Friday, July 28, 2023

Lord of the Rings (Super NES, 1994)

Originally Posted: This time in 2010, and very incomplete. Now with the rest of the game added

Back in 1995, I played an SNES game called Lord of the Rings Vol 1. This is hands-down one of the worst RPGs on the system. Still, I played the hell out of this via a rental or two. I never finished it. I reached the final dungeon and quit because it's a complete maze and made no sense.

...wait a minute. "First Action Adventure RPG with real-time combat"? Ever heard of Secret of Mana, jerks?

Regardless, I hit this game up just to finish what I started long ago, and I got some screenshots in the process. The game uses a password system, so eventually I found a password to skip to the final dungeon - albeit with underpowered characters - and went for it. This game may be awful overall, but the final dungeon is quite respectable. It's like the developers put all their energy into the Mines of Moria.

First up, the Nintendo Power coverage of the game. THIS is what got me interested in reading the Lord of the Rings books to begin with. I'd read The Hobbit already but LOTR was a few years later and needed this push to get me to read it.

Note how the world map shows the entire LOTR trilogy's world, even though the game only takes place over about 5% of that area.

I remember this picture in particular standing out to me. It's so mysterious. Even now I'm not sure what part of the series it's showing. Maybe Frodo looking at Mount Doom?

Yeah, there isn't gonna be any Mount Doom in this game, that's for sure. I wonder how many people got this thinking they'd be able to explore all this stuff? They'd be pretty disappointed when the game ends midway through the first book.

Boromir isn't in this game at all. So when I read the books and he was one of the 9 heroes, I was like "who's this guy?"

Gandalf's character portrait is awesome, guy looks so bad-ass. The hell did they do to Legolas though? Guy is a complete joke in this game in general and it's like they knew that when they made the character portrait.

He uses a bow and arrow to keep orcs at bay? Maannnn he doesn't use shit! Guy just stands around and does nothing!


He looks like he just took an arrow to the ass. Which is ridiculous, we all know from the movies that Legolas is obnoxiously overpowered and has 100% evasion. Almost no scene with Legolas in it has any tension whatsoever as to his well-being because he shows NO WEAKNESS WHATSOEVER.

It's good that NP tells you how to get started because the actual game gives you next to no clue after the first half hour or so. It's basically like "go east to Bree" but you can't take the main road because of the Ringwraith ambush so you have to take an alternate route but also a lot of stuff can glitch out and maybe you can go a different route if that happens. In short, good luck.

These guys attack 9 at a time outside Bree. As a kid I remember trying to fight them a bunch of times and just getting completely slaughtered. Wonder if I was ever able to take down one of them by focusing attacks, at least. They ARE killable in the game, they're just the strongest foes outside of the final boss. Would have been cool if you fought one of them solo at some point, or even a couple of them, maybe at Weathertop (which isn't in the game). Nope, it's just all nine of them wandering the road and completely avoidable.

Side note: As a kid I loved this sword, and it's one of the things that got me into two-handed swords.

Got some Barrow Downs maps here, even though what this game really needs are some cave maps for all the confusing pitch-black caves it makes you go through. I think Old Man Willow is like the Gollum of the Ents.

The coverage ends with the Barrow Downs, but it's just as well because this is probably almost halfway through the game's short runtime. After this you get to Bree, get Aragorn, stumble through the Trollshaws, maybe find Gimli and Legolas wandering around, go to Rivendell for a cup of coffee, Mines of Moria, done.

Another awesome two-handed sword in this picture. I liked this one even more than the regular one in the previous image. Red swords are classic, probably because you don't see them very often in games.

Oh, they say that Mordor has to wait for Vol 2. That's being pretty optimistic that there's going to BE a Vol 2. Still, great picture of the characters here.

Time for the game. Here we see the bastards responsible for this atrocity. I hope you people are proud!

Here we see Bilbo talking about his eleventy first birthday. ENGLISH! DO YOU SPEAK IT!

The title screen sports the Balrog, the game's final boss. I always thought there should be multiple Balrogs in the actual LOTR story. Perhaps a few guarding Mordor itself, maybe one charging across the battle at Pelennor Fields. Also wish we'd ever gotten to extensively see the interior of Barad-Dur in the books or movies. If anywhere had some Balrogs it'd be there.

Right off the bat, the music is actually quite good in this game. Here's the Shire theme, the first thing you hear once it starts. I mean it's kind of "generic medieval fantasy music" but it's good.

