For well over a decade there were claims that the adventure game, or more specifically the point-and-click adventure game was dead. This beloved genre of the 80s and 90s, most famously portrayed in the works of Sierra Entertainment (King’s Quest, Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, etc.) and LucasArts (Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max: Hit the Road, etc.), was apparently of a bygone era, one not likely to see the light of day again. Then close to a decade ago, Telltale Games started reviving long dead franchises, like Sam & Max, Monkey Island, and others — some more successfully than others — which helped bring about a new renaissance for the point-and-click adventure genre.
Then in 2012 Telltale Games changed it up again by dropping the point-and-click aspect in full and introducing The Walking Dead: Season One. Yes, there were other non-mouse based games from them before this, but The Walking Dead was the first one to truly embrace a new direction for adventure gaming. Now it wasn’t point-and-click adventures, but cinematic adventures, which has held the genre by the throat by nearly half a decade.
That is, until The Odd Gentlemen stepped in with last week’s release, King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember.
A Knight to Remember manages to do something that personally I felt Telltale Games has been missing since they ended their Sam and Max series. King’s Quest is first and foremost an adventure game, whereas most modern Telltale titles are playable films; well written, well made, and highly enjoyable films, but playable films none-the-less. Where Kings Quest: A Knight to Remember differs is in its approach to gameplay and how you, the player, direct the story.
Now, speaking of story, I have something to let you, my faithful readers know: Despite being born in the mid-80s, I’ve never played a single King’s Quest game. I’ve owned all 8 original titles on GOG for years, but never actually touched them. Back when I was a kid my mom offered to buy me a bunch of adventure games and gave me a choice the Space Quest collection or King’s Quest collection. I chose space, purely based on the simple premise of “fuck fantasy, sci-fi is better”, which was a code I lived by for some reason only a pre-teen would ever understand.
That was then, and this is now. In the now, I sit here having dropped 7 hours this week into a single playthrough of King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember, my mind still abuzz from playing straight through til the sun came up on the very day I’m writing this review. So how does A Knight to Remember measure up in the halls of adventure gaming? For that, we have to look to the story.
A Story to Remember
Story is key in any adventure game, particularly in one with a lineage bearing the strength of the King’s Quest series. As such, when approaching King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember, there is a certain expectation that even a previous non-royal minded individual such as myself comes to expect. Thankfully, A Knight to Remember delivers a superb story full of humorous moments, impactful events, and touching experiences. Playing it is akin to playing the best of the classic era of adventure gaming, but with an entirely new coat of paint.
Speaking of updated aspects, A Knight to Remember features the same kind of branching narrative one would expect to find it a modern adventure title. Early on in what amounts to the game’s prologue — which also happens to be a retelling of part of the original King’s Quest — you’re given a choice between 3 actions, of which I won’t spoil. This on paper seems like a minor aspect, or something simply there to allude to later events. In actuality it’s to subtly ask a question, one that the game will pose throughout: Will you be aggressive and act with malicious strength, or cunning with an eye for trickery, or are you the sort to be kind, caring, and helpful to whomever needs aid?
Starting with the end of this first quest you’ll be asked this question time and again, with your deeds showing who you truly are. Actually, after the prologue quest you’ll be directly asked this question by the elder King Graham’s granddaughter Gwendolyn. The answer you give seems like it’s meant to shape the granddaughter’s personality during her own quest — which it may — but what it’s actually doing is setting a tone, one that you can alter through your actions.
See, that’s the beauty of King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember; your deeds, not your words, dictate who you are. At the end of the game, should your actions differ from what you told your granddaughter earlier, she’ll question your message, leading King Graham to realizing that his actions of youth shaped who he, no matter what words he may spout in his elder years. It’s a powerful message, one that should be remembered and known by anyone.
As pointed out in playful jest throughout the game, at the expense of Telltale Game’s standard formula, “You will remember that.”
