If the first chapter of King’s Quest taught me anything about becoming a knight, it’s this: there’s learning curve. Graham—our charmingly clumsy protagonist—and developer The Odd Gentlemen show in this classic franchise reboot that heroes are more often made, not born, and that the newcomer’s road can be rife with tripping stones and snares. What they also prove, however, is that the occasional misstep or blunder is readily forgiven when committed with sincere courage, charm, and undeniable heart.
And King’s Quest certainly lacks nothing in charm or heart. From the opening sequence—a brief, perilous adventure through a gigantic trap-riddled cavern—its top-notch production values enchant and glow. The hand-painted, storybook visuals present a colorful, fantastical feast for the eyes, while Christopher Lloyd introduces the game’s star-studded vocal cast as the older, pun-cracking King Graham. Meanwhile Ben and David Stanton’s luscious orchestral score lends added sparkle and poignancy to the King’s beautifully rendered tales.
In A Knight to Remember—as narrated in the present by King Graham to his spunky granddaughter, Gwendolyn—these tales consist of a Young Graham’s first journey to Daventry, where he hopes to become a knight in the court of King Edward. Although a bit predictable structurally, Graham’s ensuing trials are told with (mostly) winning humor and introduce a slew of memorable characters. Among these Manny, a short but cunning knight voiced by Wallace Shawn (who, fittingly enough, pays clever homage to The Princess Bride at a crucial plot point), and the mysterious Merchant of Miracles (Tom Kenny) are a few of the standouts. Young Graham (Josh Keaton) presents an affable, enthusiastic protagonist who, at times, suffers for his naivety and overeagerness, but these traits ultimately prove endearing enough to where it’s easy to feel invested in his fate by the chapter’s end.
That we follow Graham’s tales through a retrospective frame not only allows for his sometimes hilarious commentary and death screens (And that’s what would’ve happened if I had turned the left switch…), but also compatibility with the classic King’s Quest canon. Having the wiser, kingly Graham to juxtapose with his younger self makes it all the easier to appreciate the immense strides he must make from untested shrimp to Daventry’s greatest hero. And though it’s a little early to tell, I think framing the story in this way might give us a potentially more dynamic (and thereby compelling) Gwendolyn. Already, in fact, I can see my choices in-game influencing her behavior and moral character. Throughout the story players have the opportunity to align Graham’s own constitution with different central virtues: does he believe in raw strength foremost, or intelligence and cunning? What about simple kindness? Of the three I opted for the last most often (the pie is mightier than the sword!), which, without spoiling anything, clearly rubbed off on Gwendolyn by the chapter’s end. It’s a satisfying interplay between player choice and the game’s layered chronologies, and it makes me intrigued to see the person Gwendolyn might become down the line.
While KQ’s winsome, lighthearted story of knights, killer squirrels, and mustachioed bakers for the most part charms and succeeds, the gameplay feels comparatively uninspired. Fans of Escape from Monkey Island and other contemporary 3D adventure games should feel right at home—perhaps too much so—as players lead Young Graham through a series of puzzles, quicktime events, and branching dialogue trees. Though some of the puzzles can be pleasingly tricky and inventive, this is offset by an overabundance of quests cast in a fairly predictable, altogether unchallenging return-to-this-area-fetch-this-item mold. The QTEs and brief first-person shooting sequences offer welcome variation in the action, but even these start to feel overly familiar and never pose a substantial challenge. In this way King’s Quest does little (or nothing) to complicate the conventional gameplay elements of its genre. Rather it seems more concerned with faithfully preserving these rich traditions and, as might be expected of any franchise reboot, tickling the nostalgia of KQ veterans. As a player previously unfamiliar with the franchise, any nostalgia I experienced derived solely from the game’s 3D Adventure forefathers. And while King’s Quest offers a convincing and immersive imitation of genre giants, players already familiar with these will more likely be drawn in by KQ’s luscious fantasy world and lively characters than any innovation of gameplay.
Over A Knight to Remember’s approximately 8 hour playtime, both Graham and developer The Odd Gentlemen show glimpses of heroic potential. And though we know the wide-eyed young Graham will become king one way or another, it remains to be seen whether subsequent episodes of King’s Quest will suffer from the same slumps in pacing and largely uninventive gameplay. Even if these issues do persist, The Odd Gentlemen has rendered such an inviting fantasy world that it alone makes the $30 season pass worth the cost of entry—and one to which I’ll happily return with the release of Chapter 2.