I’ve never been big on RPG games. Part of the problem, I think, is that I got born into a world where RPG games meant very strict min-maxing. If I go back and think about my time with the gold box games, it boiled down to you having to roll scores over and over and over again until they were perfect. Basically: there’s too much micromanagement in RPG’s for me to bother with.
So, when Sierra put out a RPG in the form of Hero’s Quest I: So You Want To Be A Hero? I was a little puzzled, but curious.
And you know what? It wasn’t a bad experience. Sierra had gotten rid of at least some of the silly min-maxery that most RPG’s of the day had. Your stats could only go up. And they went up through practise. More than that, the puzzles that existed in the game had multiple solutions [a thing that had seemingly fallen out of favour over at Sierra by this time.] – so, if you were a Magician, with Magicial spells, the solution to some of the problems would be very different from some other person playing a Warrior with Warrior skills.
The first game was also wonderfully open-ended. You could do most of the major quests at your own pace – there was no real “set order” for any of it. [in fact, if you knew the correct path, you could skip right to the ending.]
It was a – for the most part – a fun adventure/RPG hybrid.
So, of course, when Sierra announced the second game in the sequence, I was naturally interested. Not as interested as – say – if they’d announced a new King’s Quest or Space Quest, but I figured that if they expanded on the ideas already in the first game, we’d be good to go.
The thing is, when you’re building a game like Quest For Glory, and you’ve pushed your in-house engine in a very specific direction, you can only really keep going in that direction. Particularly when you’ve gotten your user-base to save their hero for use in the next game.
So this means that the same systems that existed in Hero’s Quest I all make a return in the second game. Janky combat? It’s back. Having to raise your climb skill by “climbing wall” over and over and over again is back. And most problematically, stamina is still a big deal. [less of a big deal than in the first game, but it can still kill you.]
Probably the worst sin this game commits is what I lovingly refer to as the “Streets of Rage” problem. See, the designers wanted this to feel like the Arabian Nights. So you needed to be able to get lost in the streets of Shapeir. And the way to do that was to make EVERY STREET look exactly the same. You’d need a map to navigate the city. [provided in the documentation, thankfully]
This does lead to one of the more interesting subsystems: you can buy a
map from a merchant [as long as you do so almost as soon as the game starts – that merchant goes away after a while] and the map will allow you to instantly teleport between any two points in the city. But until you have that map…the game is a chore.
Worse still, this game railroads you. There are things you have to get done, the designers have decided, and you have to do them in that specific order. There’s no way to sequence break out of any of it. It’s all pretty linear and follows a very set story-line.
For what it is, the story-line isn’t terrible: the Katta – your cat-like friends from the last game – live in a place called Shapeir – a town wedged in the middle of a desert. Shapeir has a sister-city named Raseir which is on the other end of the same desert.
Shapeir is still reasonably OK, except for the threat of imminent danger in the form of elementals that are wreaking havoc on the city. As all elemental systems go, the “usual four” are here: you will have to contend with water, fire, air and earth.
Raseir, on the other hand, is in dire straits. A pair of autocrats have taken over the city and have declared a kind of martial law where doing almost anything “wrong” gets you tossed into the dungeons with no hope of escape.
There’s a third strand at work here – which you only really find out about half way through the game, so I won’t spoil it, but it’s this third strand that turns out to be particularly troublesome for the design of the game.
Part of the problem with the third strand is that it is time-sensitive. You have to do things before a certain allotment of days has passed or you will have trouble finishing the game.
What this really means is that you only have a certain amount of time to grind character stats so that you can take on the final encounter in the second half of the game. [the second half of the game doesn’t really give you much opportunity to better your character much]
And this leads to the game’s biggest design fault: false pressure created by the story to get things done. I’ve mentioned before that I hate timers. I hate how they warp the games around them into panicky speed runs through interesting content so that you don’t get killed by the ever-present and ever-ominous tick-tocking going on in the background.
There are a couple of saving graces this time around: the story is far more fleshed out – you’re not just going from article to article on a list trying to deal with those issues, instead, the entire story is woven around the problems the sister cities face. This means that there’s enough scope for mild cinematic flourishes. People don’t just tell you things anymore, they go a little further, showing you what they’re talking about.
The soundtrack, also, is fantastically Arabian – a surprising feat given the technology of the time – and this particular backdrop truly sells the game – your immersion – your connection to the pixels you’re seeing is that much stronger for the songs and tones that Sierra have used, here.
Lastly, there’s the path of honour. We meet a fantastic beast that is half-centaur, half-lion in the form of Rakeesh. Rakeesh points any character [so long as they’re honourable, anyway – it’s possible to do this as a thief, but very difficult] along the way of the Paladin. And this is truly one of the finest implementations of that ideal, because you absolutely have to work for it. There is no instant gratification of simply “choosing to be a paladin” and for this I utterly have to applaud the Coles. Rakeesh and his Way of Honour are one of the best things about this game.
Should you play this game? If you liked the first and you want to see where the series goes, you can sorta skip this particular chapter for the third one, because the stat build-up isn’t too crazy between that game and this one and your saved game from the first game will readily import into the third with no problem. This game has flaws and some of the flaws are utterly game breaking.
HOWEVER. The Way of the Paladin, the Julanar side-story and the absolutely amazing WIT [Wizards Institute of Technocery] exam are all wonderful bits of content that are absolutely worth experiencing.
I did a Let’s Play of Quest for Glory 2 and you can watch it here.