ZanZarah: The Hidden Portal

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ZanZarah: The Hidden Portal
ZanZarah.jpg
Developer(s) Funatics Development
Publisher(s) THQ
Daedalic Entertainment
Composer(s) King Einstein
Kariina Gretere
Platform(s) Microsoft Windows
Release date(s) July 2002 (CD)
August 20, 2015 (Steam)
Genre(s) Action-adventure, role-playing
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer

ZanZarah: The Hidden Portal is an action-adventure video game by the German company Funatics Development, released in 2002 by the publisher THQ. An expansion was in development in 2002, but was later cancelled. The game involves travels and combats in a magical world loosely associated with our own world.

Plot[edit]

Setting[edit]

ZanZarah: The Hidden Portal features a detailed fantasy world called ZanZarah. The Shadow Realm is a place of great evil in the depths of ZanZarah, even deeper than the lava caves of the dwarves. There are a few entrances into it: one is in the pixie-hunter Lucius' cellar where he keeps captured pixies. Another is in the catacombs beneath Tiralin. But the main entrance leading to the shadow realm is hidden deep in the southeastern swamps of ZanZarah.

Story[edit]

Long ago, our world and ZanZarah were one. Magical creatures like fairies, elves, dwarves, and goblins lived in peace with humans for a long time; and magic was an important part of our world. But then came the dark times, the times of inquisition and a great magic purge. The magical creatures had to flee from our world to save themselves, and the human Druids, the last wielders of white magic, helped them by creating a world suitable for their existence and closing the way there for the human race.

For centuries, the two worlds were separated and prospering. The creatures of ZanZarah sometimes visited their former home but generally preferred to stay in the new one. For humans, the way to ZanZarah was forever sealed by a mysterious machine called the Guardian. However, as time passed, the magic world became more and more a prison rather than a paradise for the magic folk. It became harder to cross the border between the worlds, even for the inhabitants of ZanZarah. Wild fairies started attacking the travelers for no apparent reason. Strange creatures calling themselves dark elves appeared on the roads. And the White Druid, the last of the mighty creators of ZanZarah, seemed helpless against them.

Not only ZanZarah is affected by this strange plague. The ancient, and by that time half-forgotten, world of humans also suffered from a loss of something very important—magic. A prophecy as old as ZanZarah itself tells that when the time comes, a savior will come from the world of humans to restore the balance between the two universes and peace will once again reign between the magic folk and humans. Until then, however, fairies, elves, dwarves, and goblins have to wait and hope.

The game follows the story of Amy, a young girl from London who on her eighteenth birthday receives the strangest present in her life—a magic rune—from an even stranger creature, a goblin who appears out of nowhere and disappears without saying anything. The rune is one of the teleportation runes that the inhabitants of the magic parallel world ZanZarah employ to travel across their lands.

Upon her arrival in ZanZarah, Amy discovers that she is the one the ancient prophecy tells of, and that it is her destiny to become the greatest fairy trainer of all time, and to save both her world and ZanZarah from impending destruction. Of course, to accomplish that she must undertake a long journey; but being an inquisitive and optimistic person, Amy readily accepts her destiny. After all, this world of ZanZarah looks so much more beautiful and safe than hers.

Characters[edit]

The map of ZanZarah (a screenshot taken from the game map)

The world of ZanZarah is inhabited by a number of fantasy races, all of them smaller than humans in size.

  • Elves are short, humanoid creatures visually nearly identical to humans but about half their size. Elves are generally very friendly and make great artists and musicians. They prefer to settle in the woods of the southwestern regions of ZanZarah; their biggest village is called Endeva, building simple one-room houses out of wood. Their language (which Amy is mysteriously able to comprehend) strongly resembles French phonetically. Elves appear to be the majority in Tiralin—a city built together by elves, dwarves and goblins in the center of ZanZarah—probably because it is located in the woods.
  • Goblins are also humanoid but have a distinctive face structure and skin which makes them impossible to mistake. Like the elves, they are about half the size of a human and share the elfish friendliness. However, their habit of settling in swampy regions of eastern ZanZarah makes their village, Dunmore, not very attractive for travelers. Goblins are known as fishers, hunters, and explorers—unlike the mostly stay-at-home elves and dwarves. Goblins build their houses on piles to keep them above the surface of the swamp. Their language does not resemble any human one.
  • Dwarves are dwarves in this incarnation just as they are anywhere—short, sturdy, bearded, and unwelcoming to any guests. Their settlement is called Monagham and is hidden deep in the caves under the northwestern peaks of ZanZarah. The only way to enter the settlement, except with a teleportation rune, is through a labyrinth of caves starting not far from the Dwarf Tower, an ancient outpost of the paranoid dwarves. As usual, dwarves make excellent smiths and are actually capable of creating fairies out of metal. Their language somewhat resembles German.

