Game 340: Fantasyland 2041 (1981)

From The CRPG Addict


Fantasyland 2041
United States
Crystalware (developer and original publisher); Epyx (later publisher)
Released in 1981 for Apple II and Atari 800
Date Started: 9 October 2019
I had already passed through the 1980s at least twice before someone recorded Crystalware’s catalogue on MobyGames. The company was so prolific that it’s hard to believe that its absence on my blog went unremarked for so long. Between 1980 and 1982, the company–founded by John and Patty Bell–produced at least seven games with enough RPG elements to make my list, including the already-covered House of Usher (1980) and Beneath the Pyramids (1980). They may have produced the first Japanese RPG, with Dragon Lair (1982) appearing the same year as the better-known The Dragon & Princess.
Fantasyland 2041 (the manual tags the title with an A.D. but the title screen does not) is clearly meant to be the apogee of John Bell’s contributions to the genre as an author if not as a publisher. He even writes in the manual that, “This will probably be the last great Fantasy that I write.” The game combines themes from several mythologies and shipped on seven disks, which must have been some kind of record for 1981. It’s too bad that Bell wasn’t writing in a technological era that could better accommodate his ambitions.

The game had epic ambitions, but these were not epic platforms.


Thematically, Fantasyland combines elements from Disney World, the film Westworld (1973), and the television series Fantasy Island (1977-1984). It takes place in a giant live-action-role-playing theme park, presented as the natural future of Crystal Computing, although one which the owners (“John B.” and his “pretty young Swedish wife, Patty”) have been forced by “religious zealots” to set up in the Australian Outback. The entrance fee is $3 million.

The park consists of seven sections, each contained on its own diskette: the introductory Hall of Heroes, Congoland, Arabian Adventure, King Arthur, Olympus, Captain Nemo, and Dante’s Inferno. The ostensible goal is to rescue Guinevere (if you’re a male) or Lancelot (if you’re female), but beneath everything is a Great Mystery, and Crystalware offered $1,000 to the first people to solve it, with separate awards going to Apple and Atari victors.

The game begins with your little character standing at the entrance to the Hall of Heroes, although it tries to have things both ways by presenting what looks like a first-person view but then having the character walk “up” past the doorway, past the roof, and past the screen text to enter the opening that goes to the “real” hall. The background continuously scrolls rather than presenting as discrete screens.

The game often suggests a first-person perspective even though the character walks around the screen from a top-down perspective.

The rooms beyond the entrance are full of objects and companions that you can buy for various amounts of money. (You start with 5,000 gold pieces.) In the first room alone, I was offered a diving suit, a diver, a horse, a Zulu warrior, a zombie, rations, a submarine called the Tari, fuel, a blowgun, a samurai, a cabin boy, an archer, a knight, a crossbow, and a tunic.

Maybe later.

The items and positions are randomized for each new game. After a few false starts, I learned that you want to purchase as many resources as you can, and as many companions as you need to carry them, in the Hall of Heroes. You continue to find treasure and to get opportunities to spend it later in the game. You have to make sure you buy plenty of rations, or you and your companions will immediately starve to death.

Some of my inventory after initial purchases.

I had expected the other lands to branch off the Hall of Heroes like spokes, but instead you explore them in a linear order, starting with Congoland. The area consists of around 12 screens of various terrain features, offered in the manual as “jungles,” “mountains,” and “swamps.” As you explore, you can find treasure chests with gold or valuables (e.g., bone necklaces, emeralds, diamonds) that you can later sell. Mountainous areas feature crevices in which you can lose your equipment and companions, and swamps feature sinkholes that perform the same function. Occasionally, you have to have a particular item to progress; for instance, a plank or boat to cross a river or a lantern to see in a cavern.

Losing a gem in the mountains of Congoland.

Controls are even more basic than the previous Crystalware games. The joystick moves the party, and the only keyboard commands that you use often (at least in the starting area) are A)ttack and F)lee when encountered by enemy parties, P)ick up, D)rop, U)se, and T)rade.

You get attacked a lot as you explore, by area-appropriate enemies like tigers, gorillas, headhunters, and Zulu warriors. The character doesn’t really fight in these battles, instead trusting in his army of companions. (If they all die, the character dies soon afterwards.) Their numbers plus their weapons and armor make up the army’s combined strength, pitted each round against the enemies’, with round-by-round losses on both sides fairly formulaic depending on the variances in strength. Victories don’t really confer any benefit to the party except the opportunity to loot enemy equipment, so I think it’s a good idea to flee from most battles. Overall, the combat system is rather underdeveloped. Coupled with the inventory system and the way certain items are needed in certain places, the game feels not unlike Robert Clardy’s Wilderness Campaign (1979).

