There are many, many things that I love in this world. Books, games, movies, TV shows—each genre contains works that have stuck with me throughout the years and helped shape who I am. One of the works that impacted me earliest in life is the King’s Quest series.
And seeing as how chapter one of The Odd Gentleman’s King’s Quest reboot was just released earlier this year, and that I just got around to playing it recently, I’m feeling in the mood to gush about this series as a whole and what it’s meant to me in my life.
Hey, if you can’t gush about stuff you love on your own blog, then what good is a blog anyway?
SO WHAT THE HECK IS IT ANYWAY?
King’s Quest is a series of classic adventure games released throughout the 80s and 90s by Sierra, a game company that, together with LucasArts, produced a very large chunk of all the classic adventure games anyone played in the 80s and 90s. They were sort of like the Marvel and DC of classic adventure games. While LucasArts had classics such as Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, The Dig and The Secret of Monkey Island (among many others), Sierra had the King’s Quest series, the Space Quest series, and the Leisure Suit Larry series (among many others).
Sierra games tended to differ from LucasArts games by having much harsher penalties for mistakes (you had to save constantly, because you were pretty much guaranteed to die and/or make the game unwinnable somehow at some point), and also by sometimes featuring puzzles that could only be solved using “Sierra Logic”—i.e. throw everything in your inventory at it until something works, even if it makes no sense. This made the games quite challenging, but also often frustrating. Sierra also experimented with wildly different styles and interfaces in their games – with results varying from brilliant to absolutely terrible. All of the games were full of their own type of humor, and the King’s Quest series is especially notorious for wallowing in really bad puns, particularly when you get yourself killed.
King’s Quest was the first of Sierra’s signature series, with the original one coming out way back in 1983, three years before the first Space Quest game and four years before the first Leisure Suit Larry game. And from the very beginning, King’s Quest was an innovative and incredibly influential piece of work, taking the idea of old text-based adventure games like Zork and not only adding pictures to the story, but animating it. Doesn’t sound like a big deal these days, but back then it was FRIGGIN AMAZING.
Not counting the many remakes, fan-made sequels, or the new reboot, there are seven official games in the series. (Okay, okay, there’s actually eight, but… we don’t speak of the Eighth.) The first four were all text-based, requiring the player to type commands into a parser system, which could sometimes get a little tricky if you were bad at spelling or couldn’t guess the right word to get the game to do what you wanted. Starting with King’s Quest V, the series switched to point-and-click style, with voice acting rather than text boxes. The graphics in KQ5 also were a huge improvement over previous installments. As from the beginning, the King’s Quest series served as Sierra’s kind of “guinea pig” series for trying out new technological improvements and styles. KQ5 had quite a few problems, being something of an experiment, but all these problems were smoothed out in King’s Quest VI, which many (including me) consider to be the best of the series and a masterpiece of the adventure game genre. Then in King’s Quest VII, Sierra tried switching things up again, to both good and bad effect: on the one hand, the game was a lot less cruel than its predecessors as far as sudden deaths and unwinnable situations; on the other hand, they switched to very cartoony painted animation that often looks a little too much like the Zelda CDi games for comfort. 0_0
And then in King’s Quest 8 they CHANGED EVERYTHING and it SUCKED MONKEY DONGLES and that is why WE DO NOT SPEAK OF EIGHT.
Over the years many of the older games have been remade with updated graphics and expanded story elements. A fan-made sequel game called The Silver Lining was also made, but I unfortunately don’t know much about that except that apparently you can explore Chessboard Land in that game? which you weren’t able to do in KQ6 and I always wanted to do that and OMG I may have to play this game just for that.
And then, of course, this past July, Sierra/Activision put out the first chapter of The Odd Gentlemen’s brand new King’s Quest reboot, “A Knight to Remember.”
But we’ll get to that in a bit.
I first played King’s Quest VI on my Granny’s computer when I was probably about eight or nine, and immediately it captured my imagination with its gorgeous environments, its engrossing puzzles and its engaging storytelling. Very few things had ever sparked such a longing for adventure in me as that game, and its influence on my imagination continued for many, many years afterward. I even drew fanfic of it, back before I knew what fanfic was.
After finishing KQ6, my brother and I went on to play KQ7, which wasn’t as good as KQ6 but I still have fond memories of it. I never got around to playing any of the other games in the series till I was quite a bit older, but I currently have all of them on my computer (some, multiple versions) and I love them all in their own special ways.
(Except for Eight, of course.)
SO WHAT’S THE STORY?
I’m so glad you asked, hypothetical internet reader.
