Written by  :  Unicorn Lynx (181424)
Written on  :  Apr 25, 2008
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars

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King's Quest For Grown-Ups

The Good

Like so many other players, I was (and still am) in love with classic Sierra adventure games. I've played many of them, and found most of them charming and fun. I enjoyed their early King's Quest games; I think they are all good games with their own quirks and forgivable flaws. But I also thought they lacked something - perhaps stronger writing and better overall direction. King's Quest VI seems to address precisely those issues.

A look at the credits will clearly tell you: the text in the game was written by Jane Jensen, the master storyteller of Gabriel Knight fame. I think it's pretty useless to try and find out who was involved more with the game - she or Roberta Williams. The traditional reliance on fairy tales shows Roberta's influence. The writing, while undeniably good, doesn't really betray its author. I don't think it really matters much. The point is that the text in King's Quest VI is a joy to read. It's intelligent, entertaining, and full of subtle, fine humor. None of the other King's Quests came close to that quality.

I say "text" instead of "dialogue" because, in the finest tradition of true adventure games, King's Quest VI relies on text messages to create atmosphere. Most of those old Sierra adventures worked so well, in spite of their shortcomings, because they were built as a continuous conversation between the player and the game. The game would react to your actions, award you with a smart or witty message, guide you, give explanations, and ultimately tell the story. The biggest fun was to use all possible actions on all possible objects; and the game's job was to entertain you with its responses.

King's Quest VI is absolutely impeccable in that way. The game allows you to experiment by giving you different responses to different actions. It's truly heart-warming to see that the developers tried to create unique text messages for pretty much every action you could think of performing. You will see very few "You can't do that" messages, but rather elaborate descriptions of what you are trying to do. If you fail, the game will tell you why you failed. If you try talking to everything you see, you won't be given the standard "You get no response from that" all the time. Have you tried talking to a tomato in your inventory? It will complain about its abduction and request a lawyer. Have you tried fooling one of the dwarf guards with a flute? He will respond with a different short verse which the creators of the game specifically composed just because they thought some of the players might use the flute in this place - even though this action doesn't solve the puzzle and also doesn't make that much sense. The beauty of that is that most of those actions are not necessary to perform. You don't have to do things, but you can. For me, this is the main reason why I consider older adventure games far superior to the "post-Myst" ones.

The humor of King's Quest VI is perhaps what distinguishes it most drastically from its brethren. It is not entirely a comedy adventure; perhaps more serious than Monkey Island, it still maintains a wonderfully humorous tone all the way through. What I particularly loved about this humor that it never went too far. It was tactful from the beginning to the end, careful not to destroy the magical fairy tale-like atmosphere of the game, always fitting it stylistically. The game is full of charming, memorable encounters and moments - reading the "boring" book to the oyster, convincing the beauty to marry the beast, faking suicide in front of the genie, and many others.

The world of King's Quest VI is rich and imaginative, even though it resembles a potpourri of totally unrelated styles more than anything else. The most important island is clearly Middle Eastern, but the other areas could be Greek, Celtic, or even taken from Alice in Wonderland. This last one was my particular favorite, some of the characters being poetically grotesque, like the talking plants (gotta love the coquettish female sunflowers!) and the two queens. I loved the part where those queens quarreled over a piece of coal, and Alexander had to bring them another one to appease them; they immediately started arguing whose piece of coal is larger and more beautiful. There is wisdom in some of the game's humor, and overall it is clear that the game targets adults this time.

As always, the story of King's Quest VI is a fairy tale; but even as such, even falling under the overused "rescue the princess" category, this story is touching and memorable. It's all done through text and characterization; it's the little things that make the difference. As an example, take the whole catacombs part. It's just a usual "save the girl" quest, but it's full of nuances that make it different. The "noble" rulers send the innocent Alexander to a certain death, and don't even bother to hide that; Alexander knows it and comments upon it, but is still determined to rescue the girl, because he is brave enough to face any danger if that helps him on his mission. The girl herself barely thanks Alexander; the whole episode intentionally leaves a bitter taste in the player's mouth. That's how a simple "childish" fairy tale turns into something that gives you food for thought.

The gameplay clearly breaks away from the "run around collecting junk on the way, and then pray that you'll give the right piece of junk to the right guy, because otherwise you won't be able to finish the game" kind of philosophy that really started to feel stale in the two previous installments. Now, I can't honestly say that King's Quest VI is completely devoid of all those flaws. There are actions that could prevent you from finishing the game, moments that require restoring; there is a bit of clueless wandering, and there is also gathering of items that seem to have no purpose until the one rare moment when you'll need them, which you certainly won't be able to predict. But overall, the gameplay here is noticeably better directed than in most of its predecessors, perhaps with the exception of the third. Some of the puzzles are cleverer than anything we've seen in the series so far, and most clues are reasonably well-placed.

Keeping up with the tradition of the series, King's Quest VI is also fairly open-ended. There are two different ways to finish the game, one long and one short - naturally, the longer one rewards you with a better ending, but the short path is great when you're impatient to reach the end. Many of the actions that award you with points are not necessary to perform in order to finish the game in either way. There is plenty of freedom to walk around, explore, communicate, and try things out.

And finally, the production values in this game are absolutely top-notch. Even compared to other Sierra games of that period, which were all gorgeous, having magnificent visuals and music, King's Quest VI stands out. It has incredible graphics with realistic animations, wonderful close-up scenes, and a fantastic soundtrack. The voice acting is better than in many modern high-budget games. The pre-rendered 3D intro is positively stunning; I don't think any other game of that time had anything of the kind.

The Bad

I doubt whether there is anyone who loves venturing far into a game only to discover that he forgot to collect a crucial item and will therefore have to restore a much earlier save and replay a large portion of the game. To be fair, there aren't many occasions like that in King's Quest VI - definitely not as many as in is predecessors. But I'd still prefer not to have them at all by now. Such extension of a game's life worked in the first installment with its sparsity, but is out of place in a busy world with an abundance of items and characters.

Sometimes the game helps you against its own rules - for example, you can't enter the catacombs until you have the necessary items (at least that's what happened to me - maybe the game does punish impatient players for allowing access to catacombs without the needed items after several tries). The problem here is that the choice of items needed in the catacombs makes little sense. I suppose that the fact that Minotaur is a kind of a bull is a subtle clue to one of the items; but another one, which is needed to escape from a deadly trap, doesn't look at all like something you'll require in a dangerous dungeon. Same applies to some of the items needed to get into the castle. Many instances require swapping items at the pawn shop, which I didn't find very exciting at all.

The Bottom Line

King's Quest VI is full of charisma that transcends the series, taking it to a higher ground from which it will soon fall down again (yes, I'm talking about the sequel). Far from being just a nostalgic reminiscence, King's Quest VI stands out as one of the finest examples of classic adventure.