QUEST FOR GLORY 2 VGA / AGD Interactive / PC
AGD Interactive already has two incredible adventure game remakes under their belts in their VGA overhauls of King's Quest and King's Quest Two. They've managed to top themselves with this latest release, however - a VGA remake of the classic adventure/RPG hybrid Quest For Glory II, a project that gestated for eight years before finally being released last month.
Seriously, since it was first announced as a "secret project" back in 2000, the fans have been waiting ... and waiting ... and waiting ... and waiting ... and waiting. Finally, at the end of August of 2008, the official download site went up and after a small transmission of about 85 megabytes, gamers finally made their re-entry into the desert lands of Shapeir. Part of the long wait had to do with AGD's decision to develop and publish their own original adventure game, Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine; during the development of that game, which took several years, QFG2 was put on the back burner.
I think fans will find it was actually worth the wait, however, for all the extra polish the group has given the game makes it quite possibly the greatest fan-made remake of all time (it certainly has my vote). QFG2 was already a very strong game; actually sort of a surprising choice for a remake, really, given that the original still stands up pretty well on it's own. AGD's additions do nothing but enhance the game, however, and it is still possible to import and export characters to all the other entries in the QFG series.
The first thing you'll notice is the enhanced graphics. A team of eight artists retouched all of the game's sprites and backgrounds, added many new animations to existing characters, and also added character portraits for the game's major characters (mercifully free of the head-banging animation employed in KQ2 VGA). The resulting look is very familiar, yet unquestionably improved. Some sprites and portraits have been borrowed from later games in the series for the sake of continuity, but even these have been retouched in some way to fit in with the details of this particular game.
Tom Lewandowski of Quest Studios took much the same sort of "grade-up" approach with the music. Most of it is taken directly from the original game, using recordings of the superior Roland MT-32 MIDI soundtrack and the occasional instrument patch upgrade here and there. As this was one of Mark Seibert's best soundtracks, this was absolutely the right choice, but Tom has also crafted a few new pieces of music for new gameplay areas, and for interstitial transitions that previously had little or no sound to them. The new efforts on the whole fit in well with the game - as I'm so familiar with the original soundtrack, I can't really say if the change in style is noticeable to a newcomer, but the new pieces are on the whole very well done and a couple of them have taken up residence on my iPod (a new theme for the Thief's nocturnal activities has been particularly stuck in my head as of late).
I haven't played the original game in some years, but when I was a child I played it through at least ten times (on a computer with no hard drive, no less, switching out nine floppy disks over and over), and from what I recall the dialogue has barely been changed, if at all. Some new lines have been added to elucidate certain things, there are a few new subjects of conversation that can be inquired about, and soforth, but those who fondly remember the wit and goofiness of the original game will be pleased to find it has been retained.
The new point-and-click interface makes the game a little smoother and more user-friendly. Traditionally, a point-and-click game has been necessarily simpler than a parser-based one as far as puzzles go, but since QFG is a hybrid that frequently relies more on stat checks to solve problems that diabolical puzzling, there is really little impact here in terms of difficulty or challenge. The interface and dialogue trees have been lifted more or less from the system employed in Quest For Glory 3; veterans will find that conversations with multiple branches go much more quickly without typing, and may be pleased to find subjects that they never thought of inquiring about in the original game. The parser has actually been retained as an option in conversations, as well; you can type any word or phrase during a conversation tree to ask about it directly.
From early response on the forums and message boards, the battle system seems to be the most divisive point so far. This is likely due to the fact that it adds a tremendous layer of challenge to the game. Honestly, though I liked it the best out of all of the games, the previous QFG2 battle system was far too easy to "brute force" through repetitive stabbing once a character's Strength and Weapon Use levels were raised to a decent standing. Attempting to stab repeatedly in this incarnation of the game will do nothing but get you killed very quickly, even if your levels are at 200. Enemies fight much more intelligently, and dodges and parries of your attacks can leave you wide open to vicious counter-attacks and even combos. On the plus side, there is a whole new gamut of combat moves that can be learned and employed in fights, and the pitched battles with the harder enemies resemble classic Prince of Persia fights as they culminate in long series of parries and counters. The Thief has also been given a significant uptick in his combat effectiveness; when Sneaking in a monster-riddled area, the Thief can catch enemies unawares, and a well-placed dagger throw into their backs can drop their health by tremendous amounts (depending on your level of Throwing ability, you can kill some of the weaker enemies outright this way). On the whole I enjoy this new system more than any of the ones employed in the commercial releases of the game.
New content is tough to talk about - for one thing, the game has only been out for a little over a week at the time of this writing, and the creators did not make explicit all of the new additions to the game. Thus, many people consider it to be a 'spoiler' to reveal new quests, new areas, and the like. I'll say this much - there is new material, particularly a lot of new and amusing Easter Eggs, but the issue of all those Long Shapeir Afternoons in the original is still present. You can always sleep the idle days away, or level-grind, but outside of that, there's long stretches where there isn't much else to keep you occupied.
A small price to pay, however, for one of the best adventure games of all time dressed up in a new suit of finery. The interface works well, the combat is great, and it's an aural and visual joy to behold. Good work AGD, and thanks for all the years you put into this.