The King’s Quest series follows the adventures of the royal family of a fantasy kingdom called Daventry. Daventry is basically your typical fairytale land, full of wizards and witches and dragons and trolls and spellbooks and magic mirrors and bandits and fairies and swords—and, of course, kings and quests. However, it’s really only the first game that’s actually set in Daventry; the rest all take place mostly in other realms with names like Kolyma and Llewdor and Tamir and Serenia and the Land of the Green Isles. But they all are pretty similar, in that every game draws heavily upon classic fairytales and mythology (and, let’s be honest, also Disney), sometimes blending them in very interesting ways. For example, KQ6 draws heavily from the Arabian Nights tales, while also featuring a minotaur and the River Styx from Greek mythology, a whole Beauty & the Beast subplot, an entire island ripped straight out of Alice in Wonderland, and also a villain named after an H.P. Lovecraft character. Oh yes. And KQ7 gets even crazier, with an entire realm directly inspired by Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, plus the three Fates of Greek mythology, Queen Mab, and Oberon & Titania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That’s just how these games roll.
The royal family of Daventry consists of four main characters: King Graham (he of the blue feathered cap), his wife Queen Valanice, and their two children Prince Alexander and Princess Rosella. Graham is the most iconic protagonist of the series, starring in three out of the seven games: King’s Quest I: The Quest for the Crown, King’s Quest II: Romancing the Throne (har har), and King’s Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder. Meanwhile, Alexander and Rosella both get to be the heroes of two games each. For Alexander, King’s Quest III: To Heir is Human and King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow (oh, the puns). For Rosella, King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella and King’s Quest VII: The Princeless Bride. Valanice also gets to be a co-protagonist with Rosella in KQ7. So everyone gets a turn, yay!
***CAUTION: GENERAL STORY SPOILERS AHEAD (but no Puzzle Spoilers, don’t worry)***
The first game tells the story of how Graham, a brave knight, first becomes King of Daventry. The old king Edward has grown weak and weary, and the kingdom has fallen into disorder and poverty. Once it had been prosperous and peaceful, thanks to three magical items: a chest that was always full of gold, a shield that guaranteed you victory in battle, and (most importantly) a magic mirror that could gaze through time and space. But many years ago, all three of these items were stolen, and since then everything in Daventry has just kinda sucked. So King Edward sends Graham, his most trusted knight, out to search throughout the land and recover these lost items. If you don’t get eaten by the moat monster or crushed by a rock two seconds into the game, Graham succeeds in his quest, finding the last item (the magic mirror) among a dragon’s hoard at the bottom of a well. As would become typical in these games and many others, there is more than one way to recover the magic mirror from the dragon: a cruel way, and a merciful way. You get the most points for choosing the merciful way, natch, because Graham is a good guy.
Anyways, old King Edward croaks right as Graham returns with the lost relics, and since King Edward did not have any children, Graham succeeds him as king of Daventry.
KQ2 begins not long afterward, with a lonely King Graham seeing a vision of a beautiful girl in the magic mirror. (THE FREAKING MAGIC MIRROR is probably the most useful item in any of the games, since it is what actually causes the plots of three of the games (2, 4 and 6) to happen; as such, it is much more memorable than the other two enchanted artifacts of Daventry, which basically do nothing in the story.)
So Graham, all lovestruck for this random girl he saw, travels far away to the land of Kolyma to find her. There he discovers that she’s being held captive, Rapunzel-style, by an evil witch named Hagatha, in a tower in a weird kinda purpley alternate dimension located behind three magical nesting doors.
If Graham manages to get to the Grape Soda Dimension without falling off an evil collapsing bridge or some other horrible death, then he rescues the beautiful maiden—Valanice—and she agrees to marry him right on the spot because… well, I guess because she thinks the feather in his cap is kinda cute. Also he’s a king, so why not? (Valanice is not the most well-fleshed out character in this series, in case you couldn’t tell—though the VGA remake of the game did try to provide a little more depth to the story).
KQ3, now, is where the story starts really getting really good. In this game, the villain is a wizard called Manannan, who (as later games reveal) is part of a secret club of evil wizards called the Society of the Black Cloak.
Manannan is ONE OF THE MOST STRESSFUL VIDEO GAME VILLAINS EVER, and probably the most sinister of all the KQ villains except perhaps that one in KQ6 who was named after an H.P. Lovecraft character. Manannan also has a bad habit of kidnapping young boys as infants, renaming them “Gwydion” and making them his slaves until they turn 18, at which point he STRAIGHT UP MURDERS THEM. For reasons left ambiguous in the game, Manannan has a grudge against Graham, so he kidnaps Graham and Valanice’s son Alexander as a baby and makes Alexander his slave, calling him Gwydion and never telling him about his true heritage.
You play as “Gwydion” in KQ3, trying to avoid being poofed into dust by Manannan (or tumbling off a windy mountain path, or tripping on Manannan’s stupid cat and breaking your neck on the stairs), while you struggle to collect spell ingredients and learn to cast different spells, in hopes of escaping before he murders you.
After you finally succeed in turning Manannan into a cat (MOST SATISFYING VILLAIN DEFEAT EVER), “Gwydion” escapes on a ship with some pirates and ends up learning his true identity as Prince Alexander of Daventry, son of King Graham and Queen Valanice. He makes his way back home only to discover that his sister, Princess Rosella, was recently abducted by a dragon (but not the same one from KQ1), and he goes out to rescue her. After defeating the dragon, the siblings return to the castle and the whole family has a joyous reunion. Feeling that it’s time for the questing torch to be passed on, Graham tosses his feathered adventurer’s cap to his kids…
… Only to have a sudden heart attack. Which is exactly where KQ4 begins. No, for real.
