Chapter 5 - The Good Knight
In King’s Quest Chapter 5: The Good Knight, Gwendolyn overhears King Graham negotiating with the magic mirror for a chance to have one, last epic adventure. Or even a tiny, trivial pursuit. Anything, as long as it gets him out of his bed and back into action. When the king and his granddaughter – for the first time – openly confront the fact that he is dying, Graham returns to the magic mirror to replay one of his many quests. He hopes that re-inhabiting his memories will bring Gwendolyn some comfort, teach her another life lesson, and help her to understand the origin of his recent, devastating illness.
This time the mirror reveals Graham as an elderly hero, still eager to improve his kingdom, solve mind-boggling puzzles, and defeat any villain idiotic enough to cross his path. Graham-in-the-mirror now has a wrinkled face and a long white beard. His red cape is gone, but his hat, with a rather frayed red feather, still perches atop his head. His joints are stiff, and he runs lumberingly. As he gingerly climbs a ladder or down a set of stone steps, he stumbles and has to catch himself.
Daventry has also changed. Near the castle the wild bushes, thorns and wildlife are gone. Instead a rose garden surrounds a charming gazebo, with convenient benches where the king can stop and rest. The present-day Graham’s memory is failing, and that affects what’s visible in the mirror. Parts of the landscape beyond the castle grounds are shrouded in a white fog or alight with flame, as the king’s recollection fades and is consumed. Conversations Graham hears as he ventures forth may have actually occurred in a different time period altogether. Other details are so inaccurate that they have to be adjusted, changing Graham’s imagination via the mirror to reflect reality – accomplished by dialog reminders from Gwendolyn.
Decisions made in earlier episodes are manifest in this chapter. Here you find out whether Graham will be remembered chiefly for his bravery, his compassion, or his wisdom. When he reaches the village, past choices (or failings) steer him toward one shop that he can enter, while the others are locked. Previous decisions also spur which character(s) give advice late in the game. Only with the benefit of this hindsight, however, do the results of your earlier paths finally become clear. At the time you’re confronted with various options, it’s not always possible to project which actions or inactions will cause what results. This isn’t a problem if you are making choices without a specific outcome in mind. However, if you’ve tried to steer Graham toward a particular philosophy or endear him to a particular villager, you may find out too late that your actions didn’t turn out like you had planned.
Speaking of choices and their outcomes, this brings up a personal sore point. It has taken 15 months to release the King’s Quest episodes and, unfortunately, the computer I used to play Chapters 1, 2 and 3 went through a series of hiccups, so I had to use a different PC for Chapter 4. Since the game doesn’t synchronize saved games to alternate devices using the Steam Cloud, my choices weren’t archived in a way that allowed access on new hardware. So for the latter two chapters I had to make do with the game’s default choices. This of course will probably not be a factor for gamers who can seamlessly play through the five episodes now that they’ve all released. But I admit that, for me, the choice-driven aspect didn’t live up to its original promise.
Unlike previous episodes, The Good Knight doesn’t introduce new characters, but the voice-overs of familiar characters continue to be extremely effective. Graham revisits locales from Chapter 1 and has short encounters with most of the people from earlier episodes. But for the most part, this story hones in on the relationship between Graham and Gwendolyn and the way the king hopes to remember, overcome, and somehow fix the past. Its themes are thoughtful, somber and wistful, with fewer chuckle-inducing moments – though the conversations are not entirely pun-free. Looking back, as this chapter encourages you to do, I am amazed at how well this game wove elements from the classic King’s Quest series into its story and environments, while delving even deeper into personalities, relationships and motivations.
Graham’s memory lapses play into the puzzles in an intriguing way. A couple of these had me flummoxed until I figured out what was going on. Puzzle variety spices up this episode, much of it referencing the past: a quick line puzzle similar to those in Chapter 4, a conundrum with the music box from Chapter 2, brief retro-styled blasts from classic Sierra past with locations from King’s Quest: Quest for the Crown (where I failed to score all available points) and King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow (where I did manage to trigger a nostalgic dance sequence). There’s a stealth-like challenge with reversed controls requiring careful maneuvering. An elaborate multi-stepped sequence early in the game has you interpreting patterns and employing inventory items. And, much to my surprise, I encountered only one easy Quick Time Event – which actually makes sense, given that Graham’s reflexes are now very slow. My favorite challenge was the final multiple-minigame puzzle sequence clearly influenced by actor Wallace Shawn (who voices Manny) and his role in the drinking game from The Princess Bride.
The music in this fifth episode is as varied as the challenges. You’ll hear sprightly orchestral melodies as you wander the pathways, and a dramatic, nostalgic theme during Graham’s agonizing struggle with his waning strength. A simple, synthesized version of “Greensleeves” plays during one flashback. And I grinned all the way through a hilarious, jazzy Broadway-like tune sung by Acorn, celebrating the crafty way of life.
It took me more than four hours to finish this chapter. For those who purchased the Season Pass, The Good Knight is the finale, though for those who bought the Complete Collection, a playable bonus epilogue has yet to release. It should be completed within the next couple of months. For those who waited out the episodic releases entirely, the first chapter is now available for free.
I played slowly through The Good Knight – mostly because I didn’t want it to end. I’ve now followed King Graham through his endearingly awkward enthusiasms, his struggles to protect Daventry’s citizens and creatures, his awe at the vivid beauty and magical wonders of his realm, his love of cunning puzzles, his highly entertaining courtship, fatherhood, and – last of all – acceptance of his own mortality. It’s difficult for me to let go of it all without choking up. The final cutscene reveals a passing of the torch that will affect Daventry’s future and a hint of doubt as to Graham’s ultimate fate. Walking so many miles in his boots has made me applaud and respect him. I’m praying that, wherever he is now, his spirit is still strong and that he won’t be going gentle into that good night.