King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride
The King's Quest series is a giant, maybe even a classic, in the computer game arena. Oh, it has its critics, but as the various games in the series have remained popular long after most of their contemporaries have slipped into oblivion, it seems a reasonable assumption to make. I can hardly recall a time when there wasn't one of the Daventry royals surveying me from the game shop shelf, even the very earliest titles have stayed around. Now the latest in the illustrious line has just stepped up to take its turn, and no doubt it will follow in the footsteps of its predecessors and gather a whole new collection of fans.
King's Quest VII has as its main characters Princess Rosella (remember King's Quest IV) and her mother, Valanice who is making her first major appearance in the series. It opens with a sequence in which Rosella is talking to Valanice, dismayed at the thought of a, possibly, dull marriage and longing for adventure. And adventure is exactly what she is about to get. For during the conversation she is distracted by a winged seahorse that flits around playfully and dives into a nearby pool. Who could resist? Certainly not Rosella. She jumps in after it - immediately followed by her mother, bent on rescue.
It is divided into 6 chapters and your task is to direct mother and daughter separately through the perils and puzzles that they face in the strange lands they encounter somewhere in the depths of the magical pool, and to help them thwart the plans of the evil Malicia who is out to destroy all.
You begin with control of Valanice when she is dumped unceremoniously near a prickly cactus and your immediate task is to find a way out of the desert and through the mountains to Rosella. The chapter ends with a 'cliff-hanger' (you facing a raging monster) and when the second part begins the play moves over to Rosella. And so the control shifts back and forth between the two characters throughout the remainder of the game.
The puzzles in the first chapter are fun, especially interpreting the wall paintings which form the basis of two major problems and, after some initial disappointments, I began to settle into the game and feel more comfortable. The second chapter with Rosella escaping her prison in the Vulcanix caves was not quite so challenging as the first. But with the return of Valanice the game picked up again and the problems continued in the usual fare for adventure games (collecting objects and information that might ultimately be useful in overcoming various obstacles). Generally the puzzles were solvable with a lot of searching, listening to good advice and, occasionally, a lot of patience. The two that I stumbled badly over both involved clicking on a moving character at precisely the right moment. They tried my patience for a while but were very soon forgotten.
King's Quest VII is a windows game and, although this has obviously slowed it down somewhat, playing it on a 486 DX2 66 I didn't find myself yawning too often. The slowest part is the final chapter, but at this stage you can just sit back, feet up, and watch anyway. And, although I am not especially fond of relaxing and admiring colourful animations in computer games, I am sure that many players, and especially younger ones, will appreciate the opportunities King's Quest VII has to offer in this department. The graphics really are delightful, so bright and colourful, and they make a very pleasant change from the horde of dark, so called 'atmospheric' games that seem to be flooding the market at the moment.
Just like the rest of the King's Quest games, KQ VII is full of puzzles and there is a good variety of expertly animated characters to engage in conversation, but don't expect it to be exactly like its predecessors. It isn't. In fact there have been a number of changes made to the familiar icon based interface and they will not be to everyone's liking. Personally, I felt that only one of them was an improvement - the ability to manipulate objects you are holding and see them in close-up from differing perspective's simply by pointing and dragging the mouse. As for the rest, I must express my disappointment. I really wanted to have only praise for this game, but that's not quite possible. What Sierra has done is remove much of the control from the player and, if you are a long-time quest fan like me, the changes are likely to make you feel more than a little cheated.
One of the controls I missed was the ability to be able to speed up the characters and make them zip around from screen to screen. Sierra have always provided this option but not so in this game.
Another control that is missing is the option to turn off speech and read on screen what the characters have to say. And this omission is not as trifling as it seems. Not only does it remove an element of choice from the game, but it is a change that is bound to alienate people with hearing difficulties. I thought in this day and age we were trying more to include people with disabilities, not exclude them. Since a script for a game has to be written anyway, and since it can't be too difficult (it's always been done up until now) to include an on/off switch so the text doesn't annoy players who don't want to read, it just doesn't make sense that Sierra should be travelling in this direction.
