Tuesday, December 28, 2010

King's Quest III: To Heir is Human

Apparently this game caused a bit of a stink when it first came out. For one thing, it has nothing to do with Daventry, but rather a distant kingdom called Llewdor. And your character isn’t King Graham, or any other king, but Gwydion, a teenage boy who’s a slave to the evil wizard Manannan. Manannan is in the habit of killing his slaves when they turn eighteen, which is going to happen rather soon.

Lucky for Gwydion, he finds the secret entrance to Manannan’s laboratory (why is there an entrance at all when he teleports everywhere?) and gets the idea to whip up some magic of his own to deal with the wizard and escape.

One of the game’s biggest problems becomes evident very early in, and it’s the long stretches where you’re forced to basically sit tight and wait. If you try to do anything more than get a few basic items together before the wizard leaves the house, he’ll notice you’re up to something and blow you to smithereens. Equip yourself with a good book before you go on this quest.

Once you’re alone, however, you can start poking around the house’s forbidden places and venturing off the mountain where you live to look for spell components. If you can survive the snaking path to the bottom, that is. At least in this game you’re a slave who’s never been off the mountaintop under pain of death. As opposed to the finest knight in the kingdom with a few daring adventures under his belt, who’s the kind of person you reasonably expect to have a tad more poise than Bella Swan.

Once that’s done you can climb all the way back up (that magic map you find only drops you off at the bottom of the trail) and make your way down the trapdoor to Manannan’s magic laboratory to mix up some spells. But be careful because the forces of magic are grammar Nazis, and if you try to so much as heat a potion “with” a brazier instead of “on” one, the results won’t be pretty.

Maybe because HE'S EVIL and YOU'RE HIS SLAVE.

It sounds like I’m bashing the game, and those are definitely some annoying flaws, but a lot of things that held the previous games back were fixed this time around. You’re not running around collecting random stuff hoping it’ll come in handy, you’re running around collecting weird stuff you need to cast spells. There’s sometimes a bit of challenge in recognizing the best time to use each, but there’s nothing approaching the ridiculousness of the snake from Romancing the Throne. And as noted, you’re a slave who hasn’t made a career out of saving imperiled maidens and slaying monsters, so it’s not so weird you have nothing to your name and no way to defend yourself.

Not playing as Graham was also a welcome change as it moved the game away from another generic save the kingdom/save the princess quest (granted, it does get back to that toward the end). Your goal is to get rid of Manannan, that’s it. Technically this will free Llewdor from his terrifying presence, but the game never really gets into that. You’re trying to save yourself from an evil wizard, then figure out what to do with your new freedom. Most games of the era weren’t that sophisticated in the plot department.

The parser seems a little more finicky in this game than the previous ones, especially during the spell construction part. So while the puzzles make more sense, solving them can also seem a bit more frustrating during the ones where one typo not only denies you success, but kills you.

In the end though, with the addition of the magic system and a big step forward in plot and puzzle logic, this is the first King’s Quest game I don’t mind recommending. Mind you, I’m recommending the updated version from Infamous Adventures, which thoughtfully takes the hassle out of casting spells and getting back up to Manannan’s house. It’s amazing, really, how much faster that makes the game go.

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