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King's Quest III: To Heir is Human (DOS)

77
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
3.8
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Jayson Firestorm (153)
Written on  :  Aug 12, 2002
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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Summary

An imaginative installment, in which the series really starts to blossom

The Good

After the first two Kings Quest games, which mostly involved a lot of repetitive walking around the countryside, and were quite similar to each other, the series really began to flourish with this installment, sub-titled “To Heir Is Human”. This adventure probably has by far the most original premise of any of the King’s Quest games. In most of them, you’re just given a scenario with sees your character walking around a rather “by the numbers” magical land; but in this one, you’re really thrown in at the deep end, playing as cruel wizard Manannan’s slave Gwydion, who must find a way to escape his tyrant master’s clutches without being found out and punished in the process.
This was the first King’s Quest in which you didn’t play as Graham (the “star” of the first two games), and at the time of release some fans were a little confused and unhappy about how this really tied in to the ‘King’s Quest’ series. But as the adventure unfolds, all is explained.

This is the first game in the series to have an in-game clock, and as you plot to escape from your cruel master for good, you must keep a close eye on the time if you are to be successful in your goal. For example, at various stages, Manannan goes out on a journey or goes to sleep, and as you set off on your quest you must make sure you are back and have covered your tracks by the time he returns, or you are found out and your plan ruined.
Playing against the clock is an excellent concept, and used well. You have to plan and time your movements carefully, and have to hide all the objects you’ve collected away from him else you will be found out. In a way, it’s almost like “The Great Escape” with a magical twist.

With Manannan making things so awkward, there is real sense of satisfaction when you finally manage to defeat him by giving him a taste of his own medicine later in the game.

The game is bigger than the first two. Maybe not noticeably bigger by today’s huge, multi-CD adventures, but back in 1986, when things often came on a single floppy disk, it was bigger.

There are more characters to interact with that in the first two KQs. By later adventure games standards, they are still fairly basic, with “talk to man” (or whatever) typically triggering the only couple of boxes of conversation you’ll get from them for the entire game, but after the majority of characters in the first two games – most of which would just appear at random and rob you or kill you, it helps flesh out the game and give it much more depth.

It’s the first game of the series to feature spell casting, and this too adds a new element of fun to the adventure, which transforming into such things as a fly and an eagle, and conjuring up thunderstorms at various points of play adding something new to the formula.

And the final stage of the game… well, I won’t spoil to much for anyone who hasn’t got that far, but needless to say, I found it great being back in the same area as played in the original King’s Quest (albeit scaled down).

The Bad

Well, as with many old adventure games in the days when they came on floppy disk, thus making them very easy to copy, the programmers came up with copy protection to try and stop this. In this game, it’s actually interwoven into the play, as magic spells that you need to collect items for, and the casting of which being one of the key points in completing the game. I don’t really have a problem with copy protection, but unfortunately, the programmers really went completely overboard with this one.
Every spell you cast has to be copied word-by-word from the instruction manual; and many of the spells are very awkward to perform, and easy to mess up. The game is very harsh – one wrong word, and the spell back-fires, killing you. Whilst it is amusing to see the various effects a wrong spell gives you, it becomes very tiresome having to constantly restore because you typed one wrong word or something.
The over-zealous copy protection and the way over harsh spell casting is the only thing which marred game-play for me. Personally, I think it would have been much more reasonable just to have the first spell or so as copy protection from the manual, and have the rest learned during the course of the game.

As I said, the playing “against the clock” is great, but the only downside of it in this game is that as a result, there can often be a lot of waiting around. Some events only happen at around a certain time, so if you’ve completed a puzzle or suchlike quite quickly, you can often find yourself just waiting around for quite a while for something to happen. Several times I actually left the game running and went and did something else until it finally triggered certain events.
The game could have done with being a little more intelligent in this aspect, and recognizing to trigger such events off at the suitable time, thus eliminating so much standing (or walking) around waiting.

On the standard old Sierra games, pressing escape traditionally brought up the menu at the top of the screen, with the various options etc. for the game. KQ3 doesn’t have this; you either have to remember the relevant Fkey for various functions, or type in your command; and “save”, for example, will not bring up the save box, you have to type the whole “save game” sentence. I found this to be a little annoying and missed the more traditional escape-triggered menu system.

The only other thing I found annoying in this game was the awkward, maze-like screens that Sierra used to think were actually enjoyable to play in their early adventures - the sort of ones where walking your character one pixel too far will see you plunging to your death.
Example: the twisty, dangerous cliff path leading down from Manannan’s house, which you have to use several times during the game. In some places the path is a mere couple of pixels wide, and is nigh-on-impossible to pass without much saving and restoring.
Not only that, but on one section of the path, there’s a huge rock obstruction the view, so you can’t even see where the character is walking and have to guess. A classic example of literally having to save your game every two steps.

The beginning of the game really drops you in the deep end and can take some getting to grips with, what with having to work against the clock and be VERY careful not to let Manannan find out what you’re up to; but once you get the hang of things, it’s well worth it.

The Bottom Line

I wouldn’t say, as some other reviewers have, that this is the best of all King’s Quest games (personally, I'd probably rank KQ4 in that position, though that's not an opinion shared by some), but after the rather mediocre first two games, this is where the series really came into it’s own.
Better ideas; better, more satisfying puzzles; better overall. Not quite THE best, in my opinion, but on hindsight, it’s one of them.