In this age of remakes, and remasters of titles that are barely a console generation old, it brings me great pleasure to see today’s gaming space be graced by a series that helped start it all. King’s Quest: Chapter 1 - A Knight to Remember by developer The Odd Gentlemen is not only a fine way for gamers old and new to jump into the franchise, but also a beautiful little tale set before and between the adventures that began oh so long ago.
Despite having a legacy spanning back 32 years, with 8 previously released “King’s Quest” titled games, this King’s Quest is not so much a retelling or reboot of those stories, but a way to bring the franchise to people playing games now - while staying true to its roots. With an updated version of the exploratory game style, subtle series and pulp culture nods, and humorous writing, the developers at The Odd Gentlemen have managed to weave tales not told, while making only the barest of alterations to the established lore, and they’ve done it all in a beautiful way.
If you aren’t familiar with the franchise, fear not, everything you absolutely need to know is told within the episode, and I’ve no doubt that this will be a recurring theme throughout the five episode run of this collection. For gamers who have fond memories of the originals, the tales told here aren’t all those you may already be familiar with, so feel free to dive in and experience the title knowing that you won’t be retreading on too many known grounds (and those you do look far better than they once did).
While there are lots of little winks to the original games, the story told here has an old and somewhat senile King Graham retelling tales of his youth to his young adventure-loving granddaughter, Gwendolyn. Not so much how he became King, but the even older tale of how he first became a Knight of Daventry.
Honestly, I wasn’t a fan of how the game starts with no cutscene or explanation as to what is happening. You're just thrust into the middle of a tale with no knowledge of what you are doing. On the flip-side, it did remind me of the originals, and I did like that as you progressed you began to understand what was going on, and exactly when this part of the adventure was taking place. The narration style with the wonderful voice of Doc Brown himself, Christopher Lloyd, was also a perfect fit for the punny old ruler.
It was quite amazing how well the story was told, from the trailers I saw that it was going to have some humor to it, but I wasn’t expecting such a delightful Monty Python-esque vibe with the dialogue, or the number of pulp culture references. Manny, played by the great Wallace Shawn (see Vizzini in The Princess Bride, or Rex from Toy Story) was a great character. In fact I really did enjoy all of the characters you meet in the 5-6 hour long journey of this first chapter.
Young Graham exudes an amazing amount of excitement, naivety, and passion for this adventure he's going on, and his often funny interactions with the other characters only heighten this. It can get a little overwhelming almost cringe-worthy at times, but seeing him grow up (at least a little) throughout the tale is part of the fun.
I wasn’t expecting such a delightful Monty Python-esque vibe with the dialogue, or the number of pulp culture references.
The other thing I wasn’t expecting was for there to be any sort of an emotional roller coaster. I’ll not go into any specifics, but there was a moment when I thought I must have made the wrong choice - then I remembered I was playing a memory, and despite being able to make the wrong decisions, I was always quickly set on the right track again, or given a loading screen with the King telling Gwen that that wasn’t how the story happened. By the end, that ride felt a little less dramatic as it could have been, but it was still a good time.
Onto the gameplay. If you’re familiar with other popular modern adventure games you’ll feel right at home here, however this may be a little more difficult for those who aren’t accustomed to games not holding your hand. I’m not saying King’s Quest is hard, because it really isn’t, but a certain amount of patience, ability to remember, and willingness to explore and troubleshoot is indeed required.
One of the puzzles near the end had me stumbling around for what felt like an hour. Wandering from one zone to another searching high and low for whatever I had to do to progress the story. Once I found it I thought myself a fool for not thinking of it sooner, but was quickly caught up in the flow other all the other tasks being completed in rapid succession to worry too much.
The way the game works is that the world is split into different zones. Each zone is connected to another, and within each zone are people to talk to, objects to find, or puzzles to solve. The puzzles come in the form of tasks that need to be performed, but more often than not you will require one or more objects in order to complete. Your job is then to explore the world and find, or convince one of the many colourful non-playable characters (NPCs) to give you the object you need to make it to the next part of the game.
The entire game is pretty straightforward, and although it is possible to die in a variety of ways, the game is setup in a way that it all makes sense. You aren’t exactly penalized for dying, but you will have to replay from the last checkpoint (typically the last time you entered an area), and you’ll end up having to rewatch unskippable dialogue and cutscenes a number of times in areas you find particularly challenging.
As I said, the game doesn’t hold your hand, there is no journal to remind you of what you are supposed to be doing, and interactable objects don’t light up at the touch of a button. There could be times when the solution is literally right in front of your nose, but you haven’t been standing close enough to an object for you to notice the interaction icon appear, or perhaps it’s so close to another object that you mistook the icon for another and moved past it. I know this happened to me a few times, but before the introductory quest was done I found I had picked up how to play the game.
Speaking of the introductory quest, it’s actually set during the first game, and not only sets the stage for the tale to be told in Chapter One, but provides the major reimagining from the original title. It is quite a bit different from the original series, but considering the quality, any disappointment I felt in it not being exactly the same was only fleeting.
I wish I could say everything is amazing, but there are a few little annoyances I had. Having to go back to people to remember what your task is was a pain at times, especially when you get about two-thirds in and you have a number of puzzles that need solving. Even a simple journal to track your progression would have helped with this, but alas, that is not the case.
Not having the option to skip through dialogue and cutscenes that you’ve already seen also had me groaning - especially when it was an accidental click on the interaction icon. And finally, there were a few parts of the story that didn’t gel well with me regarding the last few puzzles. I didn’t feel I had earned the adoration that I was receiving, and to me, that made those moments feel a little forced.
With regard to the graphics, the Unreal engine does a great job of bringing this reimagined and cartoony world to life with only one or two tiny screen-tearing moments. The audio is also handled exceptionally well, the environmental sounds are good, the voice acting great, and the music suit the tone of the title.
All-in-all I had a good time with this whimsical adventure, and look forward to seeing what other stories the fine people over at The Odd Gentlemen can bring to the table over the coming months. King’s Quest: Chapter 1 - A Knight to Remember is a solid first entry to this revitalized series for both new and old fans of the genre. Despite having a few gripes with this Chapter, I most certainly feel it's worth the price of admission.