Posted on Wednesday, August 15th, 2012 at 6:56 AM by Kimo Kuppe
Last time I gushed over beloved Sierra franchise Quest for Glory and while those games hold a special place in my cold black heart they were not my first games. That honor belongs to Sierras flagship franchise Kings Quest, a series known at first for breaking ground in pc gaming as a real adventure game. As time passed, gaming grew and improved upon the genre while Sierra continued to crank out 7 more Kings Quest games that progressed down the path of complexity and cruelty. While the game taught puzzle solving skills through methods like trial and error and trivia knowledge of classic fables, it also taught you that death was waiting everywhere for you and needed little excuse to cut your adventuring short in ways that still boggle my mind. I’ve decided to split this article into two parts because the series it 8 games long and splitting content is the hip thing to do. The Hobbit Movies and Starcraft get away with it so why shouldn’t I? Probably because they have something I don’t; fans.
Kings Quest: Quest for the Crown came out about a year before I was born, making it alarmingly difficult for me to play. Truth is I didn’t actually play the first game until 1989 and by that time the series was up to its fourth installment. Nonetheless, I started at the first game. The game was enthralling to my puny toddler mind and in order to play it I would have to learn 2 things; 1: how to read, and 2: how to write. Until I did my playing consisted mostly of my mom playing it and reading the game to me while I offered bizarre possible solutions to the games problems, some of which actually worked, eliciting much giggling and squealing in joy from me and surprised praise from my mom. When I finally learned how to play it on my own I quickly learned how to spell things correctly, as the game would demand perfect spelling to even its most esoteric of words.
I’m neglecting to tell the story of the game. Fortunately as it was made in 1984 its not a particularly complicated one. You are Sir Graham of the kingdom of Daventry. Last of the knights as the kingdom has fallen on pretty rough times. The current King, Edward, is old and near death and has just endured a chain of terrible events that have left the kingdom in shambles. The most important of which are the loss of the 3 treasures: a shield that can deflect any harm, a chest of gold that never empties, and a magic mirror. Your task is to retrieve these treasures, become the king, and restore Daventry to its former glory. Taken at face value the kingdom is rather puny! The only other people are a woodcutter and his wife and I supposed technically a roaming wizard whose only concern is casting a paralysis spell on you and running away. Other than them the kingdom has numerous monsters ready to kill you, and even if you are familiar with the game they will definitely kill you at least once per play-through. The quest itself is pretty simple by todays standards, or maybe it just seems that way to me because I’ve got it committed to muscle memory at this point. New players can look forward to weeks of frustration and confusion most likely. And that holds true for all the games in the series.
Kings Quest 2: Romancing the Throne sends you on a quest to find a queen. The lady in question just happens to be a beautiful maiden locked in a tower that your magic mirror showed you. So its off to the far off land of Kolyma to seek her out. The only path to her lies behind 3 magic doors near a canyon that you will need to find 3 magic keys to unlock. Once again you are subjected to cameos from famous fairy tales. Fortunately the game isn’t quite as harsh on you as the previous one. There seem to be slightly fewer monsters out to kill you and while your possessions can be stolen by a speedy local dwarf you can get all of it back, no harm done. Graphically it’s a slight improvement over the first game. Slight in that they seem to know how to work the 16 available colors better to make things look nice. Gameplay-wise nothing really changed quite yet. Graham would still take anything that wasn’t nailed down and stuff it in his bottomless trousers and then apply the items to everything that was nailed down.
It wasn’t until Kings Quest 3: To Heir is Human that things would really change. Now Graham was nowhere to be seen, nor his new wife. Instead you are given command of a pink and blue suited youth named Gwydion who is a slave to the evil wizard Manannan. Hes a big jerk who makes you do chores when he’s around. He has pledged to kill you on your 18th birthday which is quickly approaching. Your task is to wait until he takes one of his numerous naps or trips to figure out a way to dispose of him and escape to discover your origin and fate. The game has a rather powerful sense of urgency by installing a timer at the top of the screen as a reminder of your impending doom. You get about 15 minutes or so of time when Manannan isn’t a threat to figure things out and explore the land searching for a way to stop him. If you are found outside the house or in possession of certain items you will be killed on the spot by him, so you have to do things quickly and allow enough time for you to return to your slave post, make sure nothing is out of place, and then hide the forbidden items before he sees you with them.
The pressure is pretty heavy and almost maddening some times, but in a way its also a big part of the fun. To make it even harder, you have to cast spells that require you to input commands quickly, and without spelling or phrasing errors, AND type out the incantation from the manual perfectly or you will be killed by your sloppy magic. To be honest this might be my favorite of the series for its unique playstyle and challenge even on repeat playthroughs. The timer is especially handy for speed runs. Other than the timer and the spells, the gameplay still hasn’t really changed, and the graphics are again only slightly improved.
The next game in the series would finally improve the graphics, but that will have to wait another week until I write Forgotten Franchises: Kings Quest Part 2: The Search for More Readers. We’ve got a ways to go in this franchise and we aren’t even out of the 80’s yet!
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