Video Game: ZanZarah: The Hidden Portal

aka: Zan Zarah
Amy is an Ordinary High-School Student from London with a penchant for Fantasy Literature. One day, while left at home alone, she is surprised by a sound coming from the attic, where she finds a casket with a stone tablet inside that suddenly transports her to a colorful magical landscape populated by faeries, elves, goblins, dwarves, and the rest of the fantastic creatures. She is greeted by a goblin named Rafi, an adventurer extraordinaire, who managed to cross the barrier between his native Zanzarah (where Amy has just landed) and Amy's own Earth. He wasn't driven by scientific interest, though. Zanzarah is in grave peril: Dark Elves roam the landscape, wild faeries attack travelers, contact between settlements is lost due to unnatural obstructions, while the White Druid, who is supposed to protect the lands from evil, is helpless. But the legends also speak of a saviour who will be summoned from Earth to become the greatest Faery Duelist of all times and to Save Both Worlds... for whatever is afflicting one world will inevitably echo in the other.

ZanZarah: The Hidden Portal is an Action Adventure game with Pokémon-style faery training/duelling, Metroidvania and RPG Elements, and a simple plot in the vein of The Longest Journey. It also features beautiful visuals, music, funny pseudo-languages, and surprisingly tactical combat (once you figure out how to shootnote ).

The game was developed by the German studio Funatics Development and released by THQ in 2002. They also tried to release an Expansion Pack, ZanZarah: The Lost Village, but it was Cut Short. After languishing in IP limbo since THQ's closure, the publishing rights to the game were picked up by Daedalic Entertainment for a rerelease on Steam in August 2015.

The game provides examples of following tropes:

