Today marks the release of King's Quest: A Knight to Remember, but considering it's been 17 years since the launch of the last game in this classic adventure series, there's a good chance that a few actual grown adults out there have no familiarity with the adventures of King Graham and his family.
Fear not! We've prepared a crash course in King's Quest that will get you prepared for The Odd Gentlemen's new take on the series and, with any luck, tempt you to revisit (or visit for the first time!) one of these classic games.
We'll encapsulate the story of each title, even though this isn't a franchise with many storylines tying its different entries together. We'll also try to explain what made each entry in the franchise so important and even explore why it's been 17 years since the last full-fledged King's Quest.
But first we'll head all the way back to the very beginning, with the 35-year-old precursor of the whole adventure.
You'd be hard-pressed to find an adventure game that doesn't eventually trace its roots back to Sierra's Wizard and the Princess, the first full-color adventure game, or Mystery House, its black-and-white predecessor. Wizard and the Princess is something of a prequel for the King's Quest series in which an evil wizard named Harlin has kidnapped Princess Priscilla, prompting her father, King George of Serenia, to offer half his kingdom to any adventurer that can retrieve her.
The game is played by text inputs (think Zork but with pretty pictures to look at) and was created by adventure gaming pioneers Ken and Roberta Williams, the latter of whom would continue on as the driving force of the franchise.
In the first proper entry in the series, Sir Graham (or Grahame in the original release) is called on to collect magical treasures that will save his home, the Kingdom of Daventry, from disaster. Besides old-fashioned do-goodery, Graham also takes the gig because he gets to be the new king if he succeeds (hence the title).
Designed and written by Roberta Williams, King's Quest took players from staring at static screens (as they had become accustomed) and shoved a representation of the player into the middle of the action. This shift from observer to direct participant was unprecedented, and it created a blueprint for the vast majority of adventure games that would follow.
King's Quest was remade in 1990 with an expanded story, changes to puzzles and a bevy of enhancements to presentation. It also replaced text inputs with an icon-based interaction system. Fans derided the revamp, comparing the overhaul of a classic to the practice of colorizing black-and-white films. Call us heathens if you like, but we think it looks pretty darn good.
Graham has become a king, and he's doing great at the gig, but he's pretty lonely. He thinks he's found a solution to that problem when his magic mirror shows him Valanice, a beautiful woman being held prisoner in a quartz tower in the nearby land of Kolyma. He swaps his crown for his adventurin' hat and heads out to find her.
In Kolyma, Graham finds himself at odds with an evil witch named Hagatha (she's Valanice's captor) and The Enchanter, a bad wizard who fled Daventry for Kolyma when goody-two-shoes Graham took charge. In King's Quest 2, The Enchanter's just wandering around turning people into frogs, which seems like a pretty chill retirement to us.
Also, Dracula is in it.
Though more detailed than its predecessor, King's Quest 2 looks and plays pretty similarly. After the negative reaction to the 1990 remake of KQ1, there was no official VGA update of King's Quest 2, but a company called AGD Interactive released an unofficial one in 2002.
The third game in the main series shifts focus from Graham to Gwydion, a servant of an evil wizard named Manannan, who's holding the boy captive in the land of Llewdor. Gwydion manages to escape, makes a potion that turns Manannan into a cat and travels to Daventry, where he rescues a princess from a dragon. Gwydion also learns he's actually (spoiler alert for a 30-year-old game) Prince Alexander, the son of Graham who was stolen away by Manannan as a tyke! The princess he rescued turns out to be his sister, Rosella.
The big innovation of King's Quest 3 was a "magic map" that allowed players to teleport to previously visited locations. This wasn't replicated exactly in the following King's Quest games because some players said it made KQ3 too easy, but a less powerful magic map was used in King's Quest 6.
King's Quest 3 ends with something of a cliffhanger: The final shot of the game is King Graham tossing his adventuring hat to his progeny, but it's not revealed which of the kids catches it.
In perhaps the greatest cliffhanger resolution ever, it turns out that as King Graham's adventure hat spiraled toward his kids, he had a heart attack. (Presumably his heart had atrophied through years of kingly leadership and was unprepared for the visceral shock of throwing a hat through the air.)
Rosella may not have caught the hat fair and square, but she quickly takes up the adventuring mantle, setting out to find a magic fruit that can heal her dad. Her quest for the paranormal produce begins when she's transported to the land of Tamir by a fairy named Genesta. However, the fairy has been weakened by the theft of her magical talisman and she can't return Rosella to Daventry unless the princess retrieves it.
King's Quest 4 also features an alternate ending wherein Rosella can return without the fruit — or even eat the fruit herself — which leads to ... well, the grimmest possible outcome.
In addition to multiple endings, King's Quest 4 ran in real time, covering about 24 hours. Some activities could only be completed in the evening or daytime, and the clock continued to run even if the player was idling.
It also featured one of the oddest Easter eggs in gaming history. Near the end of the game, the player can enter the command "beam me" and be transported onto a starship where the game's developers are introduced to Rosella.
In a nearby room, the player can enter the command "rap KQ" and be treated to Rosella breakdancing to an inside-baseball rap about the game's development. You can watch the full rap in the link above.
