Orchestral backgrounds support the nostalgic, olden-days atmosphere in this game. My favorite was the whimsical marching music, complete with fanfare, which accompanies Graham as he navigates the various paths. A medieval tune with plucked strings buoyed my passage through the village, and a mournful piano solo was so lovely that I felt like slapping the character that sobbed and blew his nose all the way through it. The music is clearly meant to enhance the ambiance rather than dominate, playing quietly in the background. Ambient sounds also tickle the ear, whether birds chirping, water gurgling, bells chiming, critters whimpering, or footsteps crashing.
Played from a third-person perspective, the PC version allows you to use the WASD or arrow keys, or a controller while navigating. I started the game using the keyboard, which requires quite a lot of input to keep from bumping into things. By about halfway through the first playthrough, I switched to a controller and found it significantly easier. The mouse can also be used at certain times – when accessing the inventory and during dialog choices, for instance. Fortunately, you can switch seamlessly back and forth between the controller and the keyboard/mouse, as the mouse makes it easiest to aim during light shooting sequences.
When Graham approaches a hotspot, an icon pops up at the bottom of the screen. Hotspots are not individually identified and young Graham usually doesn’t describe them, though occasionally elderly Graham adds a comment (or even a hint) about a particular object or procedure. Sometimes the hotspot indicates a predetermined action – pressing the spacebar or controller button while it’s active will cause Graham to climb part of a wall, for instance, though you’ll need to ascend the rest of it manually.
Unfortunately, the game does not allow you to click through dialogs, and since there’s no indication when new topics become available or when conversation has been exhausted, you will experience some unintended repetition. (Update: this feature was added with the launch of Chapter 2, but not retroactively to include Chapter 1.) Progress is recorded via autosave only, making it difficult to experiment with different choices without replaying the entire game from the start.
A Knight to Remember contains conundrums that will test your wits, observational skills, reflexes, and sense of humor. In addition to frequent inventory puzzles, you’ll also encounter dialog challenges and pattern sequences where, for instance, you must activate devices or make sounds in a specific order. A tough board game challenge can be played straight or – if necessary – won by finessing your opponent. There’s no pixel hunting, though twice I missed a new branch of the path until I headed in a non-obvious direction. Puzzle difficulty ranges from easy to medium; solutions are sometimes conventional, but more often they are delightfully goofy.
The most thought-provoking challenges are the choices you must make. These surface frequently – at times they are dialog choices, but they can also involve a decision as to which object to pick up or buy, or where to use an inventory item that solves multiple problems but can only be used once. These selections often take place in the village shops or relate thematically to the philosophies of the town merchants. I played the game twice to monitor the effect of the decisions I’d made. Though they don’t seem to change the overall story arc, the choices do lead to attitude changes and differing tasks for non-player characters, diverse items appearing in inventory, alternative cinematics, and even divergent dialogs and cutscenes in the elderly-Graham-and-Gwendolyn exchanges.
Quick Time Events also pop up at regular intervals. If you’ve never experienced QTEs before, this is a good game to serve as an introduction, because the frequent autosaves and short sequences mean that they are doable, even for someone (like me) without fast reflexes. The shame of QTEs, of course, is that it’s impossible to admire the environments you’re passing through or the animations of the character you’re controlling because you’re focused on symbols on-screen that must be responded to instantly. Having fewer QTEs would have improved the game.
Graham has a bow and arrows, though they don’t show up in inventory. Instead they appear whenever a shooting sequence occurs. The most difficult timed event is a skirmish with multiple targets which took me ten attempts before I succeeded. Other timed challenges include a race where you avoid mobile barriers, a zany entrapment exercise, and knowing when and where to hide to avoid being eaten.
Speaking of being a meal, it is possible to die in this game. Annihilation came in many forms in the classic King’s Quest series – in King’s Quest I: Quest for the Crown I experienced death by alligator, witch and water in just the first 15 minutes of gameplay. Casualties are much less frequent in A Knight to Remember, but they are still a part of the adventure: among other agents of necrosis there’s a flaming dragon, angry goblins, snarling wedzels and a flying bed. Thankfully, after the squashing, incinerating, etc. event, elderly Graham and Gwendolyn discuss what went wrong and you’re taken back to the moment before disaster.
As this debut chapter drew to a close, I was surprised at how effectively it had pulled me in. I didn’t expect hilarity combined so expertly with tenderness and pathos. Granted, it gave me a thrill just to see “Sierra” and “King’s Quest” once again splashed across the screen. But this game doesn’t just revive the King’s Quest brand, it reimagines the story and deepens the character of Graham while providing activities that, despite something of an overreliance on QTEs, are as wackily engaging as they are varied. This first installment in the new King’s Quest saga rounds out its outstanding production values with an ending that satisfies, then tantalizes. Let’s hope that Chapter 2, slated to enter the fray later this year, continues to carry aloft the high standard achieved by A Knight to Remember.Continued on the next page...