The three peoples mentioned above are the three sentient races that fled our world when ZanZarah was created. In order to keep in touch with each other, they at some point decided to build a city that would welcome anyone, no matter what their race. That city was Tiralin, the biggest settlement in ZanZarah, located in the ancient woods roughly in the middle of the world.

  • Fairies are a semi-sentient race and the pillars of magic in the world of ZanZarah. In fact, they are the magic of the world. Fairies inhabit every corner of the world and vary in appearance from angelic beings of light to fiery dragons and winged polar bears. Their size is never greater than a few inches. Usually, wild fairies do not (or do not want to) show any sign of intelligence or ability to speak, except with taunts and war cries; but some, especially the ones associated with light and darkness, sometimes display an ability to learn and speak. Once captured, a fairy is no longer considered sentient, becoming a part of its master's power.
  • Shadow Elves are a twisted and evil version of normal elves. They do not belong to the true races of ZanZarah and started appearing there only shortly before Amy's arrival. However, they have proven themselves a great disturbance since every one of them is a fairy trainer skilled in using the fairy abominations of darkness and chaos. Their origin apparently lies in the Shadow Realm, a mysterious, semi-spiritual space underneath ZanZarah where only the bravest dare to enter. Their distinctive features include black and red robes and glowing red eyes.
  • Pixies are non-sentient creatures that started plaguing ZanZarah roughly at the same time as the shadow elves. They are found all over the world. Many elves and goblins fear and loathe them for no apparent reason, since pixies are absolutely harmless (at least, to a human). Some elves even make a livelihood by hunting them. Pixie hunting is somewhat of an Easter egg in the game (see pixel hunting).

Gameplay[edit]

The overall gameplay in ZanZarah: The Hidden Portal is a simple example of the action-adventure genre. Following the tradition of the Pokémon series, the game is divided into exploration and battle phases. In the exploration phase, the player navigates Amy through the world of ZanZarah. Freedom of movement is limited by many obstacles, such as prickly bushes, huge boulders, enemies, doors, or elevators that one has to find keys for, etc. In the classic action-adventure style, Amy explores the environment, solves various puzzles, gathers items, and interacts with NPCs. Another aspect of the non-battle phase is RPG-like healing, restoring magic powers, assigning spells to the fairies, and rearranging the fairy deck Amy has with her on her travels.

Traveling via the global map is impossible, but Amy can use magical teleportation runes to shift to virtually any key location—provided, of course, that she has already found the corresponding rune. One rune can even teleport her back to London where all fairies she has captured, but not added to her deck, stay. It is nearly impossible for Amy to die in ZanZarah (apart from falling from a cliff, drowning in a swamp, or jumping into a river of lava), and even if she dies, she resumes her journey at the entrance to the location with all the inventory and fairy statistics she had prior to her death.

The battle phase begins when Amy is attacked by a wild fairy or challenged to a fairy duel, and ends when all enemies or her own fairies are defeated. In the latter case, Amy dies and respawns at the entrance to the location in the condition she was in prior to the battle. While in the battle phase, the player navigates one fairy out of Amy's deck through a dueling arena (of which there are dozens of layouts) in a first-person shooter style. Each fairy has two offense-defense pairs of spells which it can switch to at any time. To actually shoot at an enemy with an offensive spell, the player must hold down the left mouse button to accumulate some charge rather than just tap it. It is important to have some knowledge of arena layouts and good timing to pull off the most deadly attacks.

Release[edit]

ZanZarah was originally published for Microsoft Windows in July 2002 by THQ. After THQ folded, the rights to the IP have been acquired by Daedalic Entertainment, who re-released it on Steam on August 20, 2015.[1]

Soundtrack[edit]

Several critics have praised the music of ZanZarah: The Hidden Portal.[2][3] Most of the themes were created by a German composer, King Einstein (also known for his work on the Cultures RTS series). The title theme Come With Me was composed and performed by British-Latvian singer Kariina Gretere, whom some compare to Enya.[4] The entire soundtrack can be freely downloaded from the official website.

Reception[edit]

Expansion[edit]

An unnamed expansion (some fans refer to it as ZanZarah: The Lost Village) to the game was in development in the second half of 2002. Apparently, it would have featured an entirely new village named Gramire and some new characters, including an unlucky King Ironir. However, the project was cancelled for marketing reasons and only a few materials remained in its wake:

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Zanzarah: The Hidden Portal". Steam. 20 August 2015. Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  2. ^ "Review of ZanZarah". WomenGamers.com. 2003-03-15. Archived from the original on 2008-05-27. Retrieved 31 January 2015. 
  3. ^ Gallant, Matthew (8 January 2003). "Zanzarah: The Hidden Portal Review". GameSpot. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  4. ^ "Review of ZanZarah". FourFatChicks.com. September 2002. Retrieved 31 January 2015. 

External links[edit]