After his sudden heart attack, Graham is in bed with his worried family around. Rosella, overcome with grief, leaves and cries alone in the throne room—when suddenly THE FREAKING MAGIC MIRROR lights up again and shows her a fairy named Genesta, who tells Rosella that there’s a magic fruit in her land that could possibly heal her father.
But there’s a catch: Genesta can’t return Rosella to Daventry unless Rosella helps her defeat her nemesis, the evil fairy Lolotte. Rosella agrees to help and is transported to the land of Tamir, where Genesta disguises her as a peasant girl so that she can more freely travel the land.
Rosella finds the magic fruit for her father, but can’t return to Daventry with it until she defeats Lolotte, which involves her doing a lot of very questionable things, including tricking a unicorn into trusting her so that she can turn it over to Lolotte, stealing Cupid’s arrows, and digging up several graves.
There’s also a part where she gets swallowed by a whale and has to climb up its tongue and IT’S THE WORST EVER.
Along the way, however, Rosella manages to win the affections of Lolotte’s green, ogreish-looking son Edgar, who despite not being very pretty, is actually really sweet and kind of adorable. He helps you escape when Lolotte imprisons you, and then Rosella straight up murders Lolotte as she sleeps. S’right, Rosella gets sh*t done.
Anyhoo, then Genesta, being kind of a dingus, decides that all nice people should also be pretty because the world just wouldn’t make sense otherwise, and she turns Edgar into a studmuffin to reward him for being such a good guy.
Handsome Edgar then confesses his love to Rosella and begs her to marry him… And Rosella, kind of astonishingly, is all, “Aw, well, um… Sorry, you’re really sweet and all, but no thanks.” Seriously! What! That like, never happens in stories like this.
Then Rosella goes home and heals her dad with the magic fruit, and everyone in the Daventry family is happy once more…
… That is, until KQ5, when another wizard named Mordack shows up out of the blue and quite literally STEALS ALL OF CASTLE DAVENTRY AND EVERYONE IN IT while Graham is out taking a leisurely stroll through the woods. Upon returning home and finding everything gone, Graham is all, “WTF, I swear my castle and my family were, like, right here.” At which point a talking, monocled owl named Cedric shows up and tells Graham that he saw the whole thing, and that he knows a guy who could probably help him with this situation.
And now, I dearly love KQ5, but it is in many ways one of the most ridiculous entries in the franchise. They’re all a little ridiculous in their own ways, of course, but IMHO this one and KQ7 take the cake for ridiculousness. With KQ5, most of the ridiculousness comes from Cedric, who hangs out with Graham throughout the entire game and is basically good for absolutely nothing except warning you about danger after you’ve already walked into it, getting captured and/or injured, staying behind like a wimp while you venture into dangerous areas, and starting rather obscure internet memes.
That said, KQ5 is great fun and the art is absolutely beautiful. Graham follows Cedric to the home of a good but super old wizard named Crispin, who gives him a broken wand and wishes him luck (thanks a bunch, Crispin). As Graham travels around helping random people/animals/insects with their problems—the usual business—it finally comes out that the wizard Mordack who stole his castle and his family, is not only another member of the Society of the Black Cloak, but also Manannan’s brother. And now he’s after revenge against the royal family of Daventry because he’s just a wee bit pissed about that whole incident where Alexander turned Manannan into a cat. (And Alexander, rather hilariously, is all, “No dude, you don’t understand, I just accidentally turned him into a cat! I don’t even magic!”)
Anyhoo, after several rather odd misadventures involving yetis, sleds, custard pies, a snow queen named (*sigh*) “Ice-abella,” a really aggravating sea monster, and some harpies, Graham and Cedric finally make it to Mordack’s castle, where Graham meets a young woman named Cassima, who’s also being held prisoner there.
As it turns out, Cassima is a princess from a place called the Land of the Green Isles. She helps him sneak through Mordack’s castle, and Graham finds a way to power up Crispin’s broken wand, using it to defeat Mordack in a magic duel. His family rescued and his castle restored, Graham & Co. head back home—but not before Alexander massively hits on Cassima and asks to come visit her in her home.
And thus begins KQ6, not long after KQ5: Alexander is moping around Castle Daventry, pining for Cassima, whom he just can’t stop thinking about. But unfortunately, he can’t simply head out to the Land of the Green Isles to pay her a visit and maybe take her out to dinner and a movie… because no one knows where the Land of the Green Isles is. No one’s even heard of it. And, honestly, if I were Alexander, I’d be wondering at this point if Cassima hadn’t just made up some random place off the top of her head in order to passive-aggressively reject my advances.
But once again THE FREAKING MAGIC MIRROR gets the ball rolling by showing Alexander a vision of Cassima far away, crying out that she’s feeling alone and distressed, and wishing that he were there.