And, whilst on the subject of on screen text, it seems that those little boxes of words have suddenly developed a contagious disease. For there is barely any on screen text at all in King's Quest VII, not even detailed descriptions of objects or locations that are usually initiated by 'looking' at something.
You can't, in fact, 'look' at anything unless it is in your inventory because the 'action' icons have disappeared as well. There is just a single pointer and it is only possible to click on the hot spots. I found this aspect of the game very discouraging - it was one of the areas where I thought Sierra's King's Quest had it over Westwood's Kyrandia Series, but Sierra has now lost that advantage. The loss of text inserts (or some sort of narration) has meant that clues can now no longer be given in text prompts, so there are necessarily fewer to follow. The net result is more obvious puzzle solutions such as characters telling you exactly what to do.
And, I am sorry to say, I'm not finished yet. I've left discussion of the biggest change, and my most grievous disappointment, to last. In their wisdom the designers of King's Quest VII have decided that you can no longer choose to save your game - they do that for you, courtesy of the game itself. It simply saves every time you quit. In theory this may have sounded good but in practice it has some serious problems. I learned very quickly not to do anything too silly or adventurous because once you have started something there is no changing tack. It happened twice, I experimented and exited the game only to find that my graciously saved game was bugged. On both occasions I had to repeat the whole chapter. On another occasion I missed a conversational clue and there was no way to retrieve it without restarting the chapter.
I can only imagine that Sierra did away with the 'save' facility to make this game easier for younger and newer players and, although this may well be the case, seasoned adventurers like myself who are used to trying everything (even silly things), and backtracking to test if another solution might have worked, will feel as if they have had their wings well and truly clipped.
In this game it is not recommended, or even possible most of the time, to try different things. Also, if you regularly play with a partner and they desert you momentarily (perhaps to answer a call of nature), don't dare to click on anything as it might start up a sequence that they will miss or, more to the point, that you won't be able to repeat so that you can demonstrate just how clever you've been. And whatever you do, don't be distracted during a cut sequence - ignore the phone, the doorbell, the baby - because you can't just restore a game and catch up on what you might miss.
If you don't like King's Quest games because they are too 'cute' then this one is certainly not for you. In fact this is the cutest of them all with more brightly coloured animations, more heart rending lover's embraces and more talking creatures then ever before.
On the other hand if you are a King's Quest fan, and haven't yet been persuaded that magic wands and hairy trolls are any less 'adult' or any less 'realistic' than, say, ray guns and acid spitting aliens, then you will enjoy this game regardless of its idiosyncrasies.
It's not the best King's Quest adventure but nevertheless it still has a lot of charm and magic. Undoubtedly (and deservedly, I think) it will draw a lot of criticism for its 'innovations' but they have made the gameplay easier and the interface more 'user friendly' and for this reason it is highly recommended for younger players and for those who are new to computer game playing.
Despite what I said just now, I can imagine that not having to remember to 'save' regularly would be very useful for both young and new players, and the simplified interface, too, would make it easier for those unfamiliar with adventure game playing to join in the fun. Though I make this last point with some reservation, as the new interface also succeeds in keeping players more at arm's length from the game. What a shame that players new to adventure games won't experience the extra thrill that being able to think more for yourself, and do more of what you want to do, can bring.
I am a King's Quest fan, so I enjoyed the game regardless, but I simply can't resist ending this review without making one last point. I wish that Rosella and Valanice didn't scream so much - I think they even out-did Laura Bow in the screaming stakes. Since King's Quest IV I have been hoping for the return of Rosella - but with her constant screeches in this game she has lost a lot of spirit. She's just not the same Rosella who faced hissing serpents, fiendishly hungry trees and creeping ghouls in her first adventure - all without a single peep. Please Sierra - there must be some other response that women can have to surprise or danger! I thought the Daventry women were made of stronger stuff!
See the metzomagic.com King's Quest VII walkthrough.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 1995.
All rights reserved.
CD-Rom, 386 (486 recommended), 4MB RAM (8MB recommended), 5MB hard drive space, Win 3.1, SVGA, sound card, mouse.