Adventure Gamers Awards
Take me straight to Chapter 5!
Chapter 1 - A Knight to Remember
The King’s Quest fantasy series, created by Roberta Williams of Sierra On-Line, originally launched in the early 1980s. The franchise continually pushed the technological envelope in its day, and was hugely popular among adventure gamers over the years, but came to a full stop after the eighth game, Mask of Eternity, abandoned its beloved cast of characters in favor of action-oriented gameplay with real-time combat sequences. Now, almost twenty years later, the series is being rebooted under a newly-revived Sierra label, as The Odd Gentlemen refocus our attention on how a knight wannabe named Graham saved the sumptuously colorful, quirky kingdom of Daventry. And what a return it is. Whether for longtime series fans or total newcomers to King’s Quest, Chapter 1 – A Knight to Remember is an enjoyable 3D romp filled with witty dialog, superb voice-overs, twisty conundrums, and entertaining choices that affect its outlandish characters.
Our story begins as the elderly King Graham, having recently fallen ill, chats with his young granddaughter Gwendolyn, who has traveled with her family to Daventry out of concern for his failing health. Gwendolyn loves to hear tales of her grandfather’s exploits. He starts by describing a past quest where he was tasked with finding a magic mirror guarded by a dragon. As the flashback begins, you control a much younger Graham, who attempts to outwit the dragon in a subterranean realm littered with traps, skeletons, bell-pulls, and mattresses.
Young Graham is not of royal blood, so he must earn his way to his eventual kingship. He sports a stylized figure – long-limbed and bow-legged, with overlarge ears and a red-tinged nose. His face is not quite handsome (perhaps good looks will come with maturity) but he has an earnest, appealing manner. He wears old-fashioned clothes, a cape with many pockets, and of course a cap with a red feather.
Expertly animated, Graham runs with an ungainly gait, his cape rippling behind him. He sometimes launches into paroxysms of enthusiasm, leaping into dramatic poses and shouting bizarre questions that show the odd way his mind works. Cutscenes bring close-ups of his face expressing determination, perplexity, awe, annoyance, joy, fear and discouragement. As the game progresses, Graham’s words and actions reveal a young man gaining in confidence, skill and worldly knowledge, and the animations make it that much easier to empathize with him. It’s been a long time since I understood a character in an adventure game this deeply after a mere seven hours (so far) in his company.
The environments in A Knight to Remember are displayed in cel-shaded 3D that creates a hand-painted effect. Locations consist of the village of Daventry, brief glimpses of the castle, and a theater interspersed between fields, mountains and caves. Rustic rooms are furnished with tapestries, carved wooden furniture, curtains with decorative borders, and colorful banners. Unexpectedly, realistic textures are used with stylized shapes. I would have thought this might give the environments an inconsistent quality. But it’s accomplished with such a deft touch that everything works beautifully together – it’s magical yet naturalistic.
Outdoor locations feature fall foliage in many shades of gold, mauve, coral and copper. Each scene is spectacularly detailed, with layers of rock formations, trees, weathered hills, leafy ferns, gnarled roots or moss strewn with fallen leaves. Skies and distant mountains have a watercolor-wash effect, with blues, greys and purples bleeding together. A gentle light embraces the scenery, casting lifelike shadows. Ambient animations enliven the world. These combine traditional touches such as falling leaves, fluttering butterflies, and birds on the wing with unconventional ambiance-builders: shrubbery that trembles and roars, a unicorn-like creature feasting on a large steak, and two castle guards galloping about, one riding the other piggyback-style.
Graham competes in a tournament whose winner will become an official Knight of Daventry. He squares off against four other hopefuls: Whisper the fleet of foot; the diminutive but influential Manny; tall, silvery and silent Achaka; and Acorn, a hulking brute with a rodent fixation. All of the opposing knights-in-waiting have secrets (only some of which are disclosed in this first chapter), and each wears distinctive armor and a helmet so that his face is always hidden.
Up in the village, Wente the baker shows off his neverending moustaches. Amaya the blacksmith has invented “Missus Crumbler,” which destroys anything smaller than a stone tower within seconds. The Hobblepots own a magic/curiosity shop and bicker like an old married couple (which they are). These villagers represent three different philosophies: a life of compassion and cookies, a belief in taking direct action while trusting your “gut,” and the certainty that the solution to every problem lies in using your wits (and perhaps a potion or two). The townspeople’s attitudes toward Graham change in accordance with his actions in the game.
A star-studded group of actors provide voices for the animated characters. Perhaps the most prominent of this talented group are Christopher Lloyd, who gruffly voices the elderly King Graham, and Wallace Shawn, who portrays the wily Manny. Josh Keaton brings boyish exuberance and candor to the role of the young Graham. And kudos to Jean Gilpin, who delivers just the right amount of French-accented sauciness for the flamboyant bridge troll Pillare.
A Knight to Remember tells an intricate tale. The story framework of the relationship between the elderly Graham and Gwendolyn leads to a series of flashbacks from two different time periods. Events in each story layer parallel and reflect the others. For example, the opening adventure with the dragon recalls a previous skirmish with this same dreaded beast when Graham was even younger and much less experienced. The elderly Graham narrates these encounters from the viewpoint of age and perspective, with Gwendolyn commenting on and questioning his actions in the past.
This dramatic, sometimes tragic tale is lightened by the elderly Graham’s vast trove of puns ranging from clever to remarkably silly. The over-the-top characters frequently find themselves in dangerous scenarios. But just as often they trigger situations that range from absurd to absolutely ridiculous. The droll dialogs and amusing plot revelations meant that I played with a big silly grin on my face, occasionally laughing out loud.Continued on the next page...