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ZanZarah: The Hidden Portal is an action-adventure computer game by German Funatics Development, released in 2002 by publisher THQ. An add-on, ZanZarah: The Lost Village (an unofficial title used by fans), was in development in 2002, but was later cancelled.
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 appeared out of nowhere and disappeared without saying anything. The rune was one of the teleportation runes that the inhabitants of a magic parallel world ZanZarah used to travel across their lands.
Upon her arrival in ZanZarah, Amy discovers that she is the one an ancient prophecy told of and that it is her destiny to become the greatest fairy trainer of all times and save both her world and ZanZarah from impendent 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...
World of ZanZarah
ZanZarah: The Hidden Portal features a detailed fantasy world called ZanZarah.
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 sealing 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 the 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 faeries 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, seems helpless against them...
Not only ZanZarah is affected by this strange plague. The ancient and half-forgotten by that time world of humans also suffers from a loss of something very important - the magic. A prophecy as old as ZanZarah itself tells that when time comes, a savior will come from the world of humans to restore the balance between the two universes and between the magic folk and the humans will once again reign peace. Until then, however, fairies, elves, dwarves and goblins have to wait and hope...
Geography and ethnics
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. They are generally very friendly and make great artists and musicians. Elves prefer to settle in moderate woods of the southwest regions of ZanZarah, their biggest village is called Endeva. They prefer to build simple one-room houses out of wood. Their language (which Amy is mysteriously able to comprehend) carries a strong resemblance to French (phonetically). Elves also 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 and skin structure which makes them impossible to mistake. Just as the elves, they are about half the size of a human and share the elfish friendliness. However, their habit to settle in swampy regions of eastern ZanZarah makes their village, Dunmore, not very attractive for travelers. Goblins are known as fishers, hunters and explorers - as opposite to mostly home-sitting elves and dwarves. They build their houses on piles to keep them above the swamp surface. Their language doesn't 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 for a teleportation rune is through a labyrinth of caves starting not far from the Dwarf Tower, an ancient outpost of the lightly 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 actually 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 built 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 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 except 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. See below for more information on fairy training.
- 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").
The Shadow Realm is a place of great evil in the depth 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 one is in the catacombs beneath Tiralin. But the main entrance leading to the s.c. Shadow Realm is hidden deep in the southeastern swamps of ZanZarah.
Fairies are the pillars of magic and of ZanZarah itself. They are everywhere in the world of ZanZarah - in trees, rocks, waterfalls, even ancient ruins. In a way, their power keeps the world going.
An occult art of fairy training allows a sentient being - be it a human, an elf, a goblin, a dwarf or a dark elf - to train fairies and use their power to affect the world around them. With fairies' help a skilled trainer can control all elements and even other fairies. More important, though, are the s.c. fairy duels, which are often the only way to deal with one's enemies. These duels follow a certain etiquette that, for example, states that only five fairies are allowed per duelist of which only one can enter the spiritual dueling arena at a time. Other rules include fighting until total annihilation of all opponent's fairies and a duelist's right to change the fairy in the field at any moment. And last but not least, fairy training is virtually the only way to guarantee one's survival in the regions of ZanZarah where wild faeries are at large.
Fairy trainers name 77 different types of fairies and divide them into twelve categories by their corresponding element. Some of the fairies can be captured in the wilderness using a special fairy sphere; others may only be acquired by training a fairy until it is ready to switch its type, often becoming even more powerful than before. The fairy elemental categories include:
- Nature. Nature fairies can be found in any wood and anywhere else as long as there are any trees or bushes in the region. They are considered to be the reason behind the blossoming biosphere of ZanZarah. Equipped with an artifact called the Fairy Card of Nature, a nature fairy can destroy the prickly bushes that plague ZanZarah and hinder the exploration of the world.
- Air. Air fairies inhabit exclusively the Cloud Realm high in the atmosphere of northeastern ZanZarah and the surroundings of the White Cathedral also located in the Realm. If an air fairy is equipped with the Fairy Card of Air, it can, under certain conditions, use wind currents to fly its trainer over or onto some locations not accessible otherwise.
- Water. Water fairies live in all more or less important water entities - rivers, lakes, waterfalls and even swamps. They are known for their lesser aggressiveness compared to other fairies and an artifact called the Ocean Conch shell is used to lure them out of their shelter.
