King's Quest Ch. 1:
A Knight to Remember
The First Step
into a Larger World
Welcome back to Daventry, a kingdom of knights and dragons, where heroes are forged and stories are woven from their deeds. While the watercolor world initially appears to be ageless, a place where Graham, a would-be knight and future king of Daventry, might go on adventures endlessly, we are slowly introduced to the idea that nothing remains forever. A Knight to Remember challenges the assumption that a game has to be dark and gritty to be able to convey mature themes and messages. Yes, there are many light-hearted moments, but the game carries with it a much wider range of expression than just smiles and sunshine. Developer The Odd Gentlemen knows there are times for danger, suspense, and meaningful moments alongside laughter and goofiness.
The episodic version of King’s Quest takes place within a framed narrative where an old King Graham tells his granddaughter Gwendolyn stories about the various adventures he’s embarked on throughout his life. Players take direct control of Graham in the stories, wandering Daventry and completing various puzzles. How players choose to solve the various problems in each of the stories, which are conveniently separated into the individual chapters, teaches Gwendolyn how to deal with problems in her own life. It is an uncommon structure and The Odd Gentlemen use it to great effect. If Graham gets burned to a crisp or falls off a cliff, the story will briefly pull out to old King Graham and Gwendolyn with an accompanying joke or quip before returning to the story shortly before the misstep. At no point does the player control Gwendolyn. Instead, players watch as she learns from how they chose to proceed in Graham’s story and puts those lessons into action in her own life.
I’m not going to ruin any of the jokes in A Knight to Remember, but prepare yourself for puns. I have never heard so many puns in one piece of media before. It was simultaneously delightful and groan-inducing. I loved it. Many of the puns stem from interacting with objects in the environment repeatedly. Creative director Matt Korba managed to assemble a dream team of voice actors, including Christopher Lloyd, the voice of old King Graham. He delivers puns and wordplay with a suitably dignified and kindly air, at times sounding like a child being allowed to get away with something naughty. There are an astonishing number of lines for even obscure interactions. Seven or eight unique lines of dialogue can be found in some actions, which many players will never even hear or encounter. Beyond Lloyd’s performance, Wallace Shawn is terrific fun as a character very reminiscent of his role as Vizzini in The Princess Bride.
The comparison between Telltale’s adventure games and the latest outing from The Odd Gentlemen is too obvious to ignore. At a glance they might seem similar, but there are a number of subtle differences that make King’s Quest feel unique. Since the success of The Walking Dead Season One, Telltale’s games have all been for adults, featuring harsh violence, intense language, and traumatizing scenarios. King’s Quest is clearly aimed at both adults and children. It is the kind of game that a family can play together with both kids and adults finding enjoyment for different reasons. There are mature themes and messages in A Knight to Remember, but they are mature themes that can be digested by both the young and the old. Like all classic works of fantasy, King’s Quest isn’t afraid to go dark places amidst its levity. Sinister threads run through the adventure, threads that will probably become more apparent in Chapter 2. Even with that darkness present, King’s Quest is a game about bridge trolls and squirrel-princess friends, where problems solved with a knife can also be solved with a pie.
Beyond tonal differences and a larger intended audience, focusing on the method players choose to use to solve problems is the stroke of genius that truly separates The Odd Gentlemen from Telltale. Players can give advice to Gwendolyn at the beginning of the chapter, but how they proceed, the manner in which they actually play the game is the true choice that will affect how Gwendolyn approaches her problems. There are three core paths: Courage, cleverness, and kindness. Each can be pursued at any given time and lead to vastly different experiences for players. In the first episode, each approach is personified. Courage takes the form of a blacksmith who believes in the hard, straightforward path. The cleverness route appears as an old man and woman who run a magical curio shop. The baker takes on the mantle of kindness, advising players to try to reach hearts instead of relying on their own mind or brave deeds.
I hope it is clear by now that I enjoyed my time adventuring once more in Daventry. However, that is not to say that The Odd Gentlemen didn’t fall short in a few places. There were a number of instances where budget constraints became obvious. Incredibly low resolution textures sometimes made it front and center next to detailed objects and the resulting discrepancy was jarring. This happened a few times and appeared at odds with the rest of the gorgeous, watercolor scenery.
Another area that felt lacking was in basic story structure. Scenes and moments were missing that I am almost sure were cut for budgetary or time restraints. In particular this absence is felt in Gwendolyn’s sections. It felt like there were supposed to be more scenes reflecting her life in the castle, but we have only a few scant glimpses into what she’s worried about. In A Knight to Remember, Gwendolyn is nervous about an approaching fencing tournament, but there seems to be very little build up to the climax of her story at the end of the Chapter 1. Her problems are important to the story, and cutting short our window into that world was a letdown. It was functional, but lusterless. Visually, the tournament also felt like the result of budget and/or time concerns with no audience to be seen or heard. Additionally, there should probably have been more of an introduction to who Graham is for both newcomers and veterans of the series. Among other absent components, these are critical elements for the story to work better and they just aren’t there. Now, I understand that it is episodic and they didn’t have time to go in-depth with a lot of the characters. That’s the reality of the business. While everything I just suggested would have made the story work better, its current state is quite functional and provides plenty of laughs and tense moments. However, I hope that future episodes build out these characters, as well as the excellent supporting cast, from the basic introduction they were given in A Knight to Remember.
A Knight to remember feels like an imperfect, yet solid, entertaining, and endearing foundation on which the future chapters of King’s Quest can build. It is bright, vibrant, and holds deep respect for its roots while breaking into completely new territory for the series. It takes a lot of courage to take on a series with as much weight as King’s Quest after almost a decade of silence (not counting the fan remakes). For the first steps underneath immense expectations, time constraints, and budget, The Odd Gentlemen manage wonderfully. King’s Quest looks gorgeous, plays well, and really is something that brings a series stretching back 35 years into the present day in fine fashion. I’m looking forward to listening to the next story from King Graham.
King's Quest Chapter 1: A Knight to Remember is currently available for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC.
Is It Fun?:
Revive a series 15 years dormant into a new era of gaming
A gorgeous watercolor vista that sometimes shows its seams
The music is a bit frayed, but shimmers with nostalgia
Successfully streamlines point-and-click for consoles
Similar to Telltale games, but with more humor
People who want a fun adventure for all ages
King's Quest Chapter 1: A Knight to Remember was reviewed on Xbox One and is available now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC.
Review originally appeared on www.extra-life.org 07/28/15