Playing at Being a Knight
A Knight to Remember takes you on quite the narrative-driven journey, but a journey in gaming is only as strong as the gameplay servicing the narrative. In this, the latest King’s Quest manages to both service fans of the classic point-and-click adventure style and fans of more modern adventure styled gaming. No, you won’t be using your mouse to walk around and ‘look’, ‘use’, ‘open’, or an assortment of other actions on different objects. Instead, if you’re a keyboard & mouse user, you’ll use WASD to move, while using context sensitive actions on objects.
Is the lack of direct choice of actions limiting to gameplay? Perhaps, but personally I felt it streamlined the action of the game, instead of turning into a “use everything” simulator; something mocked regularly during Act One of A Knight To Remember with commentary on a certain hatchet. You’ll also still be able to attempt to use any object in your inventory with most anything you come across, usually with specific, humorous dialogue, so there’s that.
I will say that while playing the game with a keyboard & mouse is the classic way of playing, the use of an Xbox 360 controller is definitely the intended way to play. Keyboard & mouse controls, while perfectly serviceable, feel clunky at the best of times, while using a gamepad just feels smooth throughout. If you have the option, and are playing on PC like I was, I’d recommend forgoing the classic interface and whipping out that gamepad.
One thing, among many, that King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember does well is it’s action set pieces. Whether you’re dismantling beds on a winding river or racing a pompous knight on Kyle-back, the game sets you up with humorous, action-filled moments. Sure, many of these experiences feature quick time events (QTEs), but while annoying in most genres, QTEs were originally made for adventure games such as this. Adventure games are about the story, which QTEs help push along by not requiring the highest of skill levels for players wanting to experience the story. There are non-QTE action points as well, some where you have to navigate an area carefully, otherwise you’ll face certain death.
Speaking of death, one of the hallmarks of the King’s Quest legacy is the sometimes brutal ends the series’ protagonists have faced. A Knight to Remember is no different, as sometimes it seems like just about anything can get you killed if not handled correctly. My only issue with deaths in the game is how saving is handled prior to them. Yes, it’s awesome that the game saves just prior to your death, so you don’t have to replay a lengthy section if something goes wrong or you’re just feeling spiteful towards Graham. My issue is that many deaths in the game seem to come right after a sometimes lengthy cutscene; one that cannot be skipped no matter how many times you’ve accidentally clipped that stupid bedboat. While skipping cutscenes in an adventure game is morally reprehensible, there does reach a point when seeing the same establishing shot just gets tiresome.
There has to be a middle ground.
Onto the Next Adventure
When reading over statements made by the development team at The Odd Gentlemen, you see people who grew up playing the original King’s Quest games. They’re people who on paper seem to be extremely passionate about the product they’ve worked on. Many times when dealing with reboots and rehashing of classic games, you’ll see interviews with developers who speak with that certain twinkle in their eye of their youth spent playing the original of the franchise they’re working on. Then when the game releases we, the fans who looked upon them and felt their joy, are delivered what amounts to a total betrayal; something barely worthy of being called a game, let alone wearing the title of that which we once loved.
This terrible imagery has nothing to do with The Odd Gentlemen, as the passion they depict on paper is the same passion shown in the game. King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember in of itself would be a great game, but as the start of an episodic series it’s nothing short of an enthralling, beautiful start to a brand new experience. The Odd Gentlemen have managed, with the framing device/main story of Old King Graham and Gwendolyn, to bring about the charm, humorous banter, and heart of Peter Falk and Fred Savage’s grandfather/grandson relationship from The Princess Bride. In addition to that we’re treated an amusing retelling of a classic King’s Quest tale and a brand new adventure of a younger Graham than seen to date in the series.
Regardless of what system you play it on, you’d be hard pressed to not find enjoyment in this roughly 7 hour experience.
King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember does what may have seemed impossible: it managed to revive a franchise that has been dead in the water for 17 years, while bringing it back to its roots and growing outward from there. While not the height of perfection, the game manages to create a solid jumping off point for a brand new King’s Quest franchise, one that The Odd Gentlemen almost certainly have the passion and drive to properly embrace.