My party squares off against some natives on the other side of a river.

One repeated encounter is with a “witch doctor,” who will join you if you defeat him in the first round of battle. He comes with a shrunken head and earth magic, which you can use like an item of equipment. He can die in combat, but if he does, eventually another will approach you.

Eventually, you cross a river in the northeast (you may have to fight a pack of piranhas) and make your way to Kabunga Village. There, you can stop at the various huts to sell valuables and buy adventuring equipment and companions, including most of what you need in Congoland specifically. North of Kabunga Village is a “banana grove” where every tree offers some rations.

Trading in Kabunga Village.

In the far northeast corner is the entrance to King Solomon’s mines, a maze for which you need a lantern or else you lose an item every few steps.

In case we catch malaria.

It took me several abandoned characters and hours before I understood the game enough to make it to the mines. The manual recommends that you “conquer the sorcerer of Congoland” before you enter the mines. I wasted a lot of time looking for him before I realized that’s simply a fancy name for the witch doctor that you encounter repeatedly.

The mines contain the same sorts of treasure and encounters as the wilderness area. At the center, I found King Solomon’s Temple with the spirit of Solomon blocking a door and the number “666” on the floor. Using the witch doctor’s earth magic made the ghost disappear, allowing me to enter the chamber beyond and transition to Cathay, the opening village of Arabian Adventure.

The final screen of Congoland.

Before I continue, let’s talk about the manual and the so-called Great Mystery. I think I explored Congoland comprehensively, and I didn’t find anything with any text except for the “666,” although there might have been more to find in Solomon’s Mine. I suspect that solving the Great Mystery is going to have something to do with the manual and the stories it relates about six sample adventurers and their initial explorations of each land. The first section relates the story of “Tisha: Queen of the Jungle,” who gets this riddle as she enters Congoland:

The treasures of Solomon, his Gods, his worth
10,000 wives and concubines to make a temple fair
A young lad who he deeply loved with long and flowing hair
Bagies burnt on hilltop fires, a nation plunges down
A thousand temples to Pagan Gods the King has lost the crown
A magic ring the demons shrink and on that ring a sign
The eater of heads a mystery is hidden in the rhyme
One two three four five six seven — 666 or 777
22 clues from here to there–from the bottom neath the squid
To the Dragon’s Lair

Other than the 666, which I found on the floor of Solomon’s Temple, none of the imagery in the poem seems to correspond to the features in Congoland. There’s a similar poem to go with “Thomas of Arabia’s” adventures in the game’s version of the middle east.

Arabian Adventure switches background and text color but otherwise plays much like Congoland. You can purchase goods and companions in Cathay and in the city of Baghdad to the far northwest. In between are treasure chests, sandstorms that make you lose inventory, oases where you can gather food, and a curiously large group of locked doors that you can unlock with keys found in the chests. Monsters include scorpions and “Turks.”

Reaching Baghdad ends this level.

A couple of chests refer you to the manual to look up, for instance, “Treasure #5.” This turns out to be a giant golden Buddha that I can’t even begin to carry. The use of treasure numbers with manual descriptions was earliest seen in the Dunjonquest series, and it’s possible that the Crystalware titles owe more to Dunjonquest than I have previously speculated.

Six giant golden Buddhas on the outskirts of Cathay.

You escape the Arabian Adventure via a door in Baghdad. It’s blocked by a genie who only moves when you use the air magic of your own genie. The door leads the player to King Arthur’s realm and the third adventure and game disk.

I suspect the “sorcerer” will end up playing the same role as the witch doctor and the genie.

I have a feeling it’s not going to be too hard to simply whisk through all the levels, find Guinevere, and “win” the game, but without figuring out the Great Mystery. So I’m going to slow down and repeat the first two levels and see if I can pick up any more clues.

Fantasyland isn’t really an RPG by my definitions. There’s no character development and no “personal” inventory. Nonetheless, it’s an intriguing quasi-RPG from the days before RPG standards, and I’m impressed by its ambitions even as I’m frustrated by its limitations.

Time so far: 3 hours

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