- Light. Light fairies are probably the rarest and most powerful fairies in ZanZarah. They are also extremely difficult to capture and to train. The only places one can find them are ancient ruins, for example, those beyond Tiralin. Light faeries are indispensable for anyone who enters the Underworld.
- Energy. Energy fairies are also extremely rare and can only be found in forgotten ruins and the Underworld, as well as in some private collections. It is speculated that energy fairies retain some connection with the electricity-driven human world and the technological dwarves are therefore especially fond of owning them.
- Psi. Psi fairies are probably the strangest fairies in ZanZarah. Their powers are usually much more subtle than those wielded by other types but very often just as or even more devastating. For example, they are especially proud of a technique that reflects all damage inflicted upon them on the attacker making the enemies kill themselves with their own hands. Another popular magic teleports the enemy fairy all over the arena until it falls down from it, which constitutes a defeat. Psi are among the most powerful fairies in the world and can only be found in one cave deep in the mountains. Equipped with the Fairy Card of Psi, a psi fairy can locate the nearest wild fairy and report its location to the trainer.
- Stone. Stone fairies can be found anywhere where rocks are, which means "everywhere". They are generally much sturdier than others but also less agile. If equipped with the Fairy Card of Stone, a stone fairy is capable of moving large rocks out of its trainer's way.
- Ice. Ice fairies inhabit exclusively the ice peaks of northwestern ZanZarah. Even wild, they are extremely dangerous and difficult to capture. Once captured, however, their impressive spells and powers make them the all-round fairies in most cases. Along with light and psi fairies, the ice ones are considered the most powerful in ZanZarah.
- Fire. Fire fairies can only be found in the caves filled with lava (which dwarves use to power their forges) beneath Monagham. When equipped with the Fairy Card of Fire, a fire fairy can protect its trainer from extreme temperatures deeper in the lava caves.
- Darkness. Dark fairies inhabit the Underworld. The only chance to see them in the daylight is when dueling their trainer and, rarely, in some ancient ruins. Together with the chaos fairies, the dark ones are the dark elves' "fairies of choice".
- Chaos. Chaos fairies also inhabit the Underworld and are the dark elves' favorites, too. However, their powers can be even more devastating since many of them follow the psi techniques and are often just as troublesome.
- Metal. Metal fairies are not "true" fairies of ZanZarah. Instead, they were forged by the dwarves, either to guard their vaults or just out of pure scientific interest. Metal fairies are very flexible, meaning that given the necessary instruments, a trainer can "upgrade" them to a more powerful form at any time. Metal fairies can only be found in Dwarven works and some other special locations.
Different fairy elements react differently with each other, for example, the calming force of Nature is extremely effective against the chaotic energy of Psi and Chaos. On the other hand, Fire and Ice easily destroy anything Nature has to offer. Only by effectively applying these principles, can a fairy trainer become a true fairy duelist. In addition to usual training and form transformation, a fairy can become more powerful by learning new techniques and spells chosen by its trainer. The techniques may, in some cases, not only deal damage to opponent's fairies but also have some special effects, especially in case of Psi and Chaos.
The overall gameplay in ZanZarah: The Hidden Portal is a simple example of the genre. Following the tradition of Pokémon series, the game process is divided into battle and exploration phases. In the exploration phase, the player navigates Amy through the world of ZanZarah. The freedom of movement is limited by many obstacles, such as prickly bushes, huge boulders, enemies, doors or elevators one has to find keys for, etc. In the classic adventure style, Amy explores the environment, solves various puzzles, gathers items and interacts with NPCs. Another aspect of 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, she has already found the corresponding rune. One rune can even teleport her back to London where all fairies she 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, and 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 enemy's 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 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 offence-defense pairs of spells which it can switch 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 a good timing to pull off the most deadly attacks.
Several critics praised the music of ZanZarah: The Hidden Portal 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 (aka Karina Gretere), whom some compare to Enya.
The entire soundtrack can be freely downloaded from the official site.
An unnamed add-on (some fans refer to it as ZanZarah: The Lost Village) to the game has been 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 due to marketing reasons and only a few materials remained in its wake:
- A selection of screenshots has been available on the official site, but all of them were later removed by the administration
- A short teaser trailer has been released on the official site
- The music theme of Gramire can be downloaded from King Einstein's website