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King's Quest III: To Heir is Human

Rating: 6/10 - The first playable King's Quest game.
Platform: PC

(My King's Quest series reviews: I: Quest for the Crown, II: Romancing the Throne, III: To Heir is Human, IV: The Perils of Rosella, V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder!, VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow, VII: The Princeless Bride)

In the third King's Quest installment, we jump to a seemingly disconnected story, that of Gwydion, a slave to the cruel wizard Manannan. Gwydion spends most of the game freeing himself from Manannan, then discovers his true heritage and goes to save his newly discovered family.

The plot is a massive step forward. You have a clear goal: escape the cruel wizard. You need to sneak out while Manannan travels or is asleep to gather the tools you need. A key part of the game is learning spells to use to solve your problems and eventually defeat Manannan.

The plot briefly but seriously stumbles once you defeat Manannan. You find yourself free, with full access to Manannan's home, and no commitments. I was baffled as to what to do next. Shouldn't Gwydion take up Manannan's role, only as a good wizard instead of an evil one? Nope. Turns out that Gwydion should, for no particular reason, risk his life to seek out an Oracle who will tell him that he's a prince and that his sister is in a great danger. Armed with renewed purpose to help someone he's never met, he heads off to the now ruined Daventry to put things right.

Like the previous games, you spend a lot of time typing commands. KQ1 didn't give me any problems. KQ2 regressed, not recognizing a few nouns. King's Quest III continues the downward slide. Again, the game fails to recognize synonyms for some nouns. Worse, it frequently replies with, "You see nothing special," when it doesn't understand you. So you'll be investigating some important object and get, "You see nothing special," misleading you.

For extra fun, a few puzzles in game amount to typing short paragraphs of text from the manual into the game. Making a typo kills Gwydion and ends the game. While annoying, it does fit with the theme (cautiously using dangerous magic), so I didn't mind.

On the up side, unlike KQ2, Gwydion has a survival instinct and automatically swims.

At one point while investigating a library full of books, you'll told that there is one oddly large book. However, it's not obvious from the graphics where the book is. If you try to interact with it and Gwydion isn't close enough, you'll unhelpfully be told that you're not close enough with no clue as to where to move. I spent several minutes slowly moving around the room retrying commands until I found the book that Gwydion had seen minutes earlier.

A key part of the game is hiding your activities from Manannan. If Manannan catches you with spell ingredients, he kills you. So you can hide things under your bed. Unfortunately there is no way to learn what is under your bed. I spent a long time keeping track of what I had put under my bed and removing the pile of items one at a time until a walkthrough revealed that "get all" works.

There are a few points in the game where using a unexplored exit is fatal. As always, this is a terrible idea.

A key part of the game is working around Manannan's schedule. When he is around, you can't do anything productive for about five minutes, although he does occasionally task you with chores. He'll then leave or sleep for about a half hour. The idea of needing to work around Manannan's schedule is appealing. The practice is no fun. To learn Manannan's schedule, you need to hang around his home, doing nothing, for at least one hour-long cycle. You only have about three hours to beat the game! During the five minutes Manannan is home and awake, you can't do much of anything.

Two puzzles are tied into Manannan's schedule. One requires potentially waiting an hour, while another requires waiting about fifteen minutes. Waiting in a game is not fun!

End result: A game with many flaws, but that is playable. I wouldn't generally recommend it, but it may be of interest to a graphic adventure enthusiast.

2009-12-27: Typo fixes.

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