King’s Quest Chapter III: Once Upon a Climb. Versions Reviewed (PS3, PS4 and PC versions)
Final Score: 8/10
I continue my review series, this time reviewing the third chapter of the reimagined King’s Quest. Again it pretty much stands on its own merits, and is a great game in its own right. After the first chapter this is the second to have a pretty clear and stand alone story. While some elements do require knowledge of previous events, this chapters world feels more expansive and less claustrophobic.
The basic premise is that Graham looking for someone to fill in the lonely spot in his heart, travels to the Enchanted Isles to Kolyma after the mirror announces to him that a princess is to be saved. He travels to tower that was shown to him in the vision, and climbs into the tower. Inside he learns that everyone who enters the tower becomes trapped due to a dark magic spell placed on the tower. Everyone including the witch Hagatha, the tower's namesake. Graham learns that there is not one but two princesses, and that there is no such thing as love at first sight at least for him. Along the way Graham visits Enchanted Isles, Kolyma,Tanalore, Avalon, and even back to some locations in Daventry, and for the most part each of the areas looks and feels fairly original (in the same vein as Disney's Malificent to the original Sleeping Beauty).
The story, is where this this chapter shines. Its probably the strongest story and narrative in the series so far. The series is finally throwing in reimagined versions of original characters from the original series, and finally reveals some secrets about characters and villains already encountered in previous chapters of the new series. This one probably has the most references to King's Quest series in general, and it pretty much reworks it all.
To avoid spoilers this is essentially a retelling of King's Quest 2, and it is mentioned off the bat that original KQ2 is more of the fairy tale in this world's universe: although its never that specific, just that the general account is Graham climbs tower, finds a princess has love at first sight (there really are not any direct references to any specifics of the 'fairy tale' version of the story). However, this is a way to introduce the fact that everything is going to be different, and for old players not to assume you know what is going to happen. Yes, it throws everything people think they know about KQ2 down the drain, turns on the garbage disposal, and shreds it into little pieces. There is no recycling going on at all here, and replaces it with something completely original.
It was at this point I realized I had been looking at this series from the wrong angle the entire time. I had been somewhat critical about its random references to KQ terminology, and how it often had felt out of context, or breaking away from established 'canon'. But the fact is this series isn't exactly trying to fit into the original series, but rather its a true reboot, giving an alternate origin story much like how Marvel and DC comics reboot origin stories for super heroes from time to time. Its not so much concerned with original series canon, but creating its own unique canon, one with endless possiblities, and may mess with our head, and any preconceived notions of what we think of King's Quest.
This is intentional, its creating a new world with new rules and laws, and things work differently, and yet feel both nostalgic and normal at the same time. It feels classic, and new both at the same time.
In addition, certain reveals will make you rethink what you thought you knew about events in chapter 1, and chapter 2 as well. Things are becoming even more complicated. Hint: Go back and listen carefully to that conversation between Achaka and Manny in Chapter 1.
Length & Exploration
Ok this chapter length is probably 4-6 hours it feels somewhere between Chapter 2 and Ch1 in length. But some of that may have to do with the sense of scale in the new areas.
This chapter does get a hit as far as exploration goes, since most areas are largely used as set pieces (with beautiful vistas) to offer a sense of scale to the tower, or simply to be backgrounds. The chapter has alot of going from point a to point b, to point c, with rarely any backtracking. Most areas require going from one room to the next, with almost no puzzles, or none at all. Still they do make the new areas feel and look expansive. Closest thing would be the way KQ5 becomes somewhat linear with beautiful backgrounds but fewer puzzles or no puzzles on each screen around the time you reach the mountains to the beach, and from Mordack's island into his castle.
Between travel sequences, the game has a lot of linear story and puzzle design. But feels less claustrophobic since it takes place mostly in outside locations.
Sound/Voices & Characters
This game does not have the same Hagatha, and she is one of the delights of the chapter. Every one of her appearances really steals the show. She has some of the best jokes, and is pretty much anti-thesis to everything one thinks of when they think 'wicked witch'. They have done a good job of making her sympathetic and original.
The two Valanices are also very interesting, and well acted. From the more serious, cerebral and athletic Vee to the more ditzy, clutzy, yet compassionate Neese. Their personalites really shine through.
Its great to see other characters return including Acorn and Whisper (despite the unfortunate cuts of their parts in the previous chapter). Note you will only get the chance to see Acorn if you make a specific decision at a certain point in the game. I haven't yet had a chance to see him myself. Though other characters inform he is there, and he appears in the credits. I will have to encounter him on a different playthrough.
Mordon the Goblin Man from Chapter 2 returns, and he is interesting as well and it will be interesting to see what is revealed in future chapters about him (though its unfortunate that his part was mostly cut in chapter 2, as I believe those cut scenes would make the reveal in chapter 2 and the motives and reasoning behind his anger with Graham all that much stronger, and given him proper character development).
After the mainly recycled soundtrack in Chapter 2, Chapter 3 introduces quite a bit of new music. The highlight including a couple of remixes of the Girl in the Tower theme from KQ6.
The animation is still a strong point, it remains robust and expressive. This Graham is an action-hero and pulls off many different stunts on his way to saving the princesses including even a dance-off competition!
There is still some buggy graphics though such as missing texture/skins sometimes, and Graham's cape overlapping and passing through his body model. But overall everything is beautiful.
There is quite a bit of recycled assets used. But it also introduces quite a bit of new artwork as well. Tanalore certainly has the feel of a tropical island paradise, and introduces a more tribal group of stone goblins. Avalon is filled with giant trees, and feels more magical and alive than the forest in Chapter 1. In addition some areas have gone with a makeover from fall/autumn to spring. There is even some snow and ice at one point, making this one of the more varied as far as locations seen in the series so far.
Puzzles are mostly of the conversation variety. Item based puzzles takea bit of a backseat in this chapter, as many of them are simply pick up an item, and then being told where to put it or use it often in the same room or nearby area. There are however a few challenging puzzles here or there, but for the most part the game has alot of 'cutscenes' and less interactions.
There are a few QTE events but they are generally simplified compared to those that appeared in Chapter 1.
I found most of the puzzles easy, but there were 1-2 tricky ones. But difficulty may vary depending on the individual.
This chapter has some of the best presentation since chapter 1. While slightly weaker as far as puzzles are concerned, the animation, music, and voice work is top notch.
Not much here at all, except maybe that it wasn't long enough, and a tad linear.
Secondly that some of the new stuff makes references to material that was removed from chapter 2, and at worst it can feel disjointed, at best just makes the fact those scenes were excised all that more painful.
Some fans have complained about how it has treated original canon loosely, but if you look at it as more of a reboot and retelling of the origin story with a light-hearted parody feel to it, then it becomes easier to see that this series is working from its own rules, and is full of originality. It becomes fun to be surprised and just go with the flow!
This is in someways my favorite chapter so far. It has the strongest story, linking many ideas together, and revealing quite a bit. It leaves me wanting to see what happens in chapter 4 next. Unfortunately it loses a few points for mostly easy and linear puzzle design, as well some bugginess. But overall great presentation, raises its position in my book.
I highly recommend this chapter to anyone wanting to play a great game, but also for anyone who do not take things too seriously. Bring on Chapter 4.