Alexander declares that he can use the stars he saw outside her window to find his way to the Land of the Green Isles. And so he goes—sailing for a long, long time, until he finally spots land—and then his ship gets caught in a storm and smashed against the jagged rocks, leaving him shipwrecked on the shore…
… And you guys, I’ve gotta confess, KQ6 is my King’s Quest game.
I love all of them, don’t get me wrong, but… This was the one I played as a kid. This was the one that burrowed into my brain and stuck with me throughout the years. I can still remember the thrill I felt watching the intro to this game for the first time, seeing Cassima in the magic mirror, watching Alexander’s ship go down in the storm. I remember walking through the village with the old lampseller’s constant shouts of “OLD LAMPS FOR NEW.” I remember reading through the guidebook again and again, hunting for clues when I got stuck on a puzzle. I still get chills when I open up the game, and that soft RenFest-style dulcimer music plays, and the narrator says, “Long ago, in the castle of a kingdom called Daventry…”
THIS WAS THE GAME, YOU GUYS.
I’m not the only one. Of course, many people love the other games best, and for good reason. For a lot of people, KQ5 is the game. For some people, it’s KQ3 or KQ4. But KQ6 is considered by many to be the best entry in the series, and honestly, it is. The landscapes are beautiful, the puzzles are clever, the writing and voice acting are miles ahead of KQ5, and, God, it’s just a really, really good game, y’all. I’m getting all feelsy just thinking about it.
ANYHOO, so Alexander has been shipwrecked on the Land of the Green Isles, and soon finds out that Cassima is sequestered in the castle mourning the mysterious deaths of her parents, who seem to have been murdered while she was being held captive in Mordack’s castle. Alexander tries to see her but is thwarted at every turn by the shady vizier, Abdul Alhazred (who, btw, is yet another member of that Society of the Black Cloak) and his glinty-eyed, mint-loving genie, Shamir Shamazel. The Land of the Green Isles consists of five islands: the Isle of the Crown, which has a very Arabian Nights feel to it; the Isle of Wonder, which is all Alice in Wonderland (and is incidentally the location of the ever elusive Chessboard Land); the Isle of the Beast, which is the stage for a nice Beauty & the Beast subplot; the Isle of the Sacred Mountain, the home of the “Winged Ones,” which is very Greek mythology and is also the location of the catacombs where the minotaur resides; and finally, the Isle of the Mists (not to be confused with Myst Island), where a tribe of druids dwell. As you explore, it becomes clear that someone has been sabotaging the islands, stealing precious treasures from each of them and blaming it on the others in order to cause civil unrest. Luckily, Alexander gets himself a magic map to travel between the islands, and starts going around solving peoples’ problems for them (like father, like son). His quest to reach Cassima eventually leads him to the Realm of the Dead itself, where he faces off against Samhain, Lord of the Dead, in order to save the souls of Cassima’s murdered parents.
Yeah, did I mention Alexander’s kind of a badass?
Anyway, if you play your cards right, Alexander ends up restoring peace between the islands, stealing Alhazred’s genie, bringing Cassima’s parents back from the dead, saving Cassima and beating Alhazred in an epic swordfight. And then he and Cassima totes make out in front of everyone.
Anyhoo, so they get hitched, obviously, and Alexander decides to stay and help rule the Land of the Green Isles with Cassima, rather than return home with his family to Daventry.
And then we get to KQ7… where Sierra had a massive Disney-wannabe phase.
I also have lots of love for this game, for purely nostalgic reasons, but I’ll be the first to admit it’s by far one of the weakest of the original seven (possibly the weakest, if you compare it with the remakes of some of the older games). KQ5, for all its many ridiculous puzzles and, y’know, its Cedric, is without question a far better game than KQ7. KQ7 is just… awkward. It’s a supremely awkward game. There are lots of fine ideas here, but just really awkward execution.
This game focuses on Rosella and Valanice—and y’all, it wants to be Disney so badly that it even opens with Rosella singing a generic “I Want” song about how she’s bored with her princess life and wants adventure in the great wide somewhere.
This game was the second King’s Quest game I ever played after KQ6, which I’d been playing for a couple of years and loved obsessively. When my parents got me this one as a present, I was so excited to finally have a new King’s Quest game to play. And then the game started, and it was all cartoony animation and “I Want” songs and I was just…
… Like, I remember checking the box repeatedly, thinking, “Are we sure this is a King’s Quest game? Maybe it’s some other totally different thing that just happens to coincidentally also be called King’s Quest.” Keep in mind, I also didn’t really know much about Valanice or Rosella as characters at that point, either. In KQ6, you only play as Alexander and barely see any of the other family members (though King Graham’s name gets mentioned fairly frequently); and while both Valanice and Rosella show up at Alexander’s wedding at the end of KQ6, no one actually says their names, and the character designs were so different in KQ7’s new animation style that it took me a long while to realize these two ladies were actually related to Alexander.
