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King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder!

aka: KQ5, King's Quest V

Graham & Cedric's NES Adventure

The Good
King Quest V: Absence Makes The Heart Go Yonder (herein after referred to as “King’s Quest V” or “KQ5”) is an impressive port of the PC DOS game of the same name.

The player takes control of a King Graham on a point and click, adventure quest to rescue his family members from the clutches of an evil sorcerer.

King Graham is coming home from a walk in the woods (apparently, he is so beloved by his people, that he does not require bodyguards), only to find that his castle (and the royal residents) have vanished, stolen by an evil sorcerer out for revenge.

Luckily, a talking Owl named, Cedric, saw the entire thing (in the event that the sorcerer later claims that he was just “Standing His Ground”). Cedric leads you to the home of his master, a kindly, wizard name, Crispin.

Crispin informs King Graham that the evil sorcerer is named Mordack who is seeking revenge on the family for what happened to his brother (King’s Graham's son transformed him into a cat in the third game).

Granted, if Mordack really wanted his brother back, he probably could have just bought the guide book to the third game, or sought out the help of more powerful wizards and warlocks. But, I guess some things are just beyond the power of an all-powerful, evil sorcerer.

Since King’s Graham’s son doesn’t know anything about magic (sigh, kids these days, am I right?), it is left to the father to save the day, before his family is fed to Mordack’s brother.

Crispin gives King Graham a root, which allows him to communicate with animals, a magical wand, which is broken, and instructs Cedric to follow you around (and try to be as fussy as C-3PO). He proceeds to vanish from the story, earning him the moniker; Crisipin: The Lord Of Exposition.

Once your quest becomes, you are free to maneuver King Graham around the different locations, pick up items for your inventory and interact with people, animals and familiar, but public domain, fairy tale characters

For the most part, King Graham is easy to control. The on-screen text is easy to read, the puzzles and solutions make sense and the game comes with a useful save feature (albeit with a password), plan on dying often.

Now, this game is hardly perfect. Some of the faults were carried over from the original PC edition, while some are unique to the NES edition.

The Bad
The original King’s Quest V game (1990) featured some truly stunning 16-bit VGA, 256 color-on screen visuals. This is not something that the NES port was capable of recreating.

The graphics in the PC edition look like a series of beautiful paintings, while the NES edition looks like 8-bit graphics trying so hard to resemble a 16-bit, VGA painting.

Clearly, the designers of the game were trying to get the best visuals from the NES hardware.

Some of the levels were slightly redesigned to try and look better on the 8-bit hardware, but the NES had a more limited pixel and color palette, then an early 1990s Amiga, Macintosh or PC computer. The game’s music suffered a similar fate.

I suspect that the NES is capable of better music then what is in King’s Quest V, but the designers seemed to have simply taken the music and sound effects from the PC edition and pushed them through the NES hardware.

As I said earlier, King Graham is generally easy to control. Notice that I used the word, “generally”. The game is not compatible with a mouse, and tries to replace the mouse in point and click adventuring games with the standard NES controller. Ouch!

Basically, you have to bring up an icon selection screen to pick up items, use items or talk to animals, people or other characters. While moving around is a simple matter of using the controller’s crosshairs, you will need to read the instructional manual carefully, and practice a bit with the “point and click” aspect of the game.

One you get the hang of it, it is not really a problem, except for one or two puzzles in the game (where you have to move fast and interact with small, 8-bit pixels).

Last, but not least, a few certain things in the NES edition were cut or censored.

As I am familiar with the original game, owned the PC DOS and PC CD-ROM editions back in the day, I will elaborate a few of the examples of stuff that was left on the cutting room floor for one reason or another.

Kings’ Quest V has a desert sequence and, near the end of the game, a dungeon sequence. In order to succeed in both of these sequences you need to have a photographic memory, or, you know, make a map. In the NES edition, both of these sequences seem a bit smaller, in comparison to the original computer edition.

Some of the “alternative” solutions in the original edition of the game have been removed from the NES port. You cannot, as an example, buy items with a golden heart. I am not sure if this was done to save memory or to avoid making the game too difficult.

Mostly minor differences, but people familiar with the original computer game, will notice.

Other changes in the game were probably made at the (cough, cough) “request” of Nintendo. In order to (legally) make games for a Nintendo system, you had to let them preview your game and agree to remove or obscure certain content, which Nintendo felt was not appropriate for “family friendly” gaming.

You can find an online copy of the Nintendo Content Guidelines (circa 1988), but the rules were especially concerned with sexuality, violence, and anything deemed to be religious or political proselytism.

King’s Quest V keeps its sexuality nice and wholesome, so not much for Nintendo to complain about in that department. A few characters fall in love, much like any classic fairy tale, but it is all “G” rated. However, the game does make a few offhand references to religion.

Nintendo was afraid that a religious denomination would be offended at how they were portrayed in a game, and they were also afraid that parents or politicians might accuse Nintendo or video games in general of promoting a particular religion.

Case in Point: In the desert sequence, King Graham needs to – periodically – drink water from one of the oases scattered around the desert.

In the original version of the game, King Graham thanks “the gods” when he drinks water, but in the NES edition the religious reference is deleted. Although whether or not such a reference actually violated the content guidelines is a bit debatable (albeit a moot point). Nintendo expressly allowed ancient mythology (especially Greek and Roman) in games designed for its system. It could be argued that King Graham is not giving thanks to an actual deity, but in light of the fact that the entire desert sequence is set in (vaguely) Middle Eastern, “1001 Nights-esque” setting, the censors probably opted to be on the safe side.

Nintendo’s rules regarding violence are the ones that most people are familiar with, largely because of the history involved in censorship the SNES port of the ultra-violent video game, Mortal Kombat. However, you did not need blood, gore and spinal cord removal to get noticed by the censors.

Nintendo insisted that some references or images in Kings Quest V were too violent. References to death were deleted.

Some of the death sequences were modified so that the death was less a sure thing and more of an implied, off-screen probability.

Hmm. Perhaps King Graham does not die as much as he “travels to another dimension” (as censored anime cartoons sometimes say, when they describe death)

These cuts and edits do not significantly distract from the enjoyment of the NES game, but they are noticeable.

The Bottom Line
Kings Quest V is a solid port of a classic adventure game. It is one of the few point and click adventure games ported over to the NES, and you can tell that the designers of the game really tried to push the hardware limitations of the system when it came to the game’s graphics and music. If you enjoy adventure games, and have the patience to learn the controls, then I would suggest locating a copy of this game.

by Shamal Jifan (20) on January 22nd, 2023

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