KING'S QUEST V / Sierra / PC

I feel like I should cut King's Quest 5 a bunch of slack since it was such a pioneer - Sierra's first VGA game, one of the first overall to make the jump to VGA, and also Sierra's first to utilize a point-and-click menu system. That said, the problems aren't really with the interface and presentation - the game has aged well in both regards, still looking (and sounding) quite nice and having a perfectly functional system of interaction. The problems are structural, and with four King's Quests, numerous other adventure games and a market of competitors to learn from under their belts, you'd really think they'd have learned by this point.

Yet, King's Quest persists here with the same needlessly frustrating, often thoughtless puzzle design and layout that made so many of the previous games less than what they could have been. The game leans heavily on the ol' "Fetch item A to location B to get item C" routine, which can be alright when implemented well, but here half of these puzzles are glaringly obvious and the other half require completely random experimentation with no clues whatsoever in-game as to what you should be using (stop a Yeti with a pie? Moldy cheese powers a magical machine?).

There's also two mazes that require mapping (or downloading a map); the first, a desert maze, also kills you if you walk more than eight screens without finding water, kills you on several random screens with scorpions for just walking onto the screen, and stretches on infinitely at the southern and eastern edges if you walk past a certain point. The second is a little easier to deal with, having no random deaths, but utilizing a quasi-3D perspective like that of the alleys in Quest For Glory 2, and having featureless walls thus requiring that you make/use a detailed map. While neither is a big deal now with maps easily available from Mother Internet, back in the day I always suspected that these were added to the game sheerly in a cynical ploy to sell strategy guides.

That isn't all. The infamous "Sierra Hang-Ups" are present in force here, often merrily allowing you to proceed quite far before you find out that you missed an item earlier you can't return for. In most cases, there is no apparent reason for obtaining these items in the first place; you're expected to grab (or trade for) anything that happens to be available, only to use it in some unexpected way much later. One of these is particularly unfair - there's a screen you can walk onto early in the game where there is a random chance of triggering a scene where a cat chases a rat. Unless you intervene (by using an item found in some random spot in the middle of the desert maze), the cat catches the rat, and you now can no longer complete the game - but you won't find that out until much later, if at all (because the death that results from your not saving the rat doesn't indicate that saving the rat is the way to avoid it!) The game is laden with setups like these, and they are cheap.

All of this sort of thing was more forgivable back with King's Quest I and II, where adventure gaming was very young, King's Quest was the pioneer of graphical adventure gaming, and everyone involved was just sort of feeling their way along in creating this new genre. By 1992, when KQ5 was released, there was plenty of precedent to draw from to see what worked and what didn't. LucasArts had already demonstrated how to design a much more sound adventure game, but Sierra apparently didn't feel like paying attention, persisting in the "try and die and replay huge sections of the game over and over" style of punishing the player constantly, and seemingly worrying more about the graphics and music than anything else. Now, the graphics here certainly are very pleasing - the backgrounds are lovely and detailed, if a little still, and the game frequently cuts to full-body portraits of major characters which is a nice touch that I wish more adventure games had employed. Mark Seibert and Ken Allen's soundtrack here is also excellent, one of Sierra's best, and almost worth the play-through in and of itself. And these help the game to age somewhat gracefully, but it is hindered by immature design.

A shame, that, because the story here is actually among one of the better of the series. An aging Graham has his family kidnapped by Mordack, evil wizard brother of evil wizard Mannannan from KQ3, and sets out on an almost Homer-esque trek to rescue them. The game relies heavily on magic, as does the rest of the series, yet everything feels internally consistent and believable in the context of the King's Quest universe. Mordack lives in a remote castle that is extremely difficult to reach, and the route you take in getting there not only takes you through a diversity of areas that are interesting and look appealing, but feel like a plausible reason to put Graham through all the sorts of trials needed for a good adventure. The game also both builds on elements of previous games and becomes a lynchpin for developments in the future. Dialogue is very basic, and character development is almost non-existent, but what the King's Quest games always seem to have shot for is sort of being a fairy tale or "Arabian Nights" type story (minus the kinky secks) that you play along with, and I felt like this one hit that feeling better than any other game in the series.

Oh, one last point of note - while CD-ROM "talkie" versions are usually considered an upgrade, this is one where you'll want to avoid it like the plague. The voice acting is uniformly awful and it is filled with irritating vocal songs that will burn into your brain and drive you nuts. Stick with the floppy version.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video
* Woo! I'm an evil wizard!
* lol ice wolf

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