This is the moment the King’s Quest series has been leading up to.
Not 7 – because seven is an animated Disney travesty.
And certainly not 8 – because 8 was just barely a King’s Quest at all.
This is – effectively, the series swan song. And it does a lot of things so, so right. But then, you know, in typical Roberta Williams style, it tends to screw it all up on occasion.
So let’s talk about the “grand finale” game of the King’s Quest series, King’s Quest 6.
Set about six months after King’s Quest 5, this new game sees Alexander moping in the throne room. He is – it turns out – besotted by his singular glimpse of Cassima from the fifth game. Her invitation – that he come and see the land of the Green Isles ringing around in his head. He’d love to, but…he can’t find mention of this particular place anywhere. And believe you me, given that he’s head-over-heels in love, he’s looked everywhere.
So the Magic Mirror – a Deus Ex Machina that’s existed in the series since the second game – comes to life and shows him a brief glimpse of her by starlight. And that’s how Alexander knows to find her. He will – as the cliché goes – follow the stars to his love.
He takes a guide book to the Green Isles, [the other part of the game manual – which is split into two this time] a trusty crew and some money and boards the S.S Sinkalot. I call it that because – without fail – at the end of the [for the time] beautifully rendered introduction it sinks. A lot.
Then the game does something that we haven’t seen since the first game. It just drops you off and says, in effect, “Hi, I’m Skyrim. Let’s go anywhere and do anything.” And this, let me tell you, is GREAT.
Sierra has never been very good about letting you off the very narrow rail of the adventure – very often, you need to do thing Y before you can tackle thing X and while that’s functionally true in this game, there’s a lot more player agency and freedom here that works to the game’s advantage. Sure. It starts stripping this freedom away toward the beginning of the second act [and we’ll talk about that, because it’s incalculably stupid when it happens] but while it lasts, it is the most wonderful thing. Find objects. Puzzle over their use. If you can’t figure out what you’re doing here, go somewhere else. It presents a very non-linear quest format that helps immerse you in the game, give you lots to look at and mess with and generally keeps you well-occupied.
This does end, as I’ve noted from “Act 2” which starts with a maze. Yes. Really. A maze. The game also unceremoniously dumps you into the maze without warning you or without allowing you to fetch everything you might need to beat the maze. Which means that. Yes. Really. The maze is a death trap.
It’s also a one-way maze, meaning that if you don’t collect everything you need from the first floor and somehow navigate to the second floor, well…you’re going to die somewhere later down the line, because you didn’t properly explore. Or, you know, collect everything.
This trend only “speeds up” in “Act 3.” There’s a peddler selling lamps – old for new – who only ever lets you make one trade. Get it wrong? Game over. There’s a castle full of Guard Dogs [My favourite of which is undoubtedly Saladin] who will kill you on sight if you’re caught meandering the hallways. There’s no stealth gimmick and no way to avoid this. It just happens without much preamble other than “you hear guards approaching from the [insert cardinal direction here.]”
So, we have a very schizophrenic Sierra at work here. One side wants to make an open-world adventure with very careful puzzles that won’t screw you over. The other side? It’s OK with repeatedly throwing you to the wolves. And yes, there’s a Beast in this game. So that whole sentence stands as-is.
The graphics aren’t bad although – at this late date, they’re lagging behind what other studios are doing in the VGA realm. The hand-drawn backdrops are certainly nice – and in places we have pieces of art I’d love to frame, but everything seems kind of smeared and poured together when taken side-by-side with some of the other adventures of the day [like Westwood’s Legend of Kyrandia – which Westwood even tried to sell to Sierra] or AdventureSoft’s slightly more adult and beautiful Simon the Sorcerer.
The sound is – largely forgettable and while there’s a tune or two here you can hum, [years later, I still adore the Wallflower theme – a spritely little piece of music that suits the situation it’s in rather well] most of it just breezes by without sticking. Well. Except for Girl in the Tower. Instead of trying to describe that, I’ll just let you listen to it. It’s…at once beautiful and at once the most terrifying thing I’ve heard all at the same time. Hilariously: it managed to get played on radio, too. [Having said that, it’s absolutely beautiful and somewhat heart-rending in retrospect that Mark Seibert wrote the lyrics and his wife got to sing on this specific song]:
The plot is – sadly – paper thin. As with most adventures of the era, there are references to it scattered hither and yon and it is something of a binding agent for everything that happens, but the central motif: Alexander’s puppy-love for Cassima – is gently pushed aside by everything else that takes centre stage: a great feud with the Isles, the overwhelming oppression the Vizier has visited upon everyone and…just general stuff. That’s maybe part of the problem here. There’s focus, but it seems so scattered that it’s difficult to take seriously.
So, can I recommend it? Yes. With qualifiers. The first Act, with it’s open world and easy exploration is amazing – and I wish Sierra had kept going in this direction. The rest is kind of going to be “buyer beware.” If you don’t mind that Alexander is basically being a creep, that the story largely takes a back seat to a myriad of smaller problems [but these are better integrated here than in anywhere else in the series] or that Sierra are slowly starting to lose the technology race – the graphics and sound implementations are OK, but nothing to write home about – then you might like King’s Quest 6.
It is the end of an era.
And King’s Quest 6 sees it out with great aplomb.
I did a Let’s Play of King’s Quest 6. You can watch it here.