BUT ANYWAY, so what’s KQ7 about? Welp, Rosella is still in character from the end of KQ4 (albeit much whinier), vehemently expressing her desire not to get married to anyone, despite her mother’s pushing. A weird little flying seahorse creature pops out of a pond, and Rosella gets a glimpse of a beautiful land through the waters. In a moment of impulse, she dives in, and Valanice, alarmed, follows after her, and both of them then get separated and whisked off to two different parts of the realm of Eldritch. Valanice lands in a desert, while Rosella is pulled into the kingdom of the trolls by the Troll King Otar, who wishes to marry her. Oh, and she gets turned into a troll in the process.
It’s okay, though, she gets better.
So Valanice and Rosella follow parallel plots through the game. Valanice travels through the desert, an enchanted forest, and a town of goofy talking animals (among other things) on her journey to find Rosella. Meanwhile Rosella uncovers a whole conspiracy going on between the sorceress Malicia (aka “Totally Not Maleficent”) and the supposed “Troll King” who dragged her there, who turns out to actually be an impostor and a helpless pawn in Malicia’s scheme, enchanted to look exactly like the real Troll King but unable to remember his true identity. Malicia is planning to use the fake Troll King to set off a volcano to blow up all the realms of Eldritch, because of evulz, and so Rosella sets off to find the real Troll King and put an end to all this whacky volcano nonsense. She ends up traveling through the land of Ooga Booga (aka “Totally Not Halloweentown”), which I admit did scare me as a kid, but only because, in true Sierra fashion, PRACTICALLY EVERYTHING COULD KILL YOU.
Long story short, Valanice gets caught up in this conspiracy as well, and ends up traveling to Etheria, the beautiful land Rosella saw in the pond. She meets the three Fates, unfreezes Queen Mab from a block of ice, and also meets Oberon & Titania, who are the king and queen of Etheria and who, coincidentally, have also been looking for their missing kid lately… In their case, a missing son.
You might guess that their missing son is actually the impostor Troll King. What you won’t guess is that HE IS ALSO EDGAR.
So, as it turns out, this game reveals (read: “retcons”) that Edgar was actually handsome all along. See, he was originally the son of Titania and Oberon, but Lolotte kidnapped him when he was a baby (he and Alexander probably have a lot of stories to swap, eh?) and turned him ugly and gave him amnesia. So when Genesta turned him into a studmuffin, she was actually just restoring him to his original hunky self. And then somehow between KQ4 and KQ7 he ended up making his way back to Etheria and finding his parents… but then Malicia kidnapped him again and turned him ugly again and also gave him amnesia again and geez this guy is worse than Princess Peach.
But, despite not remembering who he was, he still remembered Rosella. Which is kinda sweet. Of course, it led to him basically abducting her, which is not so sweet, but he does say sorry at the end and assures her he wasn’t in his right mind at the time, so it’s all good.
FUNNY STORY: So remember how I said this was the second King’s Quest game I ever played after KQ6? Well, because of that, I had absolutely no clue who Edgar was. Which would have been all right if they’d just explained it in the game—after all, I hadn’t played KQ5 either but I still understood who Cassima was and how Alexander knew her. But KQ7 makes absolutely no effort to explain who the heck Edgar is or how Rosella knows him. There’s not even any mention of him in the game until the very, very end, when you zap him with a magic wand to undo his “troll king” disguise. He turns back into his hunky self, and Rosella’s all, “EDGAR???” and Edgar’s all, “Rosella! Where am I? How’d I get here?” and then Valanice runs in later and Rosella’s like, “Mom, Edgar’s here!” and Valanice is like, “EDGAR???” and then Edgar & Rosella are all gazing deeply into each other’s eyes… And meanwhile, Little Me was sitting there dumbfounded, staring blankly at the computer, going, “Wait—Edgar? Should I—should I know who that is? Have we met him before? Game, help me? You’re not gonna—you’re not gonna explain? No? Oh, well. Okay then. This is Edgar now, I guess. Sure, why not.”
Just thought I’d share that little yarn with you.
So anyway, of course, if you win the game then Rosella and the Troll King stop the volcano, Valanice and Rosella are reunited, Edgar and his parents are reunited, Malicia is defeated, Edgar almost dies but is okay, and he and Rosella go on a date around Etheria. And on their date Edgar asks if he can court her. And for some reason, this time instead of being like, “No thanks,” Rosella is instead like, “Sure, why not.” Probably because he asked to court her rather than marry her this time. He learned his lesson from KQ4, see. Gotta take things slow with Rosella.
But of course then they make out in front of everyone.
Because that’s just how those crazy Daventry kids roll.
As for King’s Quest 8?
WE DO NOT SPEAK OF IT.
