’s sister. Frodo can also play “pretend” games with his other two siblings, Merry and Pippin, which are non-playable characters. While these games are made available often, they are not required, because there are many optional quests in the Shire. I am glad that there are optional quests like these, because that means the player can either play the game in a linear format or in a freely exploratory format, which is a format I prefer.

Visuals: Environments in this game are spectacularly colorful and vivid; the scenery is very impressive to me. However, the characters are childishly cartoonish. Their hands and feet are disproportionately larger than their bodies. However, the locations more than make up for this in my opinion. Being able to see and explore Rivendell, Edoras, and Minas Tirith (though exploration happens alongside combat here) is a definite plus for me. I wish, though, that Lothlorien could have also been included in places to see and explore, though that is another location according to canon is peaceful and devoid of conflict.

I am not an “avid” gamer. Those who know me know this. I prefer the kinds of games that allow for free exploration of the places I love–places within Middle-Earth as well as within the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The Order of the Phoenix and the Half-Blood Prince video games are perfect examples of games that allow for free exploration within Hogwarts castle. Many locations can be seen within Aragorn’s Quest, but not all of them, and not nearly as many as another game, Lord of the Rings Online. However, LOTRO is not as simple as Aragorn’s Quest, and while it does allow for much freer and much less linear exploration, it’s not always possible. However, I will save that commentary for that game’s review.

Music: James Hannigan, who composed the scores for the last four Harry Potter video games, also penned the score for this game. James Hannigan, if you haven’t heard of him, is incredible. I am the kind of person who loves to listen to film scores, but even more than that, I love to listen to video game soundtracks, and while my favorite video game composer is still Jeremy Soule, James Hannigan comes in at a close second, and I especially enjoy the score of this game.

Overall: If I were to give one piece of advice to the producers of this game, it would be this: know your audience. Is there really a huge child or pre-teen fan base for Lord of the Rings? Was a game such as this really missing from this fan base? Lord of the Rings is generally known more for its adult fan base–that’s why all the movies are rated PG13. J.R.R. Tolkien is not particularly easy to read in comparison with most young adult authors, which also lends itself to the notion that the Lord of the Rings has an older fan base than Harry Potter or the Chronicles of Narnia, for example.

That, and all the characters are adults. In Harry Potter and Narnia, the main characters are children, though the two authors, J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis, took different approaches with their respective series. In Harry Potter, as the main characters grew up, the books took on a darker tone, became longer, and became more difficult to read. In Narnia, C.S. Lewis didn’t let his child characters grow up within the books. Once they were too old, Lewis replaced them with different child characters. When Edmund and Lucy were “too old for Narnia”, he replaced them with Eustace and Jill Pole. Lord of the Rings, however, does not feature child characters.

It is for these reasons that Harry Potter and Narnia have a much younger fan base than Lord of the Rings. I don’t mind the idea of introducing this story to a younger audience, to make for more avid fans of the series as they grow older, but I come back to my original statement. If you are going to make a game for an existing game audience, you must know who that audience is and cater to them. This game did not. It is much too childish in storyline, in visuals, and in gameplay to really be a game for older teens or adults.

That being said, I tend to think of myself as a child at heart, and I believe it is for this reason that I enjoyed the game very much, consider it among my favorites, and I plan to play it from start to finish again someday.

Do you disagree that Lord of the Rings has an adult-only following? Comment below!