King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder
(Note: reviewed as part of the King's Quest Collection Series)
Every King's Quest fan has a favourite King's Quest. Mine is King's Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella, followed closely by KQ III: To Heir is Human (I must replay and review it sometime) and KQ VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow. Despite my preferences this particular episode, Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder, is also a popular favourite and it might be the leading King's Quest given the accolades it got when first released. Back then in 1990 it was a marvel for its time in the computer game world, with amazing VGA graphics and 256 colours to show off the beautifully hand-painted backgrounds, and it included a remarkable 50 or so character voices. It was the first true point and click King's Quest as it left behind keyboard navigation and keyboard commands in favour of an icon-based interface.
Looking at it now you have to smile. Of course it's dated, you can count a pixel or two, but it hasn't lost its magic and it takes you back to that time of 'innocence' when such games as this were excused some rough edges and they didn't pander to a narrow, demanding teenage market. In fact, like its siblings, KQ V is a fantasy-fairytale, it might err on the side of being patronising in some respects, but it's still fun and it's a game that everyone can play.
The brief introduction shows King Graham arriving home to find an empty green patch where his castle once stood. But not only has he lost a castle but Queen Valanice is also gone, and Princess Rosella, and Prince Alexander! Not an auspicious homecoming, but luckily Cedric the bespectacled owl is on hand and tells Graham that the wicked wizard, Mordack, was responsible. He goes on to say that the one person who might be able to help is the good wizard, Crispin.
Cedric gives Graham some fairy dust and they fly off to a land far away to find Crispin. The old wizard is retired but he gives Graham his wand and sends him on his way to rescue his family. And, of course, Graham will now need your help.
As noted above the interface is mouse driven. Just move the cursor to the top of the screen to open a menu of icons to walk, look, take and talk (you can also right click to cycle through these icons) as well as access your inventory and the options screen. Here you can adjust the game detail, the sound level, and the character's walking speed. It's very straightforward.
Although Cedric won't follow you everywhere because he doesn't have the stomach for danger, he will tag along a lot of the time. Especially at the start he'll point out things of interest, and a 'fatherly' narrator will also accompany you and impart lots more information as you look around. He'll even keep up a running commentary of Graham's actions. All speech is text captioned.
As Graham follows his quest there are lots things to be done. He faces many dangers including horrid witches, hungry sea monsters, hissing snakes, inclement weather, dangerous mountains and desert, and the list goes on. Be warned, a foot wrong, and he expires. So save often.
Also be aware that there's a strong possibility of meeting a dead end on this journey; there are a number of them. All the more reason to save, although if you get greedy and eat the wrong thing early on, you may find yourself back near the start. So don't eat until you are told! And if you are absolutely stuck go back a save or two because you've missed a crucial item. You may even have missed your chance to do something at the right moment ... so don't let a single opportunity to act slip through your fingers.
As well as get you into trouble (of course it's not your fault) Graham must solve many problems that are lots of fun and make up for his transgressions. He'll need to find a way to outwit the witch, escape the dingy forest, traverse the burning desert maze (pencil and paper will come in handy here) as well as kit himself out for the cold and, finally, face the wicked Mordack himself. Along the way there is a handful of good deeds to be done to add to the fun and, of course, you'll get a useful reward or some help in return. You'll smile at the antics of the ants and the rat is helpful too if it's still around to repay a favour!
The problem solving isn't difficult as there are plenty of signals to point you in the right direction, but you do have to be imaginative to work out some of the answers. Conversations are simple, you don't choose your questions, but they are important. Listen carefully. Even if you don't, Graham will know the right questions to ask so you can sometimes take your cues from him. There are plenty of items to pick up, and watch out for that little sparkle on the ground, it might be something tiny and worth investigating.
Despite its advancing age KQ V is as entertaining as ever. It's bright and colourful and particularly good for younger adventurers ... but I know a lot of mature players have enjoyed this one as well. Like other early Sierra games it has a point scoring system so that you can measure your progress as you go. I suppose this is another feature that 'dates' the game but have to admit that I missed the point scoring system when it became outmoded. It used to encourage me to replay games to be sure I had the maximum score.
The game I played for this review is part of the King's Quest Collection Series. It is bundled up with all the King's Quest titles bar the last one, Mask of Eternity, which doesn't count anyway because it strayed too far from the 'good path'. It also includes two Laura Bow games, Mixed Up Mother Goose and some other early Sierra's. It's a little gem if you can get hold of it.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 2003.
All rights reserved.
Win 3.1, 486 25 MHZ or faster, 8 MB RAM, VGA, Mouse, 2x CD ROM.