King's Quest For Grown-Ups
Like so many other players, I was (and still am) in love with classic Sierra's
adventure games. I played and completed most of them, and found most of them charming and fun. But King's Quest
, perhaps the company's "flagship" series, never managed to evoke the same feeling in me. I always felt that the series were overrated and got too much attention, overshadowing the magnificent Quest For Glory
As a matter of fact, I haven't changed this opinion; the reason I tried "King's Quest VI" was because some people told me that it stood head and shoulders above the rest of the series. From the moment I began to play the game, I saw the difference. The quality leap is instantly noticeable from the moment you read the first line in the game.
A look at the credits will clearly tell you: the text in "King's Quest VI" was written by Jane Jensen
, the master story-teller 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 a fairy tale shows Roberta's influence. The text, while undeniably good, doesn't really betray its author. In fact, I found the text of "King's Quest VI" most close stylistically to Quest For Glory
, which was supposedly made by other people
. It's a bit like the jazz song "Nardis", which is credited to Miles Davis, associated with Bill Evans, but sounds like something Dizzy Gillespie would compose after taking a lesson from Thelonious Monk. 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, it's entertaining, and it's full of subtle, fine humor. None of the other King's Quests I tried 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 were so great because they were built as a continuous conversation between the player and the game. The game would react to your actions, would award you with a smart or witty message, would 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 this 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 fail. 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. Already the next installment
replaced all this fun by the unimaginative "smart cursor" and scarce replies, while its predecessor sees your effort, comments upon it, and reminds you that you are not alone solving puzzles, that there is someone who watches you, someone who cares. It is a way to show respect to the player, to encourage him, and to immerse him in the game.
The humor of "King's Quest VI" is perhaps what distinguishes it most drastically from its brethren. It's 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, and it always fitted 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 like 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 - actually, it never gets silly, and overall it is clear that the game was targeted to adults, not to children or teenagers.
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 leaves a bitter taste in the player's mouth, and intentionally so. That's how a simple "childish" fairy tale turns into something that gives you food for thought.
The gameplay was one of those things that bothered me most in King's Quest series. It simply made no sense to me. It could be mostly summed with "run around empty screens, 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". Sure, those irritating dead-ends were a common plague in all Sierra adventures (they were particularly vile in Quest For Glory). But King's Quest seemed to like them particularly, and mixed them with confusing clues, giving the player no sense of direction, frustrating him without challenging.
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 of "King's Quest VI" is a far cry from the aimless guessing of the previous games. There are clear tasks, extended conversations that give you clues; many of the puzzles are perfectly logical, and some are really clever and fun. The important part is that "King's Quest VI" never frustrates you too much. Of course, there is the copy protection, but it can't be qualified as a "puzzle". It's there, and even though I dislike it as much as you do, it won't frustrate you if you have the documentation. Yes, there is pixel-hunting, but it's mild; the occasional illogical puzzle co-exists with actions that make perfect sense. Overall, "King's Quest VI" has a good pace
, something many adventures lack. It has a great balance between exploring new locations and going back to old ones to find and to do new things.
"King's Quest VI" is also surprisingly non-linear
. 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 actually not necessary to perform in order to finish the game in either way. There is plenty of freedom to walk around, to explore, to communicate, and to try things.
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 words "early amateurish voice acting" do not
apply to "King's Quest VI". But perhaps the most stunning part of the game is the pre-rendered 3D intro. I don't think that any other game of that time had anything of the kind. "King's Quest VI" is one of the earliest games that began the great technological leap known as the "multimedia revolution".
I don't think there's 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 to 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.
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 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.
The Bottom Line
To call it "the best King's Quest" would probably not be enough. "King's Quest VI" is so full of personality and charm that it transcends the series, taking it to a higher ground from which it will ultimately fall down again (yes, I'm talking about the sequel
). Maybe the series has just evolved and matured in a natural way; maybe it was due to Jane Jensen's
one-time creative input. It doesn't matter. What matters is that "King's Quest VI" dignifies the series as a whole, embellishing a sweet, warm fairy tale with superb dialogue and uncommonly robust, entertaining gameplay. Far from being just a nostalgic reminiscence, "King's Quest VI" stands out as one of the finest examples of classic adventure.