Zork Nemesis

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Zork Nemesis: The Forbidden Lands
Zork Nemesis cover.png
Cover art
Developer(s) Zombie LLC
Publisher(s) Activision
Engine Z-Vision
Platform(s) Windows 95, MS-DOS, Macintosh
Release date(s) Windows, DOS
  • NA February 29, 1996
Genre(s) Graphic adventure
Mode(s) Single-player

Zork Nemesis: The Forbidden Lands is a 1996 graphic adventure game developed by Zombie LLC and published by Activision. It is the eleventh game in the Zork series, and the first such title not to appear under the Infocom label. It was released for Windows 95, and ported to MS-DOS and Macintosh by Quicksilver Software. The game's plot was written by Cecilia Barajas, Nick Sagan and Adam Simon. The game's budget was 3.5 million dollars.[1]



The game takes place in the world of Zork, within the Forbidden Lands and the Temple of Agrippa, along with trips to the Frigid River Branch Conservatory, the Steppinthrax Monastery, the Grey Mountains Asylum, and Castle Irondune.


  • Madame Sophia Hamilton - Head of the Frigid River Branch Conservatory, teaching young girls music. She became infatuated with Thaddeus Kaine, and seeks to be with him forever. Agreed to help with Sartorius' alchemy experiments, and mastered Water while seeking to purify Copper. Portrayed in the game by Lauren Koslow
  • Bishop Francois Malveaux - A religious man, who runs the Steppinthrax Monastery. Discovered he was suffering from an incurable disease, and seeks to avoid death. Chose to help Sartorius with his alchemy experiments, and mastered Fire while seeking to purify Lead. Portrayed in the game by W. Morgan Sheppard
  • Doctor Erasmus Sartorius - Head of the Grey Mountains Asylum, who specialises in trying to understand much of the world and the universe, with an interest in alchemy. Brought in aid from Malveaux, Thaddeus and Sophia, and mastered Air in his experiments while seeking to purify Tin. Portrayed in the game by Allan Kolman
  • General Thaddeus Kaine - A decorated solider, who runs his operations out of Castle Irondune. A disciplined man, with no great fondness for his only son, Lucian, whilst enjoying the company of Sophia. Became a part of Sartorius efforts in alchemy, and mastered Earth while seeking to purify Iron. Portrayed in the game by Stephen Macht
  • Lucian Kaine - A young man with a deep love for Alexandria, while hateful and suspicious of his father's activities, along with his associates, regarding his love interest. Was arrested on the day he was due to wed Alexandria for desertion of his draft posting. Portrayed by Paul Anthony Stewart
  • Alexandria Wolfe - A young girl with a talent for music. She was born to a woman being held in the Asylum, raised in the Monastery, then the Conservatory, before being killed by a mysterious hand in the Temple of Agrippa. Seeks help from the player. Portrayed by Merle Kennedy
  • "Nemesis" - A mysterious entity that tortures a group of four alchemists while seeking to find the fifth element that can grant it what it desires. Sees the player as a problem. Portrayed in voice, by Bruce Nozick, and in person by Paul Anthony Stewart.
  • The Player - A nameless adventurer, charged by Vice Regent Syovar the Strong to enter the Forbidden Lands and investigate the disappearance of four prominent citizens. Additionally, they also have to investigate the rumor of a curse put on the Forbidden Lands by a being known only as "Nemesis," taking over from their predecessor, Agent Karlok Bivotar (whose diary, included with the original release as a feelie, provides additional back-story, a few clues and a numerical solution that allows the player to bypass a particularly gruesome puzzle).


Following the disappearance of four prominent figures and the sudden emergence of a mysterious curse in the Forbidden Lands, Vice Regent Syovar the Strong sends the player out to investigate the matters, continuing on from where their predecessor left off, after their demise on the same assignment upon travelling to the Temple of Agrippa. Searching the temple themselves, they soon find a message left behind by the spirit of Alexandria Wolfe, a young woman who seeks help to deal with a great evil within the place. Entering the main part, the player finds the four citizens they had been tasked to locate - Doctor Erasmus Sartorius, General Thaddeus Kaine, Bishop Francois Malveaux, and Madame Sophia Hamilton (all known as "The Alchemists") - held within coffins, learning that each mastered one of the four elements of alchemy, and its corresponding pure metal. As the player purifies their respective elements in laboratories within the temple, they are granted enough power to be able to speak of what they have done and give insight into what happened in the temple. Through their words, the player learns that the "Nemesis", a mysterious force, killed each of them before holding them all in a state of eternal torture whilst seeking to utilize their own work, learning also that this same being took the lives of two of their children — Kaine's son Lucien and Malveaux's daughter Alexandria.