The "Rosella eating the fruit" ending of KQ4 is clearly not canon, as King's Quest 5 opens with Graham taking a stroll as his castle and family are abducted by an evil wizard named Mordack.
Though King's Quest games don't typically have a lot of connective narrative tissue, the theft of Graham's castle is a direct result of the events of King's Quest 3. Mordack, as it turns out, is the brother of Manannan and he's pretty cheesed about the whole "turning his sibling into a cat" thing, hence the castle theft. King's Quest 5 is also loosely connected to Wizard and the Princess, which was similarly set in the land of Serenia.
King's Quest 5 took some big design leaps, marking the addition of VGA graphics to the series as well as swapping out the verb-noun text input with an icon-based control system.
A helpful tip for those attempting to parse the history of King's Quest: If the title has an "heir" pun, it's one of the games starring Alexander/Gwydion. As the game opens, the prince is obsessing about Cassima, a princess he met while captured during King's Quest 5. He sees a vision of her in his dad's creepy lady-finding magic mirror and sets off for the Land of Green Isles to track her down.
King's Quest 6 saw Roberta Williams teaming up with Jane Jensen, who would go on to make the Gabriel Knight series. It also featured multiple endings and ways to complete objectives, and is considered by many to be the high-water mark of the series.
But perhaps the best, most amazing facet of King's Quest 6 is "Girl in the Tower." ... Wait, you've never heard of "Girl in the Tower"? OK, we need to pump the brakes for a second.
The seventh game in the series splits the action between two heroines, Queen Valanice (the mirror woman from KQ2 and Graham's wife) and Princess Rosella of KQ4 fame.
Valanice wants Rosella to marry, Rosella wants adventure, but neither wants to be sucked into a magical vortex and transported into the land of Eldritch, which is what they get. The two have to find each other and save Eldritch from the evil Malicia, who has captured the leaders of the kingdom.
The gameplay is further streamlined in King's Quest 7, replacing the selectable action icons with a contextual cursor that some players felt made the game too simple.
Though King's Quest 7 came closer than any entry in the series to the classic Disney aesthetic, death in the game was frequent and ... pretty brutal, as you can see in the compilation above.
The final King's Quest game (to date) is also the biggest departure for the series. It's presented in 3D, for starters, and incorporates far more action-oriented puzzles. It's got a lot of combat loosely inspired by Diablo and some RPG mechanics.
It's also the only King's Quest game that doesn't feature Graham or his family. Instead, a lowly tanner named Connor is chosen to save Daventry, the residents of which have been turned to stone after the evil Lucreto shattered the Mask of Eternity. Connor retrieves the titular mask, defeats Lucreto and sets right what once went wrong.
Mask of Eternity is an odd King's Quest game, but it could have been a whole lot weirder, according to an anecdote in Harold Goldberg's All Your Base Are Belong to Us. Ken and Roberta Williams had sold Sierra On-Line in 1996 to CUC International, and CUC had put Davidson & Associates, a conservative Christian edutainment software company, in charge of overseeing Sierra.
The Davidsons were fairly horrified by a lot of the Sierra catalog, especially Leisure Suit Larry and sexy ghost adventure Phantasmagoria. So the Davidsons put a team on a different version of Mask of Eternity that omitted the violence and other adult themes. Sadly, this castrated version of the game has been lost to time, as the Davidsons left CUC in 1997. However, the diversion of manpower and cash from Roberta Williams' version of the game had already done its damage to the final product.
Suffering from burnout after the Sierra acquisition and the Mask of Eternity fiasco, Roberta Williams left the game industry in 1998.
A leaked image from Vivendi’s 2002 take on King’s Quest
OK, so we made up the subtitle, but a ninth King's Quest has been created and killed frequently enough that it deserves its own entry.
Vivendi (which owned the Sierra brand) worked on a prototype around 2002. The only traces of its existence are two leaked images of a wizened yet adorable King Graham that suggested it would be a third-person action-adventure game.
Silicon Knights worked on a King's Quest game for a time, according to documents made public during the developer's lawsuit with Epic Games. That's the extent of public knowledge of that game, other than the fact that it reached the prototype phase and was probably built in the Unreal engine.
Perhaps the best claim on the title of "King's Quest 9" belongs to The Silver Lining, a fan-created, Activision-sanctioned project originally titled "King's Quest 9: Every Cloak Has a Silver Lining." The series has four free-to-download episodes, but the fifth and final entry has been in development limbo for over three years. Though released with Activision's blessing, it was briefly killed by the megapublisher, perhaps due to talks with with the most likely candidate to revitalize Graham's bloodline: adventure gaming resurrector Telltale Games.
You likely remember an announcement from Telltale that it had acquired the rights to make an episodic King's Quest back in 2011. If you're wondering why you don't similarly remember playing that game, it's because it was canceled, as the studio confirmed in 2013.
Now, the reins have been handed over to The Odd Gentlemen. Rather than making the ill-fated "King's Quest 9," the team behind The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is making an episodic series where an elderly King Graham (voiced by Christopher Lloyd) fills in the gaps between his adventures.
While we have no idea where this new entry will rank in the King's Quest pantheon, the punny subtitle of its first chapter, "A Knight to Remember," seems like a pretty solid start. Throw in a few good puzzles and one stunning power ballad, and you're halfway home.
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