King's Quest III: To Heir is Human

aka: KQ3, King's Quest III
Moby ID: 126
DOS Specs
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Description official descriptions

King Graham and Queen Valanice had two children, Alexander and Rosella, and the kingdom was once peaceful. It wasn't long until Alexander was snatched from his crib and things started to take a turn for the worse. A three-headed dragon threatens the ever-peaceful Daventry, and requires a maiden to be sacrificed every year. Rosella is the chosen one.

Meanwhile, in a secluded house atop a mountain in the land of Llewdor, the evil wizard called Manannan keeps a young lad named Gwydion as his slave, forcing him to do menial tasks as he prepares his spells and observes the country through his telescope. Gwydion must find a way to outsmart the wizard, escape, and eventually discover the truth about his own identity.

King's Quest III: To Heir is Human is an adventure game similar in basic gameplay mechanics to its predecessor The player navigates Gwydion with arrow keys and interacts with the environment by typing verb and noun combination commands. Llewdor consists of interconnected screens that loop once the player character reaches the border of the land. Throughout the course of the game, Gwydion will also travel to other locations and have a magic map at his disposal, allowing him to teleport to different areas.

There are more items to collect in this installment, and more complex actions required to execute, raising the difficulty level. A large part of the game proceeds in real time, with Mannanan following his own schedule, forcing the player to plan and time his actions. There is also a time limit imposed on the game's first major quest.

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Credits (DOS version)

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Reviews

Critics

Average score: 75% (based on 14 ratings)

Players

Average score: 3.7 out of 5 (based on 114 ratings with 5 reviews)

Technically excellent, letdown by insane difficulty

The Good
Step from KQ1/2 regarding technical execution is significant. You play as a boy who want to escape his master-tyrant, wizard Manannan, who keeps him as his personal slave. The world is much bigger, there's clock running in the game and Manannan follows his schedule (and you must time your actions to fit into this schedule), writing is better than KQ1/2, story is more mature compared to predecessors, and there's even some magic doing.

The Bad
So why just 3*, when the game is technically better at almost everything?

Answer is: difficulty. No, puzzles are not just "challenging". I beat Gabriel Knight trilogy, I beat Indy Jones 4, Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle. So no, I'm not particularly pampered regarding adventure games. But KQ3 is VEEERY difficult, unforgiving, and it takes probably weeks, maybe months to beat it without walkthrough.

What's worse, there are lot of dull points. You have to walk lot of times long walks up and down the hill, and you have to do it, because of this time scheduling already mentioned. One walk is like 5 minutes or so of dull walking, and you'll have to repeat it several times. And if you DARE to beat the game without walkthrough, it's guaranteed that you will have to restart game (or return to very early save points) maybe dozen of times, so in the end this dull walking can stretch to hours of net time.

I can't imagine someone spending that amount of time and energy today on 1986 adventure game. Most of positive reviews here are nostalgia-driven. In those times when good games were scarce, you didn't mind playing one title for weeks or months, talk with your friends about progress in school or work, exchange ideas, and then move a bit forward if you learned something new. Such nostalgia is understandable. But if you look at the game from the point of view of 2023 gamer, who wants to play KQ3 for the first time, you're just not going to enjoy it so much because it's frustrating. I beat and enjoyed KQ1 and KQ2 in "modern times" for the first time, because difficulty was ok, and I not spoiled those games for me by always looking into walkthrough. But KQ3, I just gave up, I finished the game with walkthrough help, just to have it finished. Even when playing with walkthrough I was still amazed by difficulty of those puzzles and I knew that this is just way too much. So in the end, my memories for KQ1/2 remained way more positive than for KQ3.

The Bottom Line
You can play KQ1/2 and enjoy them and beat them even today with none or just few looks into walkthrough. This can't be said for KQ3. The game is technically excellent, but exorbitant difficulty just doesn't allow me to give it higher score.

DOS · by Vladimir Dienes · 2023

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.

DOS · by Jayson Firestorm (143) · 2002

Quite possibly the most challenging KQ in the series, one of the best too!

The Good
First off, I love the way you start out as this little servant boy who is bossed around by a mean wizard... it keeps you on the edge of your seat as you run and take and hide items while you dodge the wizard's random visits. The best word that I can think of to describe this game is suspenseful.

You constantly have to be aware of how much time you have spend and how much you have left before the wizard comes back... it adds a very tricky factor to the game and prevents anyone from just rushing through it. I can recall feeling anxiety from being in the wizards basement trying to create a spell correctly and get out of there before the wizard catches me and kills me...

The game is also nice in the fact that it doesn't overwhelm you with a extremely non-linear game path. The game is basically divided in to 3 or 4 main areas and you can't proceed to the next without completing the current one. Mainly until you kill the Wizard, you are stuck most of the time inside the house (except for a few times), then you move on to explore the wilderness below, then move on to the ship and island. Keeps you on track.

I basically enjoyed everything about this game

The Bad
Sometimes walking on the paths could be a bit tricky, especially using the joysticks of the time.

The font in the spell book that came with the manual of the game was sometimes hard to read because it was done in a cursive font. This isn't a problem now but when I first played this game when I was in the 4th grade, it was kind of difficult to understand.



The Bottom Line
Another great game from Roberta Williams, if you liked any other King's Quests, this one is sure not to let you down!

DOS · by OlSkool_Gamer (88) · 2004

[ View all 5 player reviews ]

Trivia

Copy protection

While not being a formal copy protection scheme, you needed the manual to complete this game. It contained spells that you eventually used to advance in the quest. However, Compute's Official book of King's Quest did list all of them and one could purchase a copy for half the price of the game if the manual was "lost".

In the years after King's Quest III was published, the idea of using the manual as a copy protection technique became a de facto with almost every games until the CD-ROM replaced diskettes as the distribution media.

Graphics

  • If you had CGA and the wizard used a powerful spell, the entire screen shook. (This was an intentional special effect.) This was accomplished by tweaking the CGA registers to scroll the screen left and right rapidly.
  • This is the first game of the series in which the characters have pink(ish) skin. Although in the final scene of the game, when you return with Rosella to the King and Queen, King Graham, still has yellow skin, as he did in the first two games.

Innovations

King's Quest III introduces an automapping system to the genre: a magic map, found in the game, can be used to teleport to most of the explored locations.

Sound

King's Quest III is the only AGI game (i.e. a game using Sierra's AGI, Adventure Game Interpreter) in which turning the sound off causes an effect besides just silencing the game: In the wizard's laboratory, when you prepare the spells listed in the manual, some background music normally plays while you work, but if you turn the sound off, the game instead subtitles the experience by displaying a message reading "A mysterious music fills the laboratory!" when you start, and if you mess up on making the spell, another message pops up saying "The mysterious music stops. What could this mean?" It's a small thing, but notable since this kind of subtitling wasn't common in Sierra's graphic adventures.

Information also contributed by Adam Luoranen, game nostalgia, Jayson Firestorm and Olivier Masse

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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Andy Roark.

Macintosh added by Trypticon. Amiga added by POMAH. Apple IIgs added by Scaryfun. TRS-80 CoCo added by TapeWyrm. Apple II added by Katakis | カタキス. Atari ST added by Belboz.

Additional contributors: Katakis | カタキス, Jeanne, formercontrib, Macs Black, Picard, Patrick Bregger.

Game added May 21, 1999. Last modified May 1, 2024.