Mainly I won’t speak of it because, I’ve never played KQ8 for more than 10 minutes, so I have no idea what it’s really about. But I did start to play it once on my cousin’s computer when I was a kid, and I remember being utterly turned off by it. Maybe it’s unfair of me not to give it another chance, but I feel pretty justified in my hate by the fact that the entire fandom loathes this game, any critic who talks about these games agrees that Eight is utter garbage, and even Sierra tries to pretend it doesn’t exist by not including it in their King’s Quest bundles. Why is it so awful? Well, it’s a poorly designed open-world RPG type thing instead of a point-and-click adventure; the worlds are not at all beautiful or inviting; the scarce puzzles are tedious and annoying; and also the royal family of Daventry is barely in it, and instead you play some generic rando who’s never shown up in the series before and has zero personality. So… yeah, I’m not going near that game ever again. Nope.
THE NEW REBOOT
So, like I said at the beginning, what really brought on this sudden nostalgic ramble is that earlier this year, Activision and Sierra released the first chapter of a King’s Quest reboot developed by a group called The Odd Gentlemen. Following the KQ tradition of having punny titles, the first chapter is called “A Knight to Remember,” and it features a good solid 6-8 hours of gameplay. My brother and I just played it recently, and while it’s certainly quite different from the old games… It also genuinely felt like a King’s Quest game, with all the whimsy, adventure, gorgeous scenery, difficult puzzles and groan-worthy puns that a good King’s Quest game ought to have. And it reignited my inner KQ fangirl, which is really the best possible feeling I could have hoped to get from this game.
So, what’s the story here? Does the game depart from the lore of the original series? Not at all. In fact, it’s extremely faithful so far, merely expanding on a few details from the earlier games – KQ1 in particular (which is easy to do, considering how simple the first game is). There are two different stories going on in the game. On one level, you have a kind of Princess Bride-style frame tale, featuring a very old, bearded King Graham telling stories of his youthful adventures to his granddaughter Gwendolyn, Alexander and Cassima’s daughter. Meanwhile, Graham’s stories influence Gwendolyn in her own competitive interactions with her cousin Gart (presumably Rosella and Edgar’s son).
On the other level, of course, you have the actual story of young Graham’s adventures, which comprises the meat of the game. This setup is especially clever because it means that, unlike the older games where you had an anonymous narrator describing your actions and making terrible puns whenever you die—here, it’s Old Man Graham himself doing all of that.
Did I mention that Old Man Graham is played by Christopher Lloyd? Yes, it is glorious.
Young Graham’s story opens with a sequence based directly on the climax of the original KQ1: he is a brave knight of Daventry, sent on a quest by the aged King Edward to recover Daventry’s lost magic mirror. As in the original game, he climbs down into the well and descends into the dragon’s lair, where he finds the magic mirror among the hoard, and must use his quick-thinking and wits to steal it back and escape the well alive. Upon first recovering the mirror, he gets a vision of himself as king…
… right before inexplicably sweeping the massive thing up into his cape. (His mom sewed really spacious pockets into his cape, as he explains a little later in the game—which earns him the nickname “Pockets” from one of the other characters. ( ❤ ❤ ❤ ) At various points, Graham keeps a huge lit jack-o’-lantern, a ferocious badger, and a pie bigger than himself inside his spacious cape pockets. His mom is a masterful seamstress, it would seem.)
ANYWAYS, after rescuing the mirror, Graham then has to escape from the dragon, which results in a sequence that’s a bit more action-y than one would expect in a King’s Quest game—but, somehow, though it did take me a little off guard at first, it didn’t seem out of place. It reminded me a bit of some of the “arcade” sequences Sierra sometimes slipped into their point-and-click games (there’s also a similar “escape” arcade sequence in the AGD remake of KQ2). Mostly the action here involves dodging rocks and shooting ropes quickly—you’ve got to be quick, but you don’t have to be very accurate, which keeps it from becoming too frustrating. (And thank goodness, because I suck at first-person shooting games.) There are very few of these sort of action scenes in the rest of the game, which consists mostly of exploring the beautiful landscapes, collecting useful items and figuring out how to use them, and chatting with the various characters you meet—the sort of thing that’s more expected from a King’s Quest game. Whenever these more action-y type sequences do pop up, it is always in places that make sense and contribute to the storytelling—it never felt forced or shoehorned in, and once I learned to expect it from the intro, it didn’t even feel like a jarring stylistic transition but a mere extension of the game’s interface.
This whole intro sequence with the dragon and the mirror was a great narrative choice for several reasons. Not only does it connect this game directly with the original King’s Quest I and establish that, yes, this game will be keeping generally faithful to the lore, it also expands on that lore in creative and exciting ways. The original KQ1 was so simple because the technology was still crude; Graham himself was merely a player-avatar rather than an actual character in his own right, the environments were basic and uncomplicated, and defeating the dragon was merely the work of a couple of typed commands. Here, defeating the dragon becomes an entire exciting sequence, the environments are lush and elaborate, and Graham is portrayed from the start as not only brave and resourceful, but a bit quirky and sometimes a little distracted—and this is expressed not only through how he’s animated, but also with the Princess Bride-type narration going on the whole time between Old Man Graham and Gwendolyn.
