If Judge Joel Pearce had twenty fingers instead of ten, he'd have gotten through the Choose Your Own Adventure series twice as fast.
Your choices decide their fate…and the fate of the world!
As a nerdy guy in my 20s, I have fond memories of the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books. I was a cheater in nature, flipping through multiple options until I ran out of fingers to put in the pages and was forced to buckle down and make a decision. They were never great literature, but for some reason the ability to make choices in a book seemed cooler than a video game, in which that decision making was an integral part. I also have a little experience with the Dungeons and Dragons franchise, especially the great video game series produced by Bioware.
So, does a blend of the Choose Your Own Adventure concept with the D&D universe work in DVD format? Not really, but Scourge of Worlds does have a certain cheesy charm.
The story itself is generic fantasy fare, with a trio of adventurers drawn into the quest for a powerful artifact, unsure of who to trust. This trio consists of Regdar, a mighty human warrior; Mialee, a scantily clad Elven mage; and Lidda, a wisecracking halfling thief. Through their adventures, they run into (depending on the choices you make) Orcs, a mean party of Barbarians, a band of druids, and a dreaded Beholder. These are tried and true storylines, and none of them feel out of place in the D&D Universe. The banter between the main characters is mildly amusing, and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the voice acting. There are a few stiff and hammy moments, but never teeth-gratingly bad.
The animation is also better than expected. Don't get me wrong, it's video game CGI all the way, but it's relatively good video game CGI. The characters are detailed and realistic, even though they move like puppets. the backdrops are varied and detailed, if occasionally simplistic. There are almost no instances of clipping objects, and the camera work is acceptable. The major problem occurs during combat scenes: All of the characters move very slowly, and they never seem to actually hit each other. Since this is a fantasy adventure story, laughably bad fight scenes are a serious concern.
The other place where the experience falters is in the storyline. There are numerous options to choose, and I enjoyed my first trip through the tale a great deal. When I reached the end, I went through again, trying to choose a completely different path. To an extent, this did work, except that the story landed up in with the same climactic battle. Disappointed, I tried several other times. It seems that no matter what choices you make, you always either fail the quest or end up with the same couple of choices at the end. This severely limits the enjoyment of repeat viewings. After all, the ability to make choices is the selling point of the DVD, but most of the choices you make wind up being completely moot. Video games are linear as well, but at least with them you get to interact on a regular basis.
This Collector's Edition disc adds several more possible endings, to a total of six. They are all definitely variations on a theme, though fans of the disc will probably want to hunt down each one. The video transfer on the disc is beautiful, delivered directly from the digital source. The detail is excellent, and the black level is perfect. The transfer is always better than the animation, and often shows the limitations of the textures and objects. The sound transfer is also good, at least if you choose the Dolby 5.1 option. The surrounds and sub are put to excellent use, if too blatantly at times. The stereo track is flat and bland in comparison.
This edition of the film also comes with a second disc of special features. There is a linear version of the film, which is a chance to kick back and see one of the better storylines without interruption. It runs 48 minutes in length, and only comes with a stereo option. It's not as fun a way to experience this particular story, but it was a good feature to add. There is a large gallery of concept art, statistics and CGI samples, which are worth checking out because they actually contain interesting information and rotating figures. There is a comprehensive series of production featurettes, and although none of it is novel, it covers quite a bit of information. Director Dan Krech overestimates the value and impact of this project, but it is an interesting novelty, which could grow into a niche market with youth. The last extra is a trivia game, which rewards good answers with brief clips from the film.
I'm not sure that I can recommend Scourge of Worlds as a purchase for most people. After all, it breaks down after multiple viewings, and can be essentially exhausted in an evening or two. Young teens that love fantasy will get a kick out of it, but a rental or two will probably be all it takes for them to tire of it. It remains a novel idea that plays better than expected, but other mediums offer the same experience in a far more satisfying way.
Scourge of Worlds is entertaining and unique enough to be released without penalty. The creators are urged to make the storylines more diverse next time, though.
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