Paul Brenner (drums) and Joseph Morinelli (guitar) of Rochester indie-rock act Joywave tell us about their affection for this easily forgotten entry in the RPG hall of not-quite-famers, released back in 2004 for Xbox, PlayStation 2, and GameCube.
Paul: Published by Electronic Arts in 2004, this game received mostly positive reviews, although some of the more experienced RPG gamers of the world brushed it aside, claiming it to be too similar to a certain Final Fantasy game. Being two high-school-aged kids who had never really been into Final Fantasy, or any role-playing games at all for that matter, this complex and highly detailed Lord of the Rings_-based adventure was a total game-changer. _LOTR was something we could get behind; something we were quite familiar with.
The visuals in The Third Age look amazing throughout. Some of the mechanics in the free-roam, non-combat portions of the game, however, were less than fluid. I'm sure Joseph agrees, half the fun of the game was wondering if it was going to freeze, or if the character would become stuck in certain sections of the map. Games with humorous glitches are always the best. It's quite funny watching the mighty Berethor, Dúnedain of the North, fixed on a stump running in place aimlessly, all set to the magical soundtrack of Middle-earth. It was always the little things that made us laugh the hardest late at night in my mom's basement.
Joseph: We would have so much XP in the first few sections that the game would freeze every time we tried to save. It was frightening, because the last four or five hours of our day were on the line if the game didn't unfreeze. We would sit and watch the "saving game..." notification in silence, sweating. When the words "game saved" finally came onto the screen, a HUGE sigh of relief would lighten the mood and we'd be back at it. Sometimes we'd get so cocky in our traveling—well, our backtracking for XP—that we wouldn't save it, and die in a horribly embarrassing way. After the short-lived battle and the hours wasted because of not saving, we'd both sit in silence, watching Sauron's eye with the words "GAME OVER" on the screen, not wanting to blame each other for the miscalculated step.
Why not watch a music video by Joywave? This is "Somebody New," and it came out earlier in 2015.
Paul: To spare you from all the ridiculous RPG jargon such as skill trees and craft attacks, I'll simply say that a turn-based combat game such as this one requires a lot of patience and even more tact. The battles, much like our late-night hangouts, were also an effective form of therapy for both of us. We'd work our asses off all day and night at our crap jobs, then we'd sit down in my mom's basement—which was also my room—and diplomatically conquer Middle-earth one Uruk-hai at a time. I don't know what I would've done if I didn't have those late-night and early-morning sessions.
Article continues after the video below
Joseph: The dialogue and terminology in this game were a way for me to cope with the mundane nuances of my job at a grocery store. Even though I always dreamed of being a musician for a living, I still had to support myself by working a retail job. It sucked because dealing with that stuff at work wasn't easy without someone to talk to about it. It seemed like every time something bad would happen, I would need someone from my fellowship to back me up. My interactions at work sometimes consisted of rude people, who knew that if they complained enough, they would get what they wanted. People would yell and complain to a sapless youth like myself, and I just had to sit there and take it.
After playing The Third Age however, I began to cope with my job in a completely different way. When a customer would approach me, screaming about how the grocery store didn't have the name-brand soda that he buys every single day, I would think to myself:
"OK. This is a pissed off Uruk-hai Sword Veteran, with Mordor weaponry, who's attempting a Crippling Attack on my soul. At this point I'm pretty tired from playing LOTR: Third Age until 6 AM this morning, so before I endure this verbal battle, I should probably ingest some kingsfoil. I don't have Paul to bounce off of, so I'm going at this solo. He seems really, REALLY pissed off that we don't have this product, so maybe I'll give myself Power of the Valar, allowing me to revive after he verbally destroys my existence. Once I'm revived, I'll give myself a Stone Shield to deflect the Chinese Food projectiles flying from his teeth, let him down easy with a Flames of Ruin, and tell him that the warehouse is out of his precious soda. The only problem is that he'll then go and complain to my manager. I think I have an Ent Draught Phial and some Longbottom Leaf to endure that verbal exchange, so I'll be okay."
In reality, this exchange/battle with a real-life customer would probably only last about 20 seconds. Playing this embarrassing string of events in my head definitely helped, because I didn't have someone next to me to strategize with.
Paul: I also used to be constantly thinking about this game during my days at work. Battle scenarios would run through my head much like I assume a professional chess player would mentally strategize in his spare time. Despite the dozens of times we've already brutally completed this game in its entirety, and despite the hundreds of hours we used to spend laughing, shouting, and jeering at 2 AM in my mom's basement, I know neither one of us would have the slightest hesitation to drop everything and play it again and again. LOTR: Third Age will forever hold a special spot in our heads and hearts.
Joywave is a band—we mentioned that already, right?—and you can hear them and learn more about what they do by visiting their official website.
Follow VICE Gaming on Twitter.