The opening sequence in the dragon’s lair also serves as great foreshadowing for this game alone, not only hinting at what’s to come in future chapters but also at what’s to come in this chapter, since the rest of the chapter actually flashes farther back in time to show events that happened prior to Graham’s quest to find the mirror. It establishes the overall tone of the game as adventurous and exciting, but also rather silly. The sudden deaths and terrible puns start early on (OLD GRAHAM: “And that’s how I knew the dragon appreciated my good taste! Heh heh.” GWENDOLYN: “Ugh, Grandpaaa!”), but luckily this game took one of the best aspects of KQ7 and lets you go back and try again when you die, instead of forcing you to restore to an earlier save point. (The game autosaves, so you can’t even do that if you wanted to—which I thought actually is kind of a shame, since I often wanted to go back to an earlier point to see how different decisions affected the course of the game.)
Notably, the opening sequence also carries on an idea from the very first King’s Quest: there is more than one way to escape from the dragon, a “merciful” way, a “violent” way, and a “clever” way. However, while your choices in the original game only affected your final score at the end, in this game your choices affect how Gwendolyn responds to the tale, changing a lot of the dialogue and several of the scenes. This choice system continues throughout the game, offering a massive number of options for solving the puzzles and responding to your environment.
In general, you always get to choose between three paths for the various puzzles: the “brute force” path, the “clever” path, or the “compassionate” path. There are also other opportunities for Graham to be honorable or not, such as leaving a tip in one of the shops, clearing some bees out of someone’s picnic, or choosing not to cheat in one of the final challenges. When I played, I generally leaned toward the “compassionate” route on most decisions, since I felt that was more in character for Graham, but it’s worth noting that there are so many opportunities for choices that you can end up switching your tactics fairly often. (And Gwendolyn notices if you do, too). At each stage of the game you’re presented with a main challenge that can be solved in multiple possible ways, and there are honestly so many options for how to complete this game that it’s kind of mind-boggling.
So anyway, story. After the sequence with the dragon and the magic mirror is over, Old Man Graham takes us even farther back in time, flashing back to his teenage years before he even became a knight of Daventry. The majority of the game is thus a prequel to the original King’s Quest I, following teenage Graham’s efforts to win a tournament and become a knight in King Edward’s court. Along the way he befriends several very quirky knights, some colorful townspeople, and a group of very discontented bridge trolls—and, in usual adventure game fashion, he spends a lot of time going around helping people solve their problems… or not. (Like I said, you get a lot of choices in this game.) All this not only helps set up events in future chapters, but also helps characterize Graham as the sort of person who could become a great king of Daventry.
OH, and did I mention the game is STINKIN’ GORGEOUS???
The voice acting is wonderful—not surprising for a cast list that includes Christopher Lloyd, Tom Kenny, Zelda Williams and Wallace Shawn. (Oh! And also the dude who played Gaston in Beauty & the Beast—he was my fave.) All of the characters in this game are colorful and quirky: a narcissistic and overly-gesticulative knight, an old couple who runs a curiosity shop and reminded me a lot of Miracle Max & Valerie from The Princess Bride, a grumpy bridge troll, and a traveling “miracle man” whose cart is pulled by, ahem, “unicorns” (i.e. goats with horns tied onto their heads).
Graham himself is both very different, and yet also somehow similar, to his character in the older games—and I don’t just mean in how he looks, though that too. As a teenager, he’s a lot scrawnier than his older buff self from KQ5, but he’s still got that iconic blue feathered cap. He’s still brave, thoughtful, eager to help others, trusting, patient, and determined to succeed in his quest and do right by Daventry. He also has quite a few snarky moments that reminded me a bit of the humor of classic LucasArts games, especially Monkey Island (GRAHAM: “I’m sorry, what was your name again, Sir Fatso?”) (Even those little snarky moments didn’t feel out of character for Graham to me; after all, Graham in KQ5 got called “King Sass” by the Game Grumps guys).
But Graham’s also A HUGE DORK in this game, which is just really endearing. He’s a total mama’s boy, he’s eager to make friends and discover new things, and he has this habit of sometimes excitedly blurting out long strings of questions whilst bouncing eagerly around the scenery (GRAHAM: “So, frrriiieeeend… WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE COLOR? DO YOU LIKE POPCORN-FLAVORED JELLY BEANS, ‘CAUSE I DO! WHAT’S YOUR AVAILABILITY FOR SLEEPOVERS? ARE WE IN A SECRET CLUB???“). My brother commented that some of the humorous dialogue reminded him a bit of the writing style of Gravity Falls, which I wouldn’t have thought of myself, but is definitely not inaccurate. Much like the game as a whole, Graham’s characterization here is both fresh and new and different… and yet it also just feels right and familiar, not to mention insanely likable. Both young and old Graham had me laughing many, many times throughout the game: young Graham with his dorky enthusiasm, and old Graham with his constant barrage of awful puns.
