Tuesday, January 1, 2013

King's Quest IV - The Perils of Rosella

What better way to kick off the new year than giving people a whole new reason to hate me for ragging on the classics?

Previously on King’s Quest, Gwydion, slave to the wizard Manannan, was able to escape his evil master by turning the wizard into a cat with some cobbled-together magic. He learned he was actually Alexander, heir to the throne of Daventry, which was being terrorized by a three-headed dragon in his absence. After slaying the fell beast and saving his sister, the fair Rosella, he returns home to be reunited with his true family. Only it seems Alexander’s joyous homecoming was a bit too much for his father’s heart to take. Unless a miracle happens, the king’s days are numbered.

But as before, a solution is only a handy plot device away. As Princess Rosella grieves, the fairy queen Genesta appears in the magic mirror. She explains that in her kingdom, Tamir, a magical fruit grows that can surely save Graham’s life. Once she’s been whisked to Tamir, Rosella learns the task isn’t quite that simple. Genesta’s archenemy, Lolotte, has stolen her magic talisman and without it Genesta will be dead herself within twenty-four hours, leaving Rosella no way to get back to Daventry in time to save her father even if she can find the fruit. Yikes.

Spot the resemblances.
Obviously the first thing you’ll notice when you start playing The Perils of Rosella is how much graphics technology had improved since the last game. The world you’ll explore and the creatures in it don’t look like they’re made out of Legos anymore, and consequently you don’t have to tilt your head and squint anymore to recognize a treehouse. I found this made exploring Tamir more interesting than any of the previous landscapes where our king ended up on his quests.

Unfortunately, in many other ways the game’s a step backward. I don’t mean like having a female player character. That was a nice idea and pretty uncharted territory for games at the time. Even if it only affects the plot a few times. But the big problem with The Perils of Rosella is it feels so…safe.

To Heir Is Human was a tough game to understand at times, not to mention put up with, but it was highly innovative for all that. It had the magic system, which gave the item collecting more of a purpose. It also had elements of keeping track of time and covering your tracks to keep the wizard from realizing you were up to something. And call it a personal taste, but I thought it made the game more immersive to almost never be handed a neat little laundry list of the things I was expected to do to win the game. Unless you count the spell recipes in the manual.

Perhaps owing to the backlash its immediate predecessor suffered, The Perils of Rosella is without a doubt a return to type for the series. The first two games had quests in sets of three: in the first you had to find the three magical treasures then return to the castle in victory, and in the second you had to find the keys to open the three doors and then free the fair damsel from the tower to win.

It’s a bit more elaborate here with Rosella needing to get the fruit, but when she gets near Lolotte’s castle she’s promptly kidnapped and forced to perform three quests in hopes of getting close enough to Lolotte to get the talisman.

Thanks...I guess?

As well, The Perils of Rosella has some of the series’ more aggravating moments. At one point she needs to be swallowed by a whale, but getting back out of its stomach involves a climb that’s extremely easy to botch, requiring you to start all over. It was so annoying, even back then, it was spoofed toward the end of Leisure Suit Larry 3.

(Free tip, turn the game's speed down and it's about ten times easier.)

Speaking personally, it also has a part I hate just as much as the climb to Manannan’s house. It’s the tunnel where you have to bump around several screens with a worthless lantern, hoping you don’t run into a randomly-appearing angry troll. Notice I didn’t say avoid, because unless you’re right next to the way out when this guy appears (which has never happened to me), you’re not getting away.

And there’s a pit in there you won’t see until you’ve fallen down it.

The most innovative thing about the game is it’s the only (official) one to have a day/night cycle. You have those twenty-four hours of game time to save Genesta’s life, but you need to get a lot done during the day because most denizens of Tamir have the good sense to barricade themselves in at night when the dead walk. This is, of course, the only time you can solve the puzzles in that creepy old house in the middle of the graveyard (which for some reason has a functioning grandfather clock).

The third time you see this trying to dig up the same grave, it gets a little tiring.

Do I hate The Perils of Rosella? No. It’s a decent game. Tamir was pretty fun to explore, for the most part. It was nice to see somebody trying to get away from the idea that a princess in a fantasy setting could only be a reward for some overly macho hero. And the ridiculous amount of staircases and narrow path to fall to your death from in earlier games has scaled back a lot. There’s the path to Lolotte’s castle, but it’s nothing compared to the one on Manannan’s mountain and you only have to worry about it when you’ve taken care of her and you’re on your way to see Genesta. Her flying monkeys grab you and carry you to and from the castle all the other times. Maybe she wasn’t so bad after all.

But still, it’s not much of a progression in terms of gameplay. As with the first two games many of the story elements are cribbed from longstanding legends and the three quests model is back in place. And seriously, what was up with that whale part?

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