Charged with defeating the Nemesis before they can stop the Alchemists, the player uses a special magical planetarium to travel to each of their private dwellings - Steppinthrax Monastery, Castle Irondune, Grey Mountains Asylum, and Frigid River Branch Conservatory - in order to find their personal laboratories and retrieve pure samples of their elemental metals. Whilst in each of these locations, the player learns of a sinister past surrounding the six characters and the so-called "Nemesis" that haunts them. Through visions and letters, the player quickly begins to discover the real truth behind what happened at the Temple, and that the Alchemists were the real evil that were responsible for what happened to Lucien and Alexandria.

The player discovers that the four Alchemists came together through Sartorius, who sought to complete his father's work and acquire the fifth element of alchemy, needing help to do so. Aided by Malveaux, seeking to avoid death from an incurable disease he had, Kaine, who sought greater power in an unstable world, and Sophia, who sought eternal life so she could be young forever with Kaine, the group learned that they needed to create a child, born during a special celestial event when an alignment of planets, corresponding to each Alchemical element, occurred at the same time of a solar eclipse. The mother of this child, was chosen from the Asylum, and soon gave birth to what they needed - Alexandria. Taught music and the song "Harmony of the Spheres", she was raised by her father, Malveaux, at his Monastery, before being educated in Sophia's Conservatory. However, the group didn't anticipate Lucien falling in love with her when he attended one of her concerts, and so were forced to stop him when he desired to marry her. With another eclipse coming at the time they were due to harvest the fifth element, the group began to sacrifice Alexandria at the temple, but were interrupted by Lucien before completing their task, who upon learning of what they did, murdered the group and soon sought to use their work to revive his love, becoming the "Nemesis" as a result.

With the Alchemists freed by the player's actions, Lucien beseeches the player to stop them finding her body and completing their work, passing on a gold ring. Entering a hidden chamber below the temple, the player creates a special Alchemy symbol, representing Infinity, from both Lucien's and Alexandria's rings, and quickly uses it to stop the Alchemists, killing the group, reviving Alexandria, and destroying the temple, thus ending the curse in the Forbidden Lands and allowing Lucien and Alexandria to live in peace.


Zork Nemesis employed technology Activision dubbed "Z-Vision Surround Technology." This gave users a simulated 360-degree view of each location visited. It was one of the first games to employ such technology. As such, although it added new depth to the gameplay, it appears dated and pixellated by today's standards. Zork Nemesis only allows panning either horizontally or vertically at any position, not both at the same time as with later games, such as The Journeyman Project 3: Legacy of Time or Myst III: Exile. Details were far more difficult to make out in the panoramic scenes in Zork Nemesis than in the still screens. The sequel, Zork: Grand Inquisitor, made significant improvements to the Z-Vision system.

Zork Nemesis, like other adventure games of its time, made use of live actors. Each of the six major characters, plus several additional characters, were played by actors. The game features a significant amount of screen-time for the actors, thanks to its use of flashbacks at key locations (or objects) and the use of monologues in which a character addressed the player explaining and justifying his/her actions.

The player's character in Zork Nemesis is never identified, but the hint book refers to the character as "she," and one male NPC looks at the main character and remarks, "Hey, you're beautiful!" — however, this response is a result of artificial mental stimulation, and so would likely happen regardless of the gender of the player.

Zork Nemesis was one of the largest games of its time, occupying three CDs. This was due to the large amount of full-motion video and panoramic scenes. The disks were, however, organized to minimize swapping.


Zork Nemesis was a significant departure from the rest of the Zork series. Many long-time fans of the series criticized its sombre atmosphere, which was in stark contrast to the playful, light-hearted spirit of the previous entries. For example, players must decapitate a nude corpse and attach the severed head to a machine in order for it to speak. Those for whom it was their first exposure to the Zork series, on the other hand, generally approved of the game's realism and found it to be a game that could stand on its own merits. Critical reviews for Zork Nemesis were universally positive, with PC Gamer awarding it a coveted Editor's Choice rating in its December 1996 issue.

Regardless, Activision seemed to ultimately side with the long-time fans: the next game in the series, Zork: Grand Inquisitor, is more in keeping with the light, jovial atmosphere established by the earlier entries in the series.


  1. ^ Kasvi, Jyrki J.J. (May 1996). Vain 3 500 000 dollarin tähden (in Finnish). Pelit. pp. 60–61. 

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