Here's Hobbiton, land of the Hobbits. Or as they are commonly known these days, Halflings. The all-seeing eye of the Tolkien Estate sees all, lawyers at the ready.

It looks pretty good for a Shire rendition, and is teeming with NPCs from the books. The beginning of this game isn't bad at all, and the first ten minutes or so can lull you into a false sense of security.

The first real objective is to gather up the other 3 hobbits and do random fetch quests to get like, healing leaves and stuff.

Things start breaking down once you're out in the wilderness and fighting foes. Problems start appearing immediately:

A) The environments are so, so dull. Lot of brown and grey and just complete blandness.

B) Areas are huge and easy to get lost in, because every area pretty much looks the same.

C) The combat is very slow. Your character freezes in place for a split second before swinging their weapon...and that's all you do. Just swing away and hope you win before you get hit.

D) The enemies are much more agile than your character is, and jump all over the place while Frodo stiffly walks around.

E) No omnidirectional movement at all in this game. You can go up, down, left, or right, that's it. By 1994 on the SNES this movement limitation felt kind of antiquated, especially when the enemies move faster than your characters do.

Next is one of the game's numerous caverns. They're dark and you CAN'T SEE ANYTHING. Also they're mazes. Most of the caverns aren't even necessary to go through to finish the game, and a lot of them just flat-out have nothing beneficial in them. The instruction booklet has a bunch of maps for different caverns, but it doesn't tell you what the maps actually correspond to. You have to figure that out. They help somewhat, but don't really make the game any less confusing.

I get my first party member! Pippin Took...doesn't really do much.

F) Your party members don't really do anything. The one you're controlling gets probably 95% of the kills, or more, while the CPU party members mostly just wander around and get hit. As a result it's really hard to level them up. It's not uncommon to get to the end of the game and have the main controlled characters (Frodo and Aragorn) be decent levels (20+) while everyone else is like level 1-3. That is, if they're not dead.

G) Permadeath. That's right, if a character runs out of HP, they're permanently dead. It's kinda nuts. Especially considering the lack of healing items. You're very reliant on whatever mushrooms, leaves, Ent droppings, or other assorted debris you find laying around for heals. Given the way your characters stand around and get hit, good luck keeping them up for the whole game. Characters like Pippin and Merry just aren't long for this world. Sam has a bit more HP and seems to fare better in general.

Speaking of Sam, here he is in red. As a kid, he was the first party member I found, and I remember switching control to him frequently to get him some EXP since the CPU wasn't doing it. You can temporarily control other party members by holding R, which moves everyone at once. Yes, everyone at once. It's actually pretty useful, if bizarre.

Sam's portrait. Look how they massacred my boy

The main objective of the game isn't to follow the story (which there isn't much of) so much as it is to find six of these "gateway gems" scattered throughout the land. Also, the game points you toward Rivendell. So you have to get to Rivendell and follow the Fellowship's path that far, but also you need to find these six gems to unlock the final dungeon (Mines of Moria).

The gems are hidden in completely offbeat places. Like one is just laying on the ground in the woods. Some of them are in random caves. I think one is glitched and doesn't even appear in a lot of playthroughs, potentially making the game unfinishable. Except that the Mines of Moria gate itself often glitches and is open when the player gets there whether they have the gems or not.

Finding these six super-obscure gems is not a good time, and I've never actually collected them all. As a kid I had no clue where they were and Nintendo Power didn't even have that info. I think I've only ever found 3 out of 6 or so. Back then, Moria glitched and opened on its own, so I at least got to try the place out, but gave up before long because it's such a convoluted dark maze.

Look at how obscure this cave is. Finding things like this is a shot in the dark given how big the overland areas are.

Lots of wandering around later, we cross the Barrow-Downs, reach Bree, and get...

Strider is looking pretty long in the tooth here. That's probably more accurate to the books though. He looks like a Doctor Who.

Once you get Aragorn, he replaces Frodo as the main character and you control him for the second half of the game. It's still Game Over if Frodo dies, though, so hopefully he got plenty of levels before now. In the second half it's Game Over if either Frodo or Aragorn die. Everyone else is totally expendable.

An orc. They're green Moblin-type things in this game and highly-aggressive. Most of the first half of the game you're just fighting snakes and rats, but at least the second half has some actual orcs.

Legolas is just kind of wandering in the woods. He's pretty hard to find so I could see a lot of players not even getting him. Like I said before he's useless, doesn't attack. Even if you take control of him I don't think his attacks work.