  • Action Adventure: The Faery Duels are definitely action. Amy's quest apart from that is a simple adventure. Guess that makes it...
  • Ambiguous Time Period: Just when exactly does the game take place? On the one hand, Amy's house interior and the urban landscape in the windows look almost Edwardian, on the other, her house has television and she herself runs around with a Walkman on her waist.
  • Amplifier Artifact: Elemental cards are a case of this, pumping up the powers of your active faery of the respective element. Stone faeries are given the ability to move boulders, fire faeries prevent you from getting roasted alive while strolling alongside flowing lava, etc.
  • Another Dimension: Zanzarah to Earth. Earth to Zanzarah. The world of faeries to both. All three were the same thing in the past.
  • Bag of Holding: The faery bag you get at the beginning of the game is described as a useful invention capable of containing numerous items without any weight or size gain.
  • Bonus Boss: There are several Faery Trainers who are not essential to progressing the main plot, but provide an extra challenge, nonetheless, such as the ice faery master near the waterfalls.
  • Bottomless Pits: Falling off a Faery Duel arena results in the involved faery's instant death. Also, falling off a cliff is one of the few ways to kill Amy herself (apart from sinking into the swamp and roasting her alive). However, as long as there is a bottom, Amy doesn't take any visible damage from falling down ridiculous heights.
    • Non-Lethal Bottomless Pits: There is a way to abuse the game's Check Point system with this: if you don't want to jump all the way back after completing a jumping puzzle, you can just save your game and leap down into the abyss, only to respawn at the entrance to the location. The only penalty you get for that is that all switches you may have activated there will be reset.
  • Broken Bridge: Various natural obstacles keep the player from advancing to certain areas, probably most notably a boulder blocking the way that you come across in your very first location after leaving London. These can gradually be removed as you gain special items, Metroidvania-style.
  • CamelCase: The title of the game is properly spelled with capital Zs, although the name of the world isn't.
  • Cards of Power: Over the course of the game, you discover elemental magic cards which grant the faeries of their respective element some additional and very useful powers.
  • Cast From Hitpoints: If a faery runs out of mana points in a offensive spell, any further usage of it will drain its hitpoints instead.
  • Convection Schmonvection: Averted, as Amy can't really walk near lava unless you got the Fire Card for your fire faery.
  • The Chosen One: Amy, according to ancient prophecies.
  • Dark Is Evil: The Dark Elves. No justification is given, they just are.
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: Fielding a faery that has an elemental advantage against your current opponent usually means you are safe from defeat... unless the enemy faery has a lot of HP and uses a spell that charges much faster than yours, in which case it can kill you faster with its weak but fast jabs before you can inflict enough damage to it. That the enemy faeries never run out of mana helps.
  • Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors: There are 12 elements in the game that the faeries can belong to, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Choosing the advantageous element usually means that you do several times more damage than usual and have higher critical hit chances, while the opposing faery does several times less damage and has a much lower chances to crit.
  • Escape Battle Technique: The game had the Garlic Atomizer that scares away any attacking wild faeries but you have to buy it beforehand and it only works in the short time between being attacked and the Fight Woosh. During a faery duel, making your way to the miniature sun at the center of the area allows you to escape random encounters (but not boss battles). In a particular bit of cruelty, the wild faeries can use it, too, if they are losing badly, robbing you of the XP you earned in blood (that is, in faery hit points).
  • Expansion Pack: The unreleased add-on The Lost Village. Most fans never even learn it was in development.
  • Fairy Companion: The whole game revolves around training them. Additionally, one constantly accompanies Amy during her travels. Many of the female (humanoid looking) faeries are particularly Fairy Sexy, especially the Nature Faeries.
  • Fame Gate: Kind of. Some bosses will refuse to fight you unless your faery collection is extensive enough, blocking the plot advancement and forcing you to go capturing wild faeries.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: So there are elves, goblins, dwarves, faeries, ancient prophecies, evil dark elves...
  • Featureless Protagonist: Amy, despite being given a distinctive appearance and a nominal voice, expresses next to no personality, thus being the classical stand-in for the player.
  • Female Angel, Male Demon: Light faeries are universally feminine and angelic (as well as Fairy Sexy), while most Dark faeries appear masculine and demonic.
  • Gotta Catch Them All: There are 77 faery species in the game, all with unique appearance, attributes, and spell preferences. Capturing or otherwise obtaining all of them without cheating is quite a feat, but not necessary to win the game.
  • Guardian of the Multiverse: The White Druid and also, the Guard, though the latter's function is more about defending Zanzarah from Earth's humans.
  • Hands-Off Parenting: Apparently, the shopping trip that Amy's mom embarks on in the opening cutscene is so epic, she never actually checks up on her house in many weeks, during which her daughter is nowhere to be found most of the time, while said house becomes gradually overrun by bizarre fey creatures.
  • Heroic Mime: Downplayed, as Amy does talk (mainly in cutscenes) but very rarely—and never in actual gameplay dialogue.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Gameplay example: if you let a spell charge up for too long (indicated by the screen starting to flash) without unloading it into the enemy, it hits you instead. While at low levels, your main concern is losing half of your hit points that way, at high levels, spells with nasty side effects are introduced, which also apply to you...
  • Humans Are Bastards: The White Druid (despite himself being a human) came to believe this after witnessing the Witch Hunts in our world that forced the magical creatures to escape to Zanzarah. He is therefore not thrilled to find that another human has found her way to his realm, but he grudgingly accepts Amy's help in rooting out the Dark Elves. It turns out that he is actually the Big Bad of the game, driven to villainy by his paranoia of humanity.
  • Jumped at the Call: While alone at home, Amy investigates a strange noise from the attic, is transported to a parallel dimension, and told that she must save it from some vague evil, with zero directions at how to do so. She takes it all in stride and dives right into exploring this strange new world.
  • Levels Take Flight: The Cloud Realm is situated on giant platforms hovering a few kilometers over the north-eastern lands.
  • Light Is Not Good: The White Druid, the supposed Big Good of the land turns out to be the Big Bad.
