Review by Denouement

"Don't want us to progress"

You need to be honest with yourself. What is it, really, that you like about RPGs?

Some people would say it is the story and adventure which attracts them. To please these people, companies--for instance, TSR, the parent company of Dungeons & Dragon--produce books as well, giving people the exciting story, without the trouble of playing the game.

The graphics and sound are what do it for others. Especially in modern times, these can be not only eye-catching but truly awe-inspiring. However, that beautiful opening cinema of Final Fantasy X can be downloaded from Kazaa for free by anyone with an internet connection. And, after all, equally beautiful DVD movies can be purchased for much less than the cost of a video game.

But for others, it is the idea of building the character that drives the game. These are the people who eagerly fight those few extra battles, to pick up the last hundred experience points they need for the next level before they save for the night. For so long, this overlooked group has had to actually play the game in order to build up their character, mindlessly mashing the confirm button through pages of unread text dialogue as the characters spoke of their epic quest. But those dark days are now over. Witness, Progress Quest.

Progress Quest is a freeware RPG, available at www.progressquest.com. However, it encompasses all the elements of any great RPG: a story, a series of quests and challenges, enemies to exterminate, and treasure to be acquired. The clear focus, however, is on character development. Building your levels, and consequently your statistical indicators concerning strength, toughness, speed, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma, are one aspect of this. Improving your arsenal of spells and equipment is another.

The variety present in this game can justly be described as finger-licking good. Hundreds of different monsters and enemies to exterminate make every session of Progress Quest unique. The huge array of foes is complemented by dozens of different spells, hundreds of items, and literally thousands of unique magical items that can be amassed. Moreover, while character development is the focal point of the game, the designers have not left us without an enthralling story to complement the action. Perhaps you were impressed by the four chapters into which Final Fantasy Tactics' epic narrative was divided? Well, four chapters might seem like a lot when it comes as an assignment from an English teacher, but it does not a legend make. Progress Quest treats us to over fifty acts of heart-wrenching drama, in a plot so twisted and expansive that one needs a notebook in hand to keep track of the details.

Yet, every game must have its flaws. A few players have complained that Progress Quest is too linear. Such an assertion boggles my mind. With hundreds of combinations of characters and races to choose from, your choices and decision making play a vital role in determining your character's future and development. And once you hit that 'Sold!' button to leave the character creation screen…. well, actually, the interactive portion of the game is over at this point.

That's right, there's one little aspect of Progress Quest which I perhaps glossed over so far. You must understand that when I describe this as a ''game,'' I am stretching the definition of that word to its utmost limitations. When you ''fight'' enemies, what actually happens is that you watch a progress bar filling to chronicle your destruction of the enemy in question. The game provides you with a text summary of the battle--Executing [monster name]. Then you move onto the nest enemy and watch the progress bar refill. Executing an ancient fire giant. Executing two cardboard giants. Executing an unhealthy porn elemental. This occurs over and over and over again. Your developing story, your current quest, and your advancement in levels are represented by other blue bars quantifying your steps forward in neat, even percentages. Once you create a character, simply leaving the program running, even minimized, will be enough to propel your character forward. As the game's creators warn, however: Your character will make no progress, I repeat, no progress, when the application is not running.

What's weird about this is that, despite the obvious deficiencies of this format, a large culture has surrounded the game. The online play mode has attracted at least 100,000 players on the various servers, who ''compete'' to create the most elite character. Of course, the competition is playful, but many characters are developed to levels in the high 70's, representing literally months of continuous development. Forums at the site attest to the fact that many people check on their progress regularly, observing the new weapons their avatar has acquired and his recent statistical boosts. What kind of person can enjoy the mindlessness of watching progress bars smoothly fill in and then suddenly empty once more? Apparently, there are many more of them than I suspected.

The classic review categories of graphics, audio, and gameplay don't really apply to Progress Quest--there is no gameplay to speak of, not a single sound effect or minute of music, nor are the graphics anything more than a glorified spreadsheet. This ''game'' is essentially a joke that has taken on a somewhat disturbing life of its own. As a humorous satire, Progress Quest earns a 10/10. But it quickly loses its appeal, of course, since there isn't really a game here. Still, the program is very small and quite amusing for a few minutes, and it's worth a download.


Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 01/14/03, Updated 04/10/03

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