Revisiting Lord of the Rings’ weird legacy: the Third Era

by -
This actually happens in the game and it is both awesome and dumb as hell.
Image: EA Games – The video game that went on to address the biggest question: what about the second fellowship? The Lord of the Rings films probably came to the height of the movies. This series included many types of hack and slash action games, but one of the strangest and most interesting of all was The Third Age in 2004. Half Final Fantasy, part film reproduction, raised a strange question: How can you portray the story about the Fellowship of the ring, if there is actually no Fellowship?

The answer: you have your own bond with the serial numbers which have been registered.

Although in the Third Age’s retinue there are no hobbits, its motley party follows from get-go in near hilarious proximity effectively in the shadow of the Fellowship in Lord of the Rings. There are two gondorians, a knight called berethor and a ranger named elegost, two rohirrims (Eoaden), an elves (Idrial) and a niece (Hadhod).

Opening with Berethor on their trip to Rivendell to support the Bormir group in Fellowship of the Ring at the Council of Elrond. It’s a 30-hour reimagination of Lord of Rings’ films with RPG elements that may be described as being robbed from the back of a “Kids Like that Final Fantasy X” camera, right?

Screenshot: EA Games

It is strange how near the regular Fellowship is to the actual one through the events of the Third Age — a thing that you can presumably just assemble a few random individuals, rather than being some type of an official title such as the Elrond grant Frodo and his retinue. Guided by Gandalf’s psychic contact – in the form of unlocking film clip books and the new story by Sir Ian McKellen (why did he not consider doing this with Frodo after the Society was split off?

He’s not stopped by death and rebirth from conversing to Berethor!)- The woodlands of Rivendell are racing towards Moria with Berethor and his pals. Then from there to the villages of Rohan and Helm’s Deep and finally Osgiliath, Tirith Minas or perhaps Barad-dúr literally to turn and finish with Sauron’s huge eyeball.

Apart from the few rare instances, Gandalf helps the Balrog in Moria and the Witch King at Minas Tirith or Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli keep Helm’s Deep, they are in the main fellowship, explicitly, just out-of-screen or slightly behind them. It is your party at one time in Moria to observe the Pippin Dwarven Skeleton knock loose falling from the ceiling before you. In another, you literally reach the top while climbing the levels of Minas Tirith during the siege to help Gandalf, as Denethor shouts you in the flames and turns his death into something that clearly requires the theme Benny Hill to the backdrop.

But for all the silliness of playing LotR so closely to movies’ characters and events (but with the original stars), the plot of The Third Age breaks away distinguishably from the films’ premise, it’s arguably the oddest. Early on, in Gandalf’s video reel with Berethor, you find out that the wizard has taken you to a greatness Berethor can’t remember at all (“It’s supposed to be 40 hours’ time for us to let you poke Sauron’s eye with a stick”).

At actuality Berethor can’t truly recall anything at the beginning of the game, except a) he abandoned Osegiliath’s previous battle between Boromir and Faramir’s Gondorian soldiers and Sauron’s Orcs, and b) he was supposed to rally Boromir’s Party in elrond council. Yet Berethor is troubled with these visions throughout the early stages of The Third Age — both the warnings of Gandalph’s import and the ominous threats from Sarumann (a returning Christopher Lee).

Finally, it is revealed that Berethor appears to be the most human in the Middle-Earth. Before the events, he was sadly ensorced by Saruman who thought that Boromir would yield to the magic of the Ring and claim it for Gondor at Elrond Council (or wrest it from Frodo). He would wake up as the Gondorian Candidate with Berethor as Sarumans unknown collaborator at that meeting and take the Ring for Sarum. But he did not! But he did not! And Berethor was all right, for… reasons. Since he was a bit at Helm’s Deep near to Aragorn? It’s unknown. But not everything! He draws what can be characterized only as a “Reverse Aragor.”

First there’s an entirely lifeless romantic sub-complot, in which Berether first falls for Idrial, when she rescues him at the beginning of the game, just to let her go. Furthermore, the cause for Berethor’s first flight was shown in the second battle for Osgiliath was the fact that he was stabbed, like Frodo, with the King of Witch Morgul blade. Unlike Frodo, however, Berethor had not steadily poisoned him into a Wraith. He had to wrench Morgul’s dagger point out of his chest in the mid-fight to harm the Ring Wraith.

Screenshot: EA Games

This is bananas. It is… bananas. It made bananas all the more, that the ludicrous Middle Earth fanfare was wrapped around a sterile knock-off from the Final Fantasy X fighting systems, one of the most popular RPGs of the platform at that time. It makes the Third Age a re-visit like the play of Ian McKellen lore-dumping Lord of the Rings on you, a strange blend of great turnbased Fantasy RPG. But there’s a charm that few other LotR games have captured ever since in his inadvertent timidity.

Better games were played, for example the Shadow of Mordor, but neither the concepts were so deep at the heart of the movies nor the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. All is there, in his own strange way: the idea of tenacity in the face of evil, that the most unlikely of us may come to the occasion and become heroes. It’s just like you are throwing a heck of a kitchen sink that is made from the middle earth.