  • Magical Underpinnings of Reality: Faeries power everything in Zanzarah.
  • Magikarp Power: Like the Pokemon trope namer, some faeries in the game are quite weak, but evolve into much more powerful forms at certain levels. Subverted by the starter Nature faery Sillia, however, whose "ultimate" third form is actually much weaker than her second one.
  • The Man Behind the Man: The true perpetrator of most woes that befell Zanzarah is the White Druid himself.
  • Mechanically Unusual Class: The Metal faeries don't evolve at certain levels like most others do, but instead require Dwarven Tools to upgrade to the next higher evolution level. On the flip side, it means that once you find said tools, you can immediately upgrade a lowest-tier Metal faery to the highest-tier one without having to Level Grind it first.
  • Mook Bouncer: The wild Psi faeries have a lot of nasty abilities that can bring about a Total Party Kill faster than you can switch out your faeries. Luckily, they only live in a few caves up in the mountains.
  • Mr. Exposition: Rafi at first, but the Owls are actually a much better example, as the sole purpose of them being scattered all across Zanzarah is to provide advice to Amy.
  • Only One Name: Amy is just... Amy.
  • Ordinary High-School Student: Amy.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Local dwarves reside mainly in the underground city of Monagham, and their language slightly resembles German.
  • Our Elves Are Better: The Elves in Zanzarah are a peaceful, nature-loving homebirds who rarely venture outside Endeva and Tiralin. Their language sounds a bit like French.
  • Our Goblins Are Different: The Goblins in Zanzarah are restless travelers, mainly residing in the swamp town of Dunmore. Their language is especially funny.
  • Phantom Zone: The Faery Duel Arenas are pocket dimensions with increasingly bizarre architectures. While the low-level arenas look like rather reasonable Ruins for Ruins' Sake, high-level arenas may look like a giant stone corkscrew or a number of random stone slabs just floating in the sea of nothing.
  • Powers as Programs: You can swap offensive and defensive spells among your faeries as you see fit, as long as they meet the slot requirements.
  • The Prophecy: Rafi firmly believes in an ancient prophesy of The Chosen One—a human girl, to be precise—who'd become the greatest Faery Duelist of all times and deliver Zanzarah from evil.
  • Real Life: By contrast to the colorful world of Zanzarah, Amy's apartment in London is Deliberately Monochrome, although the faeries (all captured faeries that are not on her primary strike team hang out in London) color it up a little. Given that London is completely irrelevant to the game's plot, you probably won't be using the Rune of Return a lot (except to change the faeries in your party).
  • Recurring Boss: Seamus the elf sees Amy as his rival after his father picks her as his successor in pixie hunting rather than him. He keeps coming after her over the course of the game with more and more powerful faery sets.
  • RPG Elements: All faeries gain XP and level up through combat, can be equipped with increasingly powerful offensive/defensive spells, lose and gain mana/HP. There is also something like the Player Party, namely, Amy's five chosen faeries that follow her into battles (although only one can be fielded and directly controlled by the player at a time). For a cherry tapping, you can give your favorite faeries unique names.
  • Rule of Fun: The gameplay is very simple and incredibly complex at the same time. You won't believe how fun the Faery Duels are until you win a few.
  • Save Both Worlds: By completing the main quest Amy not only rids Zanzarah of evil taint but also brings magic back into the real world, which is implied to save it from dullness.
  • Scenery Porn: The screenshots of the game, especially the Cloud Ream, look like they've been taken from a landscape art exhibition.
  • Stupidity Is the Only Option: To access the Great Tree where the Elemental Card of Air is kept, you'll have to engage in one of the most loss-making deal chains in video games: the only path to the tree is blocked by a tournament entrant who won't budge until you give him a Segbuzz faery—which cannot be found in the wild and must be traded for a Suane, which, at that point, can only be obtained from a miniquest in the Cloud Realm. At the end of the day, you trade the most powerful Light faery in the entire game (that does not even exist in the wild), for a level 0 Worgot—a weakling Nature faery. You do get the Segbuzz back after you beat its master in the tournament, but it's still hardly a replacement for Suane.
  • Summon Everyman Hero: Amy is not exactly summoned to, but rather lured into Zanzarah by Rafi.
  • Swamps Are Evil: The Great Swamp around Dunmore is a rather grim and difficult area for one of the early stages of the game. Still, the native goblins are pretty nice people.
  • Taking You with Me: One of the best ways to deal with multiple attacking Nature faeries is to field your Psi Stone Wall with lots of hit points and a full damage reflection spell. The Psi are weak against Nature, so he gets killed pretty quickly... but since he has massive health and Nature faeries usually don't, he takes two-to-four of them with him via damage reflection. He doesn't get XP (unless you are agile enough to withdraw him just in the nick of time) but hey, it's a cruel world.
  • Third-Person Seductress: Averted with Amy, who, despite being a female controlled from third-person view, wears a conservative (or rather, practical for long travel) clothing and leaves all the ass-kicking to her faeries (who are controlled from first-person perspective, anyway).
  • Trapped in Another World: Subverted, as the teleportation rune to London is found in the first house in Endeva.
  • Utility Party Member: For the Elemental Cards to function, you must keep a faery of the corresponding element in your party's first slot, and since you can only swap out faeries in London, you may have to trade off some combat efficiency for the ability to clear environmental obstacles. This is particularly egregious in the case of Air faeries, which are needed every time you need to leap over some air eddies (unlike the boulders and prickly bushes, which disappear for good once a Stone or Nature faery works its magic on them), and Fire faeries, whom you have to keep in your primary slot at all times while exploring the magma caves.
  • Warp Whistle: The teleportation runes enable instant travel to certain fixed locations (which not necessarily the same as places where you find them) from anywhere else.
  • Wide Open Sandbox: The game world is basically this, though you have to advance the main plot to access more areas. However, there is no time limit, and you can wholeheartedly devote yourself to exploration, faery gathering, and training the moment you leave Endeva for the first time.
  • Will-o'-the-Wisp: Will-o'-whisps are found in the Great Swamp around the Goblin village of Dunmore. You are supposed to follow them to get to the island in the middle of the swamp, because the area is extremely convoluted (by design) and covered in fog, to boot.
  • A Winner Is You: After defeating the Guard, you are treated to a short cutscene congratulating you on defeating the evil and showing faeries flooding into our world, after which the credits roll.

Alternative Title(s):

Zan Zarah