Speaking of the humor, the game is hilarious. All of the old KQ games definitely had a humorous side, especially the later ones like KQ5, KQ6 and KQ7. Of course, the King’s Quest series was never quite as humorous as some of Sierra’s other series (the Space Quest series is absolutely ridiculous in the best possible way), but you still always had the silly puns, or scenes like this one from KQ6 where a bunch of skeletons do the can-can. But this new King’s Quest turns the humor up-to-eleven. I’m pretty sure there were more puns in this game than in any other game in the series, and there were plenty of ridiculous death scenes that got a laugh out of me (you can get eaten by a goat and mauled to death by squirrels in this game). And not only that, but a lot of the humor came just from the interactions of the characters themselves and their over-the-top animations.
While this new game kept a lot of the same style of corny silliness as the older games, the humor was also quite different—a bit more “postmodern,” in a sense. Like I said, it reminded me as much of the LucasArts brand of humor as it did of the Sierra brand, and there were quite a few jokes in the game that seemed ripped straight out of The Princess Bride or Discworld (the whole subplot with the bridge trolls especially reminded me of something Terry Pratchett would write). A good example of the mix of Sierra-style corniness and LucasArts/Pratchett-style snark is this (very paraphrased) exchange:
CURIOSITY SHOP OWNERS: “Oh yes, he’ll make it as a knight. He’d make a great king one day, too.”
GRAHAM: “Zooouuunnds! Did you just read my fortune?!”
CURIOSITY SHOP OWNERS: “Oh no! We’re just very old and very opinionated.”
(Not gonna lie, I squee’d when Graham said “Zounds.”)
The game makes a lot of references to other movies, usually poking fun at the voice actors—for instance, there’s a scene that’s a direct homage to the famous “battle of wits” scene in The Princess Bride, and Wallace Shawn’s character Manny comments, “This all seems so familiar!” There’s a lot of lampshade hanging and fourth-wall jokes, too, with the game taking many humorous jabs at familiar adventure game clichés. You have the whole “pockets” joke I mentioned before, for example; and at another point you find a hatchet, and Old Man Graham tells Gwendolyn, “So I took the hatchet—and no, before you ask, I did NOT go around using it on everything!”
There are also MANY, MANY jokes and references to the earlier King’s Quest games—the sort of things only true Sierra nerds would get—and I must admit some of these had me laughing more than anything. For example, in the original KQ1, you can die on the very first screen of the game by falling into the castle moat and being eaten by a moat monster. In this game, at one point one of the guards comments, “The King’s always looking for new knights! Do you have any idea how many good men we lost to the moat monster last year?” At another point during one of Graham’s barrage of excited questions, he’s asking about a magical potion in a shop and wonders, “WILL IT LET ME UNDERSTAND THE LANGUAGE OF BEASTS? WILL IT TURN ME INTO AN EAGLE???… or a fly?”—both of which are spells that Alexander can cast in KQ3. I particularly loved these types of jokes because not only did it make me feel like the game was in the hands of people who really knew and loved the originals, but it reminded me of the way that the classic games often made humorous references to themselves too. (For example, in a pawn shop in KQ6, Alexander can find “Owl-courage potion: for spineless owls,” referring to Cedric in KQ5, and “Tongue-climbing gear: tested on over one hundred whale tongues,” reffering to Rosella’s whale tongue ordeal in KQ4.)
Best of all, though, several of the little jokes in this game worked on multiple levels at once, not only as humorous references to the KQ lore, but also as character development and expansion on the lore. A good example of this is a quick little comment where Graham explains that he wears the feather in his cap because his mom gave it to him. Not only is this cute and funny on its own, it adds to Graham’s characterization (as an endearingly dorky boy who loves his mama), and it suddenly gives an actual backstory to the feather in Graham’s adventuring cap! Not that we actually needed to know why Graham wears a feather in his cap… but now we do, and it’s adorable. It should also be said that the game manages to be more than just funny: I felt surprisingly attached to many of these characters, and there was one particularly heart-wrenching moment in the game that actually made me quite sad. Another moment where Graham first approaches Castle Daventry, but cannot yet enter, actually made my heart race with excitement for what’s to come in future chapters. I don’t know if I’d have the same feeling if I’d been playing this game without any prior knowledge of the classic games… But I suspect that, much like King’s Quest 6, which thrilled me as a kid even though I hadn’t played any of the previous five, this game would elicit the same feelings of anticipation in a player even if they weren’t already familiar with the lore.
Overall, the new King’s Quest reboot was beautiful, hilarious, fun, challenging and adventurous. It re-ignited my love for this series (as evidenced by the fact that I’ve just written an 8,000 word blog post about it—zounds!), and it’s set up a lot of very interesting characters and plot threads for future chapters. I can’t wait to play more, and I can’t express how I excited I am to have King’s Quest back again.
I suppose I’ll just have to go back through and replay all the old games until the next chapter comes out. 🙂
Thank you, Sierra, for these games! Thank you, Roberta Williams, for creating them. Thank you, The Odd Gentlemen, for making such a fantastic and promising reboot! And thank you, King’s Quest, for fueling my imagination and love of adventure since childhood. You will always hold a dear place in my heart.