I get Gimli, also wandering in the woods. He's the red d0rf and he's quite powerful. Also this random orc just totally killed Legolas while Legolas stood there.

Aragorn and Gimli get revenge! Gimli swings his weapon faster than any other character, and is probably the second-best character besides Aragorn. Maybe the best, except you can't main him so his levels will never be as high. But yeah, when it comes down to it, the only characters who really do any damage in this are Aragorn, Gimli, and Frodo.

Anyway, I'm not scrounging for all these gems, especially when some of them might not even appear. Time to punch in a code to unlock everybody and drop said gems in the inventory. It's the "go straight to Moria" code.

This game's FOURTY-EIGHT DIGIT password screen reminds me of that scene in Ghostbusters where the guys are climbing endless flights of stairs and getting increasingly exhausted. Would a save system have killed them?

The password I use to get all the characters/gems is...weird. Frodo has decent (if a bit low for this point) levels and his best weapon/armor. Gimli is a massively overpowered level 52 (and the game's murder-machine even without high levels, as he swings his axe in fast-forward). Aragorn and Sam are both level 17-ish like Frodo, and Pippin/Merry/Legolas, already the game's weaker characters, are all at level 1. Er? Well, whatever. I'll make it work.

The gang's all here in Hobbiton Halflington. Man, if Legolas actually worked right he'd probably be a great character to play as, since no one else has a ranged attack. Where's Gandalf, you ask? You don't get him until the final battle, even with this code. There are codes that can get him into the party outside of the final battle though. He "casts spells" to hurt foes, which basically just means he raises his staff and it damages the nearest foe regardless of how far away they are. Him not being around for 98% of the game isn't that much of a loss.

I traverse the land on my way to Moria. Legolas has one weapon in the game and it has to be found separately from him, but even if you equip him with his one weapon, he never, ever actually attacks. Seriously. This also means he can't level up. He's permanently level 1.

You know who I'd like to "level up"? Arwen and Eowyn. Preferably simultaneously.

The Barrow Downs have this cool fog effect, which may well be the best thing the game does graphically. Check out Gimli kicking some Barrow Wight ass over there! You see that shit, Legolas? You see that shit?

Too bad I can't trade Legolas for a character who actually does something, like famed flamboyant farmer Tom Bombadil. That guy could totally nuke Mordor any time he felt like it by singing a song, but instead he just prances daintily to and fro through the dew-frosted meadows, waiting for a prince to sweep him away.

Or perhaps Elrond? Or...I don't know, Boromir?


Our heroes take a moment to enjoy shrooms. You can't tell me that this crew wasn't high for most of their journey. I don't know why else they wouldn't think to bring a couple horses. Or better yet, The Eagles.

Here's Bree, the crossroads town. Anyone who has played Lord of the Rings Online knows what a huge metropolis this is in that game. In this game, it's basically the pub and nothing else.

Crossing the green fields on the way to Rivendell, as our heroes continue to walk...and walk. This game is probably great on pipe-weed.

Rivendell, much like Bree, is incredibly underwhelming, but we get a glimpse of the final character... Gandalf.

And yeah, Boromir is SOL in this game, not even getting an NPC appearance. Sorry brah, we ran out of space on the SNES cartridge and couldn't fit you in. Had to have room for Legolas who can't attack anything. It's like having the Dalai Lama as a party member. His method of "self-defense" is rolling into a ball and waiting for his attackers to get tired.

Lothlorien... that's where this game ends, not even at the end of Fellowship.

I actually wouldn't have minded seeing a few more of these, just to see how they handled things as they progressed. Out of curiosity. If the game had better controls, fewer maze-caves, nicer environments, and everything worked right, they could have had something. The game actually isn't terrible with a multi-tap and a bunch of people controlling different characters, I've heard.

Here's the entrance to Moria. Normally there'd be a huge door here until you gather up all of the gateway gems, which of course I automatically have now so the door's open. No fanfare, it just is. And of course sometimes the game glitches and it's like this when you arrive.

Also I think Legolas died on the way here

The Mines of Moria were built by dwarves... but then they were turned to evil. This is what Lord of the Rings as a world does brilliantly. Deep, dark places, where angels fear to tread. Middle-Earth is a treacherous place.

As for this game... Moria is the only good thing about it. This dungeon is freaky as all hell. They really got the design right for this part.

