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King's Quest (DOS)

100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  אולג 小奥 (168678)
Written on  :  May 22, 2001
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars

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Has actually only historical significance

The Good

It was the first graphical adventure. At least the first one that used third person perspective and real navigation on the game world, which was called 3D at the time of its release. King's Quest was important for a development of the genre, and this cannot be denied.

King's Quest was also a solid product from technical point of view. It had excellent graphics and rather good text-based interface. Text descriptions of locations were usually of a good quality.

Also, the freedom of choice in the game, while nothing special for its time, can be regarded fondly by the modern player who is strangled by the linearity and gameplay simplicity of today's games. You could experiment by typing many words, and you could travel to most of the game's locations since the very beginning.

And that's it.

The Bad

Now I wonder why I kept using the past tense when describing this game in "The Good" section. I think this alone sums it up. The game was. It appeared, had its influence, spawned a rather unremarkable series, and finally found its peace in the database of MobyGames. Its younger contemporaries Leisure Suit Larry and Space Quest can still hold their ground today. They are remembered for their humor, for their characters, for their puzzles. King's Quest is remembered mostly for being the first of the bunch, and that's a big difference.

The game had basically no story. You were a knight who had to find three magic artifacts in order to become a king. There was nothing else in the game beside this main objective. This absolutely generic plot, devoid of imagination and creativity, was alone a reason enough to ruin the game. There was something vaguely resembling a boring, outdated children book in King's Quest. I have nothing against fairy tales; in fact, I love them. But a fairy take should have a meaning, a purpose, and be full of fantasy. What we have in King's Quest instead is a trivial business that hardly even deserves mentioning.

If at least this plot were just an excuse for a series of interesting encounters or exploration of a fascinating land, I would accept it without thinking twice. But the characters in King's Quest are as uninspired as the plot itself. Okay: a bad witch, a bad troll, a goat who likes carrots, a sleeping giant, a poor wood cutter... they are all cut out of various old-fashioned fairy takes and brought into this world without any reason. They hardly talk. They have no personalities. They are not interesting. You don't care for them. And no, this was not the problem of the time. Zork games had way more interesting encounters and were quite stylish in their own way. Not to mention Larry and Space Quest, which appeared only a couple of years later.

And the gameplay? Alas, the gameplay was as bad as the story. Want a classic example for a game that is frustrating without being truly challenging? King's Quest. Stripped of all the unnecessary complications, it was a very short game that didn't require any cerebral effort from the player. There was no logic in the puzzles. Hey, there were no puzzles at all! You just had to try stuff until it worked. You collected objects and used them on various characters to see what happens. There was no deduction involved. The whole game was comprised of aimless wandering around through half-empty screens, picking some objects, aimlessly carrying them around, and aimlessly giving them to someone.

And when you did give an object to someone, you had to hope it was the right object for the right someone, because otherwise it would be taken from you forever and you would never be able to complete the game. And in many cases you didn't even know whether what you did was right or wrong. Why such an unnecessary cruelty to the player? Why not to let him try stuff without punishing him? I understand the possibility of encountering mortal danger and dying as a result; but why to force people restore saved games over and over again just because they get no feedback to their actions?

While I praised the game's non-linearity, it could also become a real pain, because the game didn't give you enough guidance as to what your current objective was. Some puzzles could be completed in different ways and order, but the result was a serious lack of scripted events. In fact, almost nothing happened in the game, nothing developed. You had to find the three magic objects, and that was it. Compare it to the dramatic sexual failures of Leisure Suit Larry, or to the constant planet-hopping of Space Quest, and you'll see the difference.

And this also cannot be considered a game for children. The boring plot doesn't entertain at all, it doesn't teach anything, the rather gruesome death scenes are surely not appropriate for kids, and the game is way too frustrating.

Put all of this together and you'll get an uninspired, uninteresting game. So why is it still regarded as a classic by many people? Because people tend to remember fondly anything that is connected to their childhood. King's Quest was the first third-person graphical adventure. When it was released, people played it not because it was the best, but because it was the first. Now, many people have already forgotten what kind of experience it really was. They simply remember that King's Quest was the game that introduced to them the fascinating genre of graphic adventure. The actual quality of the game had very little to do with these nostalgic reminiscences.

The Bottom Line

King's Quest was for graphical adventure games what Dragon Quest was for Asian RPGs: the first, but clearly not the best, including its own generation. It is one of those games that can be appreciated only in historical context and for nostalgic reasons. Objectively seen, it is not only a mediocre game, but also the starting point of a mediocre series.