Wednesday, September 4, 2013

King of King's Quests

When it comes to books or movies, the first in a series is usually the best.  However, in the case of video games, this is the exception rather than the rule.  Hence, it probably will come as no shock to you when I say that the sixth installment in the King's Quest series is hands down the best of the bunch.  Now, before anyone objects, let me explain why.

King's Quest 6: Heir Today Gone Tomorrow represents a culmination of all the best aspects of the King's Quest games which had come before while simultaneously avoiding the mistakes of the later entries in the series.  Unlike any of the other numbered titles, six also has a strong narrative thread running through the entire game.  This is most likely due to the storyline being co-written by Jane Janson of Gabriel Knight fame.  Pretty much all of Sierra's "Quest" games were a collection of item driven puzzles with a few story elements tossed in here and there to motivate or reward players.  However, in the case of King's Quest 6 these twin pillars of "story" and "puzzles" are masterfully woven together such that each compliments the other.  Better still obstacles encountered throughout the game have multiple solutions which leads to diverging paths in the plot.  The game has several different (non-failure) endings as well as whole areas of the game which can be skipped (or missed) entirely.  As you can imagine this lends King's Quest 6 a significant degree of replayability, something  rarely heard of in a point-and-click adventure game.

Moving from macro to micro, the cast of characters and writing are great, painted backgrounds are beautifully rendered, and the game features full voice acting.  Despite being one of the first Sierra games to have voicework the quality is surprisingly competent.  Onscreen sprites are well animated thanks to a kind of rotoscoping technique based off real actor's performances (it's sort of like motion capture before the ball covered suits).  Character portraits are a bit of an oddity though in that there appears to be two version for each character, one for the disk based version of the game, and one for the CD-ROM version.  Even stranger is the fact that the disk based portraits looks slightly better, at least in terms of meshing with the rest of the game's art style.

Environments have a nice variety to them, thanks to there being six distinct landmasses for the player to visit.  Five of them are islands making up an archipelago simply known as "The Green Isles".  Each local has a distinct theme from the 1001 Arabian Nights "Isle of the Crown," to the "Isle of Wonder," whose inhabitants feel like they came straight through Alice's looking glass.  Meanwhile, the "Isle of the Sacred Mountain" has a somber feel which borrows heavily from Greek mythology.  Interesting tidbits of information about these places, as well as other setting material, come from the game's instruction manual.  Doubling as a form of copy protection, it contains an in-fiction chronicle penned by a nautical explorer who sojourned to the isles sometime in the not-too-distant past.  Despite spoiling a bit about The Green Isles for players, there is a careful balance between introducing the setting and retaining an air of mystery.  The "Isle of the Beast" and "Isle of Mists" are only discussed briefly, while the sixth (and by far the coolest) area in the game, "The Realm of the Dead" is only alluded to in a section of the chronicle about local funeral rites and customs.

The meat and potatoes of King's Quest 6 is still, of course, puzzle solving.  Thankfully this is one of the few "Quest" games I could finish without a hint guide.  Yahtzee, once said on his video series, Zero Punctuation, that Sierra games suffered from "fairly tale moon logic," but I'm more willing to give series creator Roberta Williams the benefit of the doubt.  Her games were not that obtuse provided you were well versed in classic fantasy literature and folktales.  Even the infamous "throw bridle at snake" puzzle solution from King's Quest 2 is a reference to myths about Medusa and Pegasus.  Regardless, the puzzles in King's Quest 6 are a lot more fun, and feature one of my favorite bits of gameplay first introduced in King's Quest 3, spell crafting and casting.

When it comes to other Sierra "Quest" games, it's very hard for me to choose which is the best from each particular series.  That said, I don't have any such reservations when it comes to the King's Quest collection.  Prince Alaxander's journey to find his lost love, Princess Cassima, is the high point of the series.  Outside of fan remakes, I would recommend this adventure game to curious newcomers and nostalgic veterans alike.  It's point-and-click adventure gaming from a golden era when the genre was at it's best.


No comments:

Post a Comment