King’s Quest Chapter IV: Snow Place Like Home. Versions Reviewed (PS3, PS4 and PC versions)
Final Score: 6/10
I continue my review series, this time reviewing the penultimate fourth chapter of the reimagined King’s Quest. The chapter tells another more or less 'standalone' story with choices you made in previous chapters having an impact. This chapter like the second goes back to a somewhat more claustorphobic destination in the location of the Ice Palace/Frozen Castle. However, the fairly long first half and introduction does allow for some more open outside visuals, although much of the locations are places we have seen already. While there are elements that require knowledge of previous events, the story itself still remains largely stand alone. However "present" storyline ends on a rather bittersweet cliffhanger again, as does the main story itself. Chapter 5 is shaping up to be a sad tale indeed. Like previously big spoilers were will be avoided.
The premise of this story begin s with a retelling of the kidnapping of Alexander (an event discussed only briefly in the classic King's Quest series). This time around Graham witnesses first hand the kidnapping of his child, nows who did, but not where he took the child. Manannan goes out with a bang, killing or injuring many of the guards we have grown to love throughout the series.
The rest of the game is sort of a mix of a retelling of the end of KIng's Quest 3 (this time no three-headed dragons involved), a bit of KQ5 (Icebella "returns"/"seen for the first time"), a buddy story/father-son adventure, and a puzzle game.
Once the main story begins, we learn that Alexander has returned to Daventry some 18 years later after escaping slavery from his evil Master Manannan (who in this universe was training him to be a magic user to potentially defeat Graham and take over his kingdom at some point, regicide, and he has a number of these slaves if Alexander failed him). The 18 years in Daventry have been largely uneventful, and peaceful, and Alexander enters to find them working on the kingdom's rules and addendums and discussing taking a vacation soon. Graham is surprised to see his son return, and automatically assumes this 'stranger' is his son. He decides it is a time for a vacaiton and to get to know his estranged wayward son. Before going he shows his sons tokens of his life and choices in Daventry, and gets supplies from the town from his favorite proprieter.
Graham hires the Merchant of Miracles to take him to their chosen destination, and after some packing they start their travel. After some travel games to pass the time they reach their destination and learn that its been frozen over, and there is a mysterious palace there. LIke all good adventures Graham decides to enter, and solve any puzzle he can find.
The family quickly gets separated, and have to work to rejoin each other, while uncovering the fact that things are not as they seem.
In the present things are becoming a bit worse for the family. Family disputes, Graham's health, and other issues. The story is taking a very dramatic direction, and a serious cliffhanger leading into Chapter 5 Its all heartwarming and stressful at the same time, and will be interesting how it will all be resolved.
Length & Exploration
Depending on your skill with puzzles this chapter is going only going to last you 2-6 hours at the most. For me it was only 2-3 hours long. This is probably the shortest chapter yet. There is no exploration, isntead you are offered a linear path through room upon room of puzzles. The only difference in rooms comes from whatever Prncess you rescued in Chapter 3, and/or the virtue path you are following (Compassion, Wisdom, or Bravery). This chapter more or less will lock you down whatever path you had previously been taking in earlier episodes.
That is to say if you chose Neese, your story will head 'West' into Tanalore, if you chose Neese your story will head East into Avalon, with sllightly different starting outside areas for both, but quickly rejoining up to the same path to the Ice Palace itself.
Depending on your alignment path, you will only be able to enter one shop in the twon related to that path (the other doors will be locked with some explanation about the whereabouts of those characters). Amaya again represents Bravery, the Feys represent Compassion as usual, and Acorn takes over for Wisdom (did he represent a wisdom path in Chapter 3?). While its untested, as player who has been splitting the difference in their choices in earlier chapters may or may not have access to one of the doors, but they will only be able to enter one of them.
Trivia: If you start this chapter from scratch you will end up with Neese, on a mostly 'compassion' path.
The characters seem to be self-aware of the fact that this episode is extremely linear, and just room after room of puzzles, and will make many funny comments about it and about puzzle adventure games in general.
Sound/Voices & Characters
Nothing has changed in the quality of the characters, all returning voice actors do an excellent job. This is probably the last time we get to hear Josh Keaton play the part of Graham, before it completely goes over to Christopher Lloyd, and he does a wonderful job of a little older (perhaps not any less serious) Graham, now in his 50s (oh how the time has flown). While he may have matured physically and let his stomach go, and added a full beard to his visage, he's no less into adventures, and puzzle solving, which he maintains his young 'greeky' enthusiasm for, and tries to show to his son he has never seen in 18 years.
The new actor who plays Alexander plays a 'hipster' somewhat 'angsty' rendition of the prince King's Quest fans know and love from KQ5. Dressed in adaptation of his KQ6 outfit (here said to be made from his baby blanket), he has grown up only knowing how to solve things with magic, and is not interested in doing puzzles in the classical sense, like his father. Meanwhile Graham has lost his innocent fascination with magic, and fears it, and has suffered nightmares form it for 18 years. The voice actors do an excellent job of building up the tension between a father who now fears magic, and a son who loves the freedom magic gives him both literally and philosophically. Finally how they reconcile their differences. The more laid back adult Alexander with his beard is also well done and sounds very much like an over-protective father to Gwendolyn.
Wallace Shawn still steals the scenes he is, becoming even more diabolical over time. If you had any compassion or mercy for his character, you probably will have lost it early on into this chapter.
The new voices for the Sphinx and Icebella are also well done. The Sphinx is a smooth character, and quite mysterious. While Icebella is perfectly cold.
Rosella "warrior princess" is also a fun character as well, although she is not on screen for most of the chapter. It would be fun to have a future chapter in a future season devoted to her alone (perhaps while Graham is still in his 40s). Her adult counterpart is also well done.
Gart grows in personality in this chapter both coming off as sinister and spoiled, but also ultimately showing his love and compassion for his family. Love flows thicker than water. It will be interesting to see what future stories can be told about him, since he is said to already be a great adventurer in his own right.
The only weakness I would point out, and this is a big one, is the lack of conversation trees in this chapter. All conversations are accessed by repeatedly talking to an NPC over and over again, until they run out or repeat their messages. The conversations in the earlier chapters were one of this series' strong points both in voice interaction and story.
The second weakness is with the Ice Guards, they speak in an alien/mystical sounding backwards language. While they sound pretty cool, it probably would have improved things if they had had 'translation subtitles' below them to increase the storyline, and make the conversations a little less 'one sided'. Otherwise, most of the interactions between Graham and the Ice Guards seem pointless, and confusing.
Chapter 3 introduces some nice cues from King's Quest 3, including bits of the classic Manannan theme. The use of the KQ5 town theme is a jaunty Christmas-like holiday carol song is a nice touch as well. Plus elements of Icebella's theme used as well in her palace. The lovely Girl in the Tower rendition from Chapter 3 makes a return her and used for emotion as well.
Added bonus in the prologue sequence which occurs in Graham's 30's we get to hear Josh Keaton sing a lovely lullaby to his son, to the main KQ5 theme music. About puzzles and life of adventure, while trying to avoid scattered toys on the ground.
Sierra are you listening? After Chapter 5 is released please release an extended sound track. This series really disserves it
The animation is still quite well made, still robust and expressive. In particular Wizard Manannana's and Graham's, and Alexander's facial expressions. In this chapter gotta love the 'cat' animations, and those for the Sphinx as well.
This chapter adds a nice paint job to all the original places. From night scenes in Daventry, during the search for kidnapped baby, to winter and holidays descending on Daventry. Nice snow drifts, and icecycles, and holly, mistletoe, and wreathes decorating the buildings.
The scenes in Tanalore or Avalon frozen over look great. From the iced over sea or the huge icecycles sprouting between the giant evergreen trees.
The palace itself looks mostly great, with expansive halls with pillars, to crystal growths in different colors, and the magical energy lines. Albeit since its mostly blue ice, and each puzzle room uses the same assets over and over again, it can get a bit
Puzzles in this chapter turn towards a casual puzzle game nature. Think Professor Layton or Portal. With am of slider puzzles, box puzzles, line puzzles, and return of the Duel of Wits. Other than a few 'Riddles" and one particular statue puzzle, there is no classic inventory puzzles in this chapter.
This can make this chapter feel a tad repetitive, and interfere with the build up of the story. Amusingly many of the characters make fun of this lack of classic adventure gaming, and overuse of 'Puzzle" puzzles.
Still this is one of the weaker points in this chapter IMO.
The overall presentation is great. Though the overuse of 'puzzles' (in the traditional sense, not the adventure game sense) at the expense of a coherent story, or exploration is a big weakness in this chapter. What story there is the animation, music, and voice work is still top notch.
But from a story telling perspective, if I had been Gwendolyn, listening to my Grandfather trying to describe how puzzles functioned, without any visual medium to show how they functioned, I'd probably gotten 'lost' and bored really quickly.
The bad in this chapter is again, that it was too short, lacked interactivity with characters. There is mostly only cut scenes, or puzzles, and not much in between. The linearity and lack of exploration is a huge hit. This chapter feels more linear than Chapter 3 and more claustrophobic than even Chapter 2, and that says a lot.
You are in a labyrinth couldn't they actually put an actual maze in the game, to add a bit more exploration between puzzle rooms? Perhaps some more rooms with characters to interact with, and some 'backtracking' with inventory puzzles as well. Perhaps it would have been a retread of Chapter 2, but maybe have had some of the towns people or even your family members scattered throughout the labyrinth and have to help them out with their puzzles at different points, so they can move on.
So in summary the weakest points are lack of exploration, shortness of the chapter, slow pace, lack of interaction in traditional puzzle or character sense, and large stretches with very little storyline are a big hits to this game.
This is probably my least favorite chapter, not so much for the characters (which were the best part, and I would have liked to have seen more done with them). The story is relatively strong where the story exists, but takes a hit from being divided up so much by slow puzzles, and lack of interaction. Still this chapter had some of the strongest well told present sequences yet, and leaves me wondering how everything will be resolved in the last chapter.
This chapter includes many interesting ideas and world building for this universe further linking previous chapters together, and explaining certain earlier mysteries while opening up new ones. I can't wait for Chapter 5. So long to Josh Keaton, we'll see how Old Graham handles the puzzles next.
This chapter loses quite a few points for me for mostly the even more linear design, and overuse of non-adventure game casual puzzles.
But overall great Character designs, voice overs, and story remains its strengths, and still worthy of play. Especially as it builds up to the final chapter.
As I mentioned in my previous chapter, this series is far more enjoyable when you accept the series as a reboot and alternate universe. If you overthink things about how this series interacts and 'fits' or doesn't 'fit' with the original series you will probably destroy your enjoyment of this game. If you instead look at how this alternate universe functions, and how certain changes influence the characters, and how and why they interact differently in this series universe, you will see how charming it really is (and how well the developers have gone about thinking about things in their 'world building').
Note: This chapter further confirms that the old games are 'fairy tales' and overly dramatically embellished and idealized versions of the stories. This new series represents 'simpler' ideals (and that stories don't always end happily ever after). if you can accept a story like "Maleficent" twisting the tropes, you'll find a lot of enjoyment out of this series, and the changes will be fun and surprising to you, as they have been for me.
Overall, I give this series a six out of ten. I had contemplated giving it a 4 or 5 or ten, but bumped it up due to the fact that the characters themselves are well done, and the story is still charming (and tugs on your emotions). But I still see this chapter as the weakest so far due to a number of issues mentioned above, and for that I have to knock it down several points. Still, definitely go out there and play it, and it looks like its building up to a great finale (at least storywise).