King’s Quest Chapter I: A Knight to Remember. Versions Reviewed (PS3 and PC versions)
Final Score: 9/10
I’m reviewing the first chapter of the reimagined King’s Quest. While it is the first part of a five part series (plus playable epilogue). It largely stands on its own merits, and is a great game in its own right.
I won’t discuss the story much as I want to avoid spoilers. There are three main components to this chapter. The story takes much of its influence from The Princess Bride, and there are very few ‘direct’ fairy tale references (that I noticed). There are a few indirect offhand remarks in some of the conversations which might be references to fairy tales, or mythological creatures. There are also a number of references to Monty Python, the Holy Grail in particular. Most of the references are nods back to the original series (but often out of context or a different context from the original games).
The first is the framing story, these take place in the ‘present’, and involve Old Man Graham telling his granddaughter Gwendolyn his stories, while using the magic mirror to re-enact the events. These stories influence how she reacts to the world around her. At times even Gwendolyn adds her own thoughts, and influences the stories as well.
The first of these stories, is a flashback to Graham in his twenties when King Edward sent Graham on the quest to find the Magic Mirror of Daventry, which had been stolen. It is a retelling of Dragon’s Lair sequence in King’s Quest I; Quest for the Crown. This event while inspired by the original version is completely different than any previous version of King’s Quest 1. It introduces to us to the fact that while this series is loosely connected to the original series, it is not afraid to take us in a completely different version of the King’s Quest Universe. There are a number of things encountered in the intro that foreshadow later things in the game, and even future episodes (Graham tells us it will all make sense in the future). This includes beds hung around as traps, a makeshift bedroom, and the fact that the dragon is missing one eye. At the end after finding the Mirror, the player has to make a decision on how Graham defeated the dragon (either through Compassion, Wisdom, or Bravery) these influence what kind of character he is for the rest of the chapter, and will likely have consequences in future chapters as well.
The main part of the game is a story set when Graham was a teen, and his attempt to become a Knight of Daventry. Again his actions are made up of the virtuous paths of Compassion, Wisdom, and Bravery. These all have consequences on the path through the chapter, and order of certain events. The story gives a much different backstory than what we were previously introduced to. Instead of being at least a third-generation citizen of Daventry born and raised, we are introduced to him coming to Daventry for the first time to take part in a Knight Tournament. The winner of the tournament will likely become the next King of Daventry. Now, I’m a huge King’s Quest fan and bound to nitpick even slightest story details, so obviously changes from the original stories can be somewhat annoying. But I went into the game with the idea that it was a reboot/reimagining of the franchise and not to take it too seriously. But still taking the time to compare the differences between the two game universes. There are certainly many ways the game does reimagine and change details from the original series.
It might be easy to simply dismiss this series as just being a reboot (with its own original canon) in its own universe (loosely inspired by the original game series)…. However, the developers left a way out for those who might want to merge the series together into a single timeline. The mechanic of using Graham as an unreliable story teller, leaves the option that Graham is embellishing, making up tall tales that never happened, etc. While this takes having to ignore some of the lore mechanics of the magic mirror, it is still a viable option for those looking at from the perspective of a ‘shared/merged universe’. It might be said both interpretations are valid.
Back to the story, it is fun, there are a lot of in-jokes to King’s Quest, adventure gaming, and even other styles of games. It might not be ‘epic’ in the sense that Graham or family isn’t saving the world in some way, or directly saving a kingdom. But it’s a fun little adventure in the likes of King’s Quest 2, getting to meet various fun characters, but the outcome to the story is not necessarily ‘exciting’ or ‘impressive’. Daventry is still ‘going downhill’, Graham doesn’t fix Daventry (that will happen later). But there is foreshadowing of greater things to come.
The writing in the game is great, the characters are loveable and fun. It makes you want to hear everything they have to say, and learn their secrets.
Length & Exploration
My first play through probably took about 7-10 hours. As I tried to find ways to kill myself as much as possible, and tried to use wrong items on many different characters to just to hear the funny reactions. An average player might get 5-10 hours out the playthrough depending on what they try to do. There is plenty of replay due to the three main paths (compassion, wisdom, and bravery, and mixed routes) that will stretch the game further. But most likely only 3-5 hours added for reach additional play through.
This game feels like a genuine full sized King’s Quest game, comparing to the average size of the earliest of the King’s Quest series (KQ1-5), from the amount of puzzles, to the amount of side things to do, all the things to see.
While the first half-hour to an hour of the game is linear and acts as a tutorial (without actually telling you what to do), the game opens up into a fairly wide open and large section of Daventry’s geography, with plenty of exploration, and things to do. While not as large as the map of Daventry in KQ1, its closer to the more compact land of Serenia in King’s Quest V (not counting the desert) in number of areas to explore. Many of the basic areas are actually pretty large themselves taking up several screens. A neat touch is that the screens move with the character in all directions, showing a huge depth to the world design.
Sound/Voices & Characters
The music is easily one of the highlights of the game (definitely worth buying the soundtrack). It’s great to hear remixes Mark Seibert & others work from King’s Quest V in a new context.
The Voice Acting is also high quality, and entertaining. There is no bad acting at all amongst the robust cast of characters. From Old Man Graham’s Christopher Lloyd, to Wallace Shawn as Manny, to the three trolls. One of my favorites is the overly vain Whisper, who always talks about himself in the third person.
The game’s animation is incredible, easily one of the things that impressed me the most. Graham has many fluid animations from climbing ladders, to jumping up or down, pulling himself up ledges, etc.