Speaking of fearsome, we must now contend with... BLUE orcs.

Trolls are way worse, and take a TON of hits to bring down. None of the foes in here can compare to the maze-like structure of this place, though. This is seriously one of the most expansive and treacherous dungeons I've seen in a game. Right about now I almost want to give this game a decent rating for the effort.

Reach the endzone and Gandalf finally shows up. Glad we could BOTHER him away from whatever more important things he had going on for this entire game.

For whatever reason Legolas actually left for a bit after Rivendell, and rejoins in the depths of Moria when Gandalf does. Thank God, I don't think I could have held off the bad guys without him any longer.

There's Gandalf, beard and all. This is...the second-to-last room of the game.

Can I just say, this final dungeon was a tricky, difficult challenge, and even with maps it took a lot of brainpower to get through it. Kudos, Interplay, for designing something like this. It's unfortunate that, most likely, only a few players even got to this point much less saw everything Moria has to offer as a dungeon crawl.

The drums kick in, and it's time to get the hell out of here. This is one of the more iconic moments in the saga, and the game actually manages to convey a bit of that.

Some super-weapons are found here, but they're hilariously bugged-out and actually reduce your attack power, usually. They're supposed to quadruple (or so) said attack power, but instead they make the attack power counter roll over so your power ends up lower than it was. Turns out the counter ends at 99, so a weapon with 120 attack is gonna roll you over to having 21 attack. Which is less than most of them have on their weapons already, since most of the strongest weapons before this point were around 30 attack.

This horrendous issue might explain why the final boss takes about 10,000 hits to beat: You were supposed to have several super-weapons for the fight...and they don't work.

Gandalf's character portrait is still bad-ass.

I owe a lot to this game...or at least NP's coverage of it. Like I alluded to before, reading about it there got me interested in swords/sorcery type games, which got me interested in RPGs. It also got me to read the Lord of the Rings books, and by extension a lot of other great books.

As a boss-thusiast, I bring you an extra large picture for the final boss, the Balrog. The animation on this thing is pretty sick.

Get him to move to the left (by having your main dude parked over there) and you can have another character jab away with impunity on his right side. Frodo with Sting seems to be the best choice for this.

10,000 or so hits later (no, seriously, it's a lot, and it's rumored that your attacks don't actually damage it until you let Gandalf die first) I win the day. I was proud, and would have celebrated if I hadn't spent most of the fight hiding Aragorn behind stuff while the CPU-controlled Samwise and Frodo jabbed the Balrog to death somehow. I got involved when necessary.

Would have done more, but the game bugged out and wouldn't let me use healing items during the fight.



The fight took so long that I was starting to think it was glitched and couldn't end. So I'm pretty thrilled to see the Bridge of Khazad-Dum now accessible.

Victory is mine. It's an unfinished game from my childhood, finally overcome. Now I can stand tall and shake the heavens. NOW I AM A MAN!

Frodo sings a song about the dead Gandalf. What about Legolas, Merry, and Pippin, who all got one-shotted by the Balrog? WHERE ARE THEIR SONGS, DAMN IT?

The Eye of Sauron is still looming large. It's obvious they were planning more games after this one (at $60 a pop, which is like $150 in 2023 dollars)

The credits, letting me know it's officially over. Yeah, they used real people to motion-capture the characters in the game. The game does have its cool points. I'd love to play a PC version of this that's made in the Baldur's Gate engine.

And that's it. It's good to take a moment and finish something that bested you in your youth. It's like having a midlife crisis where you have to go out there and catch that marlin that you never caught. And the marlin is like "who the hell?"



    Wow. I did not know this game existed. Thank you, Jericho, for making me aware of this strange Lord Of The Rings game.

  2. The elves can protect you? How the hell are they going to protect you if they never attack!

  3. I hear the PS2/Xbox game is pretty good, if a bit cookie-cutter.

  4. I am playing this game right now. The dungeons are way to dark and confusing...

  5. Best of luck to you on that one. If you finish the game, that's quite an accomplishment. The glitches and poor design make it so much more difficult than it needs to be.

  6. funny review! made me chuckle. i've never been able to get past a few minutes of this game.

  7. Thanks for reposting this! LOTR Vol. 1 is a deeply flawed game, but I've always been fond of it, partly because the music is great.

    1. + the music, I got to the Balrog and ended up giving up because it took so long to kill him even with Gandalf dead.

  8. This sounds just as wretched as the PS2 Fellowship of the Ring game: