Combing through the archives, I thought it would be fun to review some classic games here in the blog, and since adventure games have always been enjoyable to me, I decided to write about a quirky and unique but often frustrating and entirely too short one from the DOS era. "Daughter of Serpents" (also released later on CD-ROM and re-titled "The Scroll") is a point-and-click graphics adventure along the lines of King's Quest or Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. But while those titles were masterpieces praised by virtually all who played them, Daughter of Serpents is virtually unknown even to most gamers who grew up during the DOS age, and while it is far from the best adventure game ever created, it's nowhere near the worst, and deserves to be better-known than it is.
The first thing Daughter has going for it is the theme: this is one of a very few computer games released under license of the Cthulu mythos, a fact you might have gathered from the developer's name (Eldritch Games). Unlike many of its contemporaries, Daughter doesn't take place in a galaxy far, far away or in a fantasy realm populated by dragons and unicorns and talking chesspieces. Daughter is set squarely in the 1920s, in Egypt to be exact, where some unearthly rumblings have begun to cause some consternation among those who watch for that sort of thing. The game embraces this aspect wholeheartedly, and contains plenty to read on the subject of Egyptian mysticism and mythos should a gamer desire to immerse himself or herself more fully.
Daughter also enjoys a limited form of RPG crossbreeding, in that instead of just playing as the protagonist as the developers have set out for you (Prince Graham, Indiana Jones, Roger Wilco or whoever), you are free to create your own character and customize his or her personality and interests using a skill point system which lets you determine things like how versed you are in Egyptology, what languages you know, what areas of the occult you have any knowledge in and so forth. In addition, you can add such traits as name (which the other characters in the game will actually refer to you by), gender, and even age. If creating your own character seems boorish, you can pick from one of the pre-made ones that the designers included. But based on your skill selection, you will encounter and play through the story in different ways. The basic outline of the plot is that you have come to Alexandria to inspect an archaeological dig. Before you can get too much done there, though, you are contacted by a mysterious woman who offers you an ancient scroll that seems to be filled with genuine Egyptian magical spells. Reading the scroll also reveals the plottings of an ancient evil force that is dead set on returning to prominance and enslaving all of Egypt once again. Naturally, it's going to fall to you to stop this malevolent being, with the trick, of course, hinging on how exactly a mere mortal is supposed to stop an Old One from manifesting on the Earth. All told, there are roughly six different variations on this scenario that you can experience, though on the downside the ultimate mystery remains the same, so once you've beaten the game there won't be very much left in the way of surprises the next time through.
And speaking of beating the game, it's almost impossible not to do. Daughter of Serpents has got to be one of the shortest adventure games in history; even first-time players will (once they have mastered the tricky control scheme) get through everything in around an hour. Despite the fact that the game is based on the Cthulu mythos, there's very few ways that you can actually wind up dead in the game which is a complete 180-degree turn for anybody who has ever played "Call of Cthulu," "Arkham Horror," or any other RPG or boardgame based on Lovecraft's creations. That's not to say it can't happen, but it's a very rare occurance. Another reason for the game's ultimate brevity is the fact that there's very little hunting to do. Objects that you need to solve the puzzles (when the puzzles even show up...I played through one game where I encountered a grand total of 1 puzzle once) are rarely more than one room away or are already in your inventory, and NPCs within the game seem to go out of their way to make sure they've provided you with every clue you could possibly need to pass your next test. In a way, it's nice to play an adventure game without the need to consult a walkthrough every five minutes to figure out what the designer was thinking. On the other hand, though, there is something to be said for having some measure of challenge and brain-bending. It is an "adventure" after all, and nobody ever just handed Indiana Jones his prize (at least without a fight).
Daughter of Serpents looks very pretty: the graphics are extremely beautiful, especially for 1992, and convey the setting and tone perfectly. There's a bit of blood here and there, but nothing outright vile or over-the-top in terms of violence. It's Lovecraftian horror, so you know people are gonna bite it just going into the game, and the text seems to catch most of Lovecraft's rhythms. It's just a pity that it's over so quickly. And while they re-released on the CD format as the re-titled "The Scroll," the only major difference between the two versions is that the CD version apparently includes a few more screens but nothing more in the way of an expanded story, better music or added puzzles. It's a shame, because game developers don't often get the opportunity to re-release their work and this would have been an ideal way to add some value to what, unfortunately, manages to only be a mediocre effort.
Make no mistake, Daughter of Serpents is worth experiencing. It's just a shame that from such a great beginning, Eldritch Software wasn't able to do more with the game engine they developed and the license they had acquired. The thought of a Mass Effect-style Lovecraftian-themed game done today brings tremors to the knees. In 1992, they gave it a shot, and it's worth playing to experience it. The ideas and storyline were there, and the method of generating a character to get a different look at things during different playthroughs was genius. Unfortunately, it is far from the epic game that Lovecraft so richly deserves, and is only worth about 2 1/2 stars out of five.