Thursday, 14 May 2015

Chapter XXV: Joan of Arc

Why do night clubs exist? Is there any reason to be in a closed, dark and claustrophobic place with deafening music? Well, we all know reasons vary between crazy people that for some reason like to dance (like Seinfeld, I don’t dance because “it’s stupid”), and other equally strange people that think that’s the best place to meet other people. I don’t like nightclubs because I reached the apex of that particular experience as soon as I was 9 years old.

My experiences with discotheques, or whatever they’re called nowadays, started much earlier. My father used to be a part-time DJ when he was in his twenties, and this is a story that I like to tell often. Everyone likes to have cool parents, and between many other facts that I could pick to demonstrate how cool my father is, sometimes I go with this. Besides that, my parents best friends were the owners of a night club, so I have very early memories of walking around the place in the mid-eighties. The place felt already old by then, which is probably just a common feeling for a five year boy: that everything else feels old. I picture the place as being already past of its prime, with a decoration still from the disco years of the late seventies.

When I was about 15, most night outs usually ended in me and my friends trying to get into one of the two only existent night clubs in town. As you can guess, this was a very difficult endeavour, since not only we were minors, but also because most clubs enforced a gender balance rule. Trying to find girls at 2 a.m. with our pimple ridden faces was as difficult as it sounds, and I guess that our success rate in getting into the club was about 10%.

When I turned 18, getting in wasn’t much of a problem, and probably because of that, the novelty quickly wore off. From that day on, my average in going to these kind of places is probably about 0.5/year. There’s even a bigger reason for my quickly faded interest: I got the best rave-party I could much earlier than that.

The year was 1990, and the event was my cousin’s Walter The Baptist birthday party. My uncle’s house, which is quite small, was packed by noisy kids on a violent sugar rush, and besides all the yelling and noises of triumph, there was another sound that was prevalent on the videotape that recorded that particular day. That was the music of the Joan of Arc game that kept playing on and on, while most of the guests had already forgotten about the computer. Like in most of these occasions, my cousin’s friends gifted him with mostly Amiga games. And when I say “games” I say “pirated copies” of course. One of those games was Joan of Arc.

And while the theme music of the game was quite unforgettable, even more than the game itself, there was another apparently tiny detail with this game that made it occupy a permanent spot on my videogame memories. This tiny detail was the cracker screen that played Abba’s “Gimme Gimme” while accompanied by flashy lights, and in the end of the party, that was what most kids were interested about Joan of Arc, Walter included.

So it was that for a while, my cousin turned the monitor speakers on maximum, after shutting down all incoming light to his bedroom. He put the disk on the drive and BAM! Instant rave party. From my memories, this was the most epic disco dance that was ever involved with, even considering that all the other participants were also kids barely out of elementary school. If the dangers of reviving the memories of each game for the purpose of this blog is a risky endeavour, in this case it’s even riskier, because I shouldn’t want to know if that rave, filled with gummy-bear addicted individuals, was as good as I remembered it.

So there’s the excuse for me to talk about my relationship with night clubs and dance music. Do you blame me? Is there anyone who would think that going to the most extreme, mushroom fuelled, trance festival, is better than what I just described? If there are, I don’t want to meet those people. Let me revive this memory of binge eating jelly beans and Tang juice on a dark room, while the world outside stopped and bowed before me, for how much fun I was having.

So, Joan of Arc? A Milla Jovovich lookalike that inspired the French troops on the 100 years old war. I’m sure that this is the least important part of this review, since I just want to check the cracker screen once again. The theme song though, I’m sure it’s very dangerous to hear it again, since it might get stuck again into my brain and keep me awake at night.

Probably the most important aspect of this whole post is to check if the cracker intro is as awe-inspiring as my memories make. Well, my memories have to stay as they were, and it isn’t for the lack of trying. I downloaded shitloads (i.e. eleven) of different versions of the first disk of the game, and I only encountered two different cracker screens, and none of them had the Gimme Gimme thing. Whatever, and it’s not like Abba was ever cool anyway.

Even though the first step of this memory-ravishing process was a big anti-climax, the next one was a pleasant surprise. The logo of the developers of the game, Chip, is accompanied by a cool sounding tune that was probably already retro in ’89. The sound of it is very muffled, and I’m not sure if this is supposed to be intentional, as it gives an almost 8-track tape vibe. Either way, just imagining the sequence of having this thing right after the original cracker intro makes my head spin. Almost as watching Joy Division live right after The Smiths. Almost.

And then it was, that right after the text intro that provides the story background, the maddening and never-ending music starts. At first it sounds nice, and proper medieval. It delivers the appropriate atmosphere that a game like this needs. But I knew that this was a poisoned gift, and that tune would haunt my dreams for nights to come. The problem is that the music starts every time there’s disk accessing, and in this game this happens a lot. It’s all very slow, which is a big no-no in a strategy game. Well, I could say that this is a big no-no in every kind of game, and I would be right.

First thing I did was analysing all the menus and the interface of the game, and besides the constant disk accessing and tune-bothering, I got attacked right between this menu exchanging by some guy named Jean of Luxembourg. What’s this supposed to mean? Aren’t there turns like every other “map-painter” game out there? That was something to be solved afterwards, because right now I had some big wooden logs to throw from the castle ramparts against the invaders. My memories informed me that this game had nice graphics, and as usual, my memories were wrong. This action scene, while playable, looks awful, with a weird digitized castle background and the sounds of battle that sound more like drunken students shouting the chants of their fraternity. I know this is too much focus on the sound aspect for a strategy game, but when I start thinking about writing something else, the cursed music starts again, and then I’m back where I started.

After I learned the ropes of the interface I started the process of painting the map blue, because the world is not ready to let go of croissants, baguettes and French kisses. My first step was to conquer a fortress from some rebels, and I was transported for another weird arcade sequence. These eighties developers just couldn’t avoid to include every idea they came up with into their games. In this mini game I had the responsibility of storming the castle gates with a single soldier on close combat. I was getting annoyed at this, but suddenly I decapitated my opponent, which is always a great morale boost. The next enemy in line came, and after trading some sword blows, my soldier fell, which meant that Joan of Arc was arrested and England won the war. Just like that, because of a single soldier.

I wasn’t ready to let go, so I tried again because I was sure there was another mini-game on open field battles, and I was right. This one is controlled in real time, and kind of reminds me of a much worse looking North & South. The soldiers are just small dots, and the scenery looks almost as awful. But even so, from all the mini games this is the one that is most appropriate for the theme of the game, and I wished there weren’t those tacked on arcade sequences. I suppose that at this time Defender of the Crown was still a big influence, but it’s another of those games, that while charming didn’t stood the test of time.

In the end I don’t think this is really a bad game, and it was possible to have some fun with it in 1989. There were some better alternatives though, like Kingdoms of England. But this is just my memories speaking, so I’m sure that I will need to revisit that game soon.

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