After playing a number of other Sierra revival games that had extremely wooden animation (Gabriel Knight 20th Anniversary for example, or other games made in Unity), it was great to see a team that took the extra care to give the characters more life and things to do than simply walking from place to place and doing a few gestures. Even the walking motions are nicely done, including the cool flowing elements of Graham’s cape.
The game’s art is somewhat of a mix between realistic aspects of KQ5/KQ6 game with a more animated toony aspects of King’s Quest 7. It has a great hand drawn aesthetic, similar to what was seen in KQ8. But characters and their actions tend to be slightly exaggerated more like the pratfalls and more humorous animations of the early King’s Quest games. For example in KQ1 and KQ2 when graham stumbles off a short step, or is dropped by the condor and rolls across the screen.
Overall the art style of the characters reminds me of a fairy tale picture book, or a Don Bluth film, and not so much the Disney-esque aspects of King’s Quest 7. I think this was a good choice. Human characters look fairly realistic, while those wearing armor tend to lean more towards exaggerated.
The puzzles are perhaps one of the weak points. It has jumping/tile puzzles (see KQ6’s Tile Trap Room, the frozen waterfall stepping blocks in KQ5, or several of the puzzles in KQ8). There are a number of physics based puzzles, some that seem similar to the kind KQ8 introduced, and a few traditional puzzles as well (in generally of the kind that require you to collect something and give it to another, but also a few that require to actually use the items). It also uses Quicktime Events similar to Dragon’s Lair (in place of cut scenes at several points). The last type of puzzle are the conversation puzzles. These playout more or less like Lucasarts conversation puzzles, and are bit more advanced than anything seen in King’s Quest previously (as almost every conversation opens up a dialogue tree, and sometimes gives the player actual choices to make).
But most of the puzzles are not challenging. Hopefully more difficult solutions can be added in future chapters. The one or two spots where I was stuck for a short time, were fixed by simply going back and listening to someone’s conversation again, and looking at the kind of things that the person had around them, or needed. Most of the items connected to a shop for example were used in part of a certain virtue path. You don’t need to necessarily get something from one of the other shops to find the solutions needed to complete one of the paths.
There is a lack of item on item or interactive items in inventory puzzles. There is no way to open, or manipulate items within the inventory. Something that was important aspect of many of the early King’s Quest games. I hope future chapters can fix this.
But there is at least a nice number of puzzles to complete, with about 40 items to use in a single playthrough, and a variety of other types of puzzles as well. There are some nice alternative solutions, while there is no good or bad choices for how certain puzzles are completed (no ‘less points’ or ‘greater points’ like in previous games), it does make things more interesting. In some cases alternate solutions lead down the various virtue paths.
The overall presentation is wonderful. From beautiful backgrounds and vistas, to the wonderfully quirky characters (excellent voice casting), to the great animation, and the story telling. It has a fun mix of puzzles (although they are 'easy').
It is all well balanced.
The game was designed for playing with a gamepad. I have an xbox360 controller on my pc so this is not a problem. It plays wonderfully on console versions. But it might have been nice if they actually implemented a basic mouse based control as well, and avoided keyboard altogether. It has controls like old Grim Fandango or Monkey Island 4, it wouldn’t have hurt to give it updated control like the new Grim Fandango release.
It would also have been nice to be able to skip dialogue, or even most of the game’s prologue story for purpose of future playthroughs.
It might also be nice for the game to implement an additional manual save feature, to allow the player to reload back to before a conversation and try different options, instead of having to play through the game again to hear a different outcome, and make a different choice.
There are a few bugs, like characters clipping with Graham’s cape, the game hanging or crashing when loading between screens. This is even more noticeable on the PS3 which often forces a hard reset to the system. Hopefully these can be fixed in a future update.
Perhaps hold back on the ‘puns’. Ya, some of the King’s Quest games, in particular starting with King’s Quest 3-4 had puns, they were mostly limited to death scenes. Having every character speaking with puns, including young Graham can be a bit out of place. Still this is a minor complain, and as mentioned before the overall writing is wonderful.
Some people might not like Graham’s plucky, and hyperactive personality in this first chapter. Hopefully he tones down as he grows older, and closer to the ages we saw him in the original series. This didn’t have much impact on me, but I can see why it’s a concern to some other King’s Quest fans.
I highly recommend this game to anyone who likes King’s Quest, or like adventure games. It might not be perfect, but it feels like a return to the classic style. More so than we have seen in many years. I highly recommend getting the complete collection so not to miss out on the playable epilogue chapter.
I knock a few percentage points off the score for not having a better save interface, and no way to skip dialogue. As well as for some of the bugs. Finally for the slightly weak puzzle design. Hopefully they can implement item on item inventory puzzles as well, instead of leaving it simply finding and delivering items to characters asking for them.
I personally did not have any problems with the quicktime event cutscenes or context jumping/physical puzzles. I felt the mix gave it a nice variety.
While I'm not a big fan of 'reboots' I don't knock off any points for the decision to 'reimagine' the series, and let the game stand on its own merits.
Hopefully the series will also have more direct fairy tale influence in future episodes as well. With characters or locations drawn directly from classic fairy tales or classic literature. Hopefully the series will also take us to some new lands outside of Daventry as well.
However, I can’t wait to see where future games/chapters in the series take us. I feel the Odd Gentlemen, have come closest to resurrecting the heart of King’s Quest, and even so far to make it their own (with some neat original ideas, great casting, and fun situations), that it stands on its own merits, as a wonderful first part to what will hopefully be an excellent series.