King's Quest: A Knight to Remember Review
If you’re old enough, you well remember King’s Quest. One of several classic Sierra adventures released during the early days of gaming, it opened our eyes to a fantastical land of mystery and danger. Complete with the appropriate amount of whimsy and charm, we enjoyed every step of our challenging quest. Now, developers The Odd Gentlemen have resurrected the old-fashioned adventure title, and the first chapter in the new episodic series has arrived. Called A Knight to Remember, gamers once again set out to discover and explore in King Graham’s footsteps. It’s a faithful, playful and ultimately enjoyable effort, with only a few minor outdated drawbacks.
Graphically, the game really thrives on character design and animation. This is where adventure games have often shined, especially because such a premium is placed on the narrative. Without wonderfully drawn and animated characters, any storyline is going to suffer. Thankfully, this colorful cast is beautifully created and presented, as the creators paid attention to every tiny detail. There are a few small flaws in the technical presentation but these are quickly overshadowed by excellent expression and emotion. From the facial expressions to Graham’s flowing scarf, you really feel as if you’re part of a remarkable medieval adventure with unique, memorable characters. Perfect for the genre.
As expected, the sound excels thanks to a star-studded voice cast. Christopher Lloyd (“Back to the Future”) voices King Graham, Wallace Shawn (“The Princess Bride”) lends his considerable skill to the knight-in-training, Manny, and we even get Zelda Williams (the daughter of the late great Robin Williams). The young but very effective Maggie Elizabeth Jones (“We Bought a Zoo”) voices Gwendolyn, and veteran voice actor Josh Keaton (Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham) brings the flashback scenes to life. Strangely, not all the lines are delivered with perfect poise and aplomb and I wanted the great, classical soundtrack to play a bigger role but otherwise, this is a fantastic-sounding game.
The premise is simple and admirable: Graham’s lifelong goal was to become a knight, and he relates the tale through a series of flashbacks. Players take control of a young Graham, who is simultaneously bumbling and stalwart, and they explore everything from magical forests to deep dank caves. Bear in mind that most old-school adventure games were of the point-and-click variety and in fact, we have seen recent games adopt this outmoded control scheme on consoles. It doesn’t work that well, honestly. Perhaps that’s why in this updated version, we control Graham normally, by using the left analog stick. For the most part, control is simple, straightforward and responsive.
From the start, I suppose some gamers might complain about the game’s linear structure. After all, “linear” is now a universally bad word in the industry, as the overwhelming – yet still false – consensus is that open-world games are inherently superior. However, as King’s Quest isn’t likely to appeal to those who aren’t familiar with the classic IP (unfortunately), perhaps this won’t be much of an issue. I imagine most fans of the genre would expect a 100 percent linear experience and in fact, A Knight to Remember isn’t completely linear, even if it hardly qualifies as open-world. In fact, a large portion of Daventry is explorable; the player can check out shops and some of the areas surrounding the town.
There’s also a sense of freedom and experimentation that comes with item and equipment management. For instance, if I need to fashion a makeshift wagon wheel, what will work better, a big old shield or a wooden tabletop? There’s no knowing what might happen when you opt to utilize certain items as tools and very often, the unfavorable result will still make you smile. Coupled with this experimentation is the encouragement to search every corner of your colorful and engaging environment, so this lessens the linear “restriction” even more. As adventure fans well know, the quest is more about your diligence and innovation as opposed to your freedom to roam.
Oddly, I could argue that had the game been more linear, it would’ve been better. Thing is, Daventry isn’t the most intuitive of areas to explore, as the winding paths can leave you lost and frustrated. You lose track of where you’ve been far too easily, which can have a negative impact on the flow of the game. On top of which, the developers made the mistake of making the cut-scenes unskippable (a big no-no in today’s twitch-happy world), so you can inadvertently trigger the same scene if you accidentally investigate something again. I’ve got a great memory and I’m pretty meticulous when it comes to my wandering, but even I found this exploration to be somewhat irritating.
Now, it’s easy to make a mistake and fall into the jaws of grim death. But when Gwendolyn corrects her grandfather (who is very obviously alive) after the player stumbles, Graham simply retells it correctly…well, provided you figure out the puzzle. There’s plenty of auto-saving and checkpoints, too, so you needn’t worry too much about restarting a ways back after death. This goes a long way toward diminishing the often brutal difficulty of certain old-school adventures, so the rebooted King’s Quest is indeed far more accessible. Provided you get a decent handle on Daventry’s layout and you don’t mind some backtracking, you should become immersed in an enchanting tale of intrigue and glory.
You know, such a game reminds one of a time when the adventure genre was head-and-shoulders above the rest of the industry in terms of a cerebral challenge. So many of our games were just mindless and the Sierra adventures were always bastions of “higher entertainment,” shall we say. Of course, technical limitations being what they were, we had to deal with a certain amount of frustration. Nothing was perfect. In The Odd Gentlemen’s effort to revive a once-proud genre of interactive entertainment, we’re reminded that games can be special without being technical tour de forces. They can be special without being massively huge. A little charm and tongue-in-cheek humor go a long way in bard-like tales of high adventure. “Don Quixote,” anyone?
King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember is a great first chapter in a tremendously endearing new series. It sets the stage for the second chapter and leaves the player wanting more. There are hang-ups in terms of general flow and gameplay structure but it really depends on your perspective. If you deem such flaws to be necessary in a faithful recreation of a classic interactive style, you won’t even call them flaws. If, on the other hand, you always disliked those drawbacks and had hoped they were all cleaned up for a modern-day effort, you might be mildly disappointed. But I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed in the entire product, as it’s just way too attractive. It captures the heart and imagination right out of the gate and thankfully, never lets go.
The Good: Excellent character design and animation. Great voice cast. Encourages player to explore and experiment. Well-designed puzzles. Charming, engaging world filled with color and whimsy. Rewards the meticulous and diligent. Faithful to an iconic and revolutionary genre.
The Bad: Too easy to lose your way around Daventry. Unskippable cut-scenes. Too much backtracking involved.
The Ugly: “Come on, this is King’s Quest. None of the games have been ‘ugly’ for even a nanosecond.”
8/4/2015 Ben Dutka