My fascination with Sierra's King's Quest series did not begin during childhood. I have no fond memories of exploring the magical Kingdom of Daventry, no nostalgic recollections of helping King Graham on his quest to save his family, and no hilarious stories of accidental deaths and unwinnable save-states. No, my love of the series began with a Let's Play in 2009.
Now, I can already hear you moaning, "Ugh! Doesn't everyone and their dog have a Let's Play series? What a horrible way to first experience a game!" While the preponderance of Let's Plays may seem obnoxious nowadays, the concept was not quite so popular back in 2009, nor were older games quite as accessible as they are now. And so my first exposure to Sierra games came from Pawdugan's Let's Play of King's Quest V (which I highly recommend). It is through this lens that I review the newest addition to the franchise. So unlike many fans, I only had to wait six years to experience another tale in Daventry, though I never imagined the series' comeback would look much like what we got.
King's Quest: A Knight to Remember is the first chapter in the new episodic King's Quest series from developers The Odd Gentleman. Published by Sierra Entertainment, King's Quest acts as a sort of prequel/reimagining of the franchise and in particular the original King's Quest game from 1984. In A Knight to Remember, you'll control a young and awkward not-quite-knight Graham as he strives to make a name for himself in the crumbling Kingdom of Daventry. This tale is recounted through the intermittent (and sometimes hilarious) narration of an aging King Graham as he regales his granddaughter Gwendolyn with tales of his gloried past. Thusly, the three acts of the game are broken up with a B-storyline that follows Gwendolyn as she prepares for her first fencing competition. These framing sections really reinforce that this new iteration of King's Quest is still, in essence, a children's game.
There's no denying that King's Quest is very much a love letter to the franchise and perhaps because of that, the game is never particularly innovative. Beyond shirking the traditional style of point-and-click play, King's Quest falls lockstep in line with its predecessors. The classic puzzle-solving and sense of humor that defined the series make a welcome comeback, though the story's slight obsession with the Princess Bride gives off more than a whiff of plagiarism instead of the Eau de Nostalgia I'm sure it intended. A Knight to Remember also sets aside the convoluted object combinations of old-school Sierra puzzles and, in doing so, the game never manages to reach quite that distinctive level of hair-pulling frustration. Instead, the game opts for multiple puzzle solutions that reflect one of three kingly qualities that Graham can cultivate: bravery, wit, and compassion. For instance, as the game's fairly linear introductory sequence comes to an end, you are presented with three choices for dealing with an angry dragon. You can shoot the dragon in eye (bravery), trick the dragon by ringing its food bell (wit), or release the dragon from captivity (compassion). Whether choices like these, both the minor and the major, have significant ramifications in later chapters remains to be seen, but it is clear that the young Gwendolyn is using her grandfather's past actions as a guide for her own choices.
Looking towards its art direction, A Knight to Remember is a straight up gorgeous game, a treat for both the eyes and the ears. The environments are rendered with such exquisite, loving care that it's hard not to sit back in slack-jawed amazement each time you round a bend. Not to be outshone by their painterly surroundings, the characters of A Knight to Remember are dynamic and interesting in their own right. Without a word, you'll be able to identify the personalities of each potential knight as they saunter past on horseback at the start of the game's second act. The animations are kept energetic and bouncy with an almost Looney Tunes-like quality to the movements. Graham's reimagined younger self is the sweetest of cinnamon rolls, bringing to mind other gawky but adorable characters like Hiccup of How to Train Your Dragon and Flint Lockwood of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. The voice acting is also simply stellar across the board, infusing life and a depth of personality into each and every character you encounter. Particular standouts for me included the hyper-active, cocky Whisper as voiced by Richard White and the goofy kingsguards given life by the ubiquitous Gideon Emery. The soundtrack for A Knight to Remember is uplifting and fantastical and works especially well during some of the game's more somber moments.
King's Quest does away with the necessity of multiple save files that plagued its predecessors, instead opting for a reasonable rate of auto-saving. The various possible interaction options of the older games are replaced by a single button that serves to interact with every object, which may disappoint some seasoned players. However, King's Quest still makes one critical misstep in terms of functionality: it falls victim to the dreaded unskippable cutscene. Happen to misclick on that pie display case? Looks like you need to hear about how much King Graham loves custard for the umpteenth time! Need to experiment with the solution for a challenge? I hope you enjoy repetition because like the infuriatingly twee Teletubbies of old, King's Quest demands that the sequence run "again, again!" Fortunately, there are really only four or five times in the game where the repetition manages to overshadow King's Quest's otherwise charming presentation. The game would also benefit from a walk-speed toggle or some form of fast travel, as Graham's goofy trotting becomes tremendously tedious when travelling back and forth to retrieve various objects. But these complaints are small ones and with the game's reasonable run time of 3-6 hours, the slow plodding in some sections doesn't have a chance to truly wear you down.
If you are unsure whether you will enjoy the series, A Knight to Remember helpfully delivers a full story on its own, no additional chapters needed. However, as the sixth chapter/epilogue will be exclusive to those who bought a season pass, weigh your options carefully before you commit to only buying the first chapter. With the next installment (Rubble Without a Cause) releasing on December 15th, I, for one, am looking forward to joining King Graham on his next great adventure. And I guess Gwendolyn can come along, too.
- + Gorgeous art helps create an understanding of Daventry's lore and setting
- + Fantastic voice acting and music throughout
- + Solid puzzles that avoid the typical moon-logic
- - Unskippable cutscenes and dialogue
- - Backtracking gets wearisome when you are unsure of where to go next
- - Cold opening may turn some players away