Rating: 6/10 - A muddy mess that doesn't match the rest of the
(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)
We were optimistic after the downright pleasant previous game. I guess there was nowhere to go but down. In the opening hand-drawn cinematic (which like all video from the era, looks pretty awful), we learn that Queen Valanice (Graham's wife) wants her daughter Rosella to marry a boring prince. Having apparently learned nothing about her husband's, son's, and daughter's adventures, she insists that Rosella settle down and be boring. Rosella sings a boring Disney knockoff song about it. Seeing a neat looking castle in a pond, she hops in. Valanice gives chase. The two find themselves separated in a strange, cartoony land. They must seek each other out, and end up saving the land from some evil machinations. As the player you play through six chapters, controlling one of the two women in each chapter.
Microsoft's fabled backward compatibility
Microsoft is famous, at least among programmers, for their backward compatibility. Supposedly part of Microsoft's strength is that old working software stays working. In the case of KQ7, I wish this was true. The CD-ROM collection shipped the Windows 3.1 version of KQ7. I'm running Vista. It didn't work. I got a variety of cryptic error messages. It shipped with a .hlp help file; but Microsoft no longer supports the old .hlp files.
The plot is forgettable nonsense. Valanice is a decidedly unpleasant character, making it hard to care about her. Rosella is okay, but a bit weak willed compared to her previous outing. The real kick in the gut is when at the end...
Rosella decides she actually likes the prince Valanice wanted her to marry. Rosella has barely met the man, we know almost nothing about who he is. Instead of Rosella and Valanice being forced to face their serious and interesting disagreement, a deus ex machina drops in to offer an implausible third option. The ending feels forced and unsatisfying.
There are some promising improvements. You only get a single save slot, and it's obvious that as originally designed you don't save, you simply quit and the game autosaved. This is acceptable because of what it means: you can't lock the game in an unwinnable state, so old saves aren't needed. (It's not ideal because you can't go back to see details you may have missed.)
Graphically the game looks good, but not necessarily better than the previous two. Instead the more realistic graphics have been replaced with Disney-style animation. The animation is nice, but it's a jarring change from the previous games.
More serious is that the game has taken a decided turn for the zany. There is a roadrunner/Bugs Bunny hybrid. A city full of goofy talking animals. This doesn't feel like a King's Quest game aimed at adults. This feels like a children's game.
As noted, the entire game is graphically a knockoff of the Disney house style. There is a roadrunner/Bugs Bunny hybrid. Adding to the knockoff feel, there is a character doing a Peter Lorre impression and another doing a famous western actor impression. (I can't remember which actor.) The horror area of the game feels like a decided Nightmare Before Christmas (released the year before) knockoff, including a boogieman villian and brat kids.
The inventory is moved to the bottom of the screen and is always present. However, there are no tooltips or other clues to help you identify items. Since the items are all small, and worse, all shaded blue, it can be very hard to identify them.
On the up side they added close up views of inventory items. You can even spin them around. This is a nice touch, even if the 3d rendered graphics are a bit dated. A few puzzles even require spinning the objects around to study them, or engaging in simple manipulation. A decided step forward.
In KQ7 the narrator was removed. All dialog is in game. The protagonists talk or think to themselves as necessary. However in a decided regression you get absolutely no feedback on objects in the world. You can't examine them for more information. There isn't even an examine command. As a result, we regularly stared at objects on screen guessing a what they were. Sometimes we only figured it out by picking up the object, then examining it in the close up view. In one particularly annoying moment, Valanice discovered some red things in the background, perhaps flowers or berries. Clicking on them would cause Valanice to try and fail to climb a tree to get them. But I still had no idea what they were!
Sometimes the character will try to convey something important by pantomime. Clicking on what appears to be a dry riverbed will cause the Valanice to dip her toe in. Nothing more. I had no idea what she was trying to tell me. There was no comment. Clicking again causes her to step in and drown in the mud. Annoying.
Sometimes things cryptically happen. They seem important, but having finished the game I still have no idea. A few doors puff dust when you first use them. Valanice laughs when you click a particular mirror, one of many.
A part of this, large numbers of background objects have absolutely no interaction. If you click on them you simply get an X. Another regression from KQ6, where background objects frequently had at least a cute comment about them.
There is no examine command because there really is only one command "do stuff". Clicking on an object might push it, pull it, toggle it, pick it up, or do nothing. Clicking on inventory objects picks them up, allowing you to apply it to other objects both in and out of inventory. A number of games, including famously Myst would go down this simplified route successfully, but it feels poorly used here.
One problem with the single click interface is that you're penalized for innocent exploration. Click on a grave to see if it's interesting? Fall in and die without warning. Talk to a mourner? You die. Play with a jack in the box? You die.
The single click system means you'll also occasionally be surprised as the results. The player should never be surprised by the results of his actions. Clicking on a rock might mean "push it aside to look under it", or "hop on top of it".
They do under use an interesting idea: inventory objects as conversation tool. Valanice has one of Rosella's combs, and can use it on other characters to talk about Rosella. It was a nice way to keep the simple interface while also allowing choices in dialog.
The game has at least one shopping list puzzle. Annoyingly, checking the list with the character who gave it to you repeats the entire list, not just the items you still need. A little detail, but one that other games handled better.
In a testament to poorly thought out puzzles, at one point you need to hear a short tune, remember it, then replay it. An interesting idea, but a problem for those of us with a poor sense of pitch. I pity a deaf player. Even worse, while the short tune is playing or when trying to replay it, the background music in the game continues! My wife and I gave up and went to a FAQ after beating out heads against this puzzle for a while.
There are several painfully obvious plot-driven doors (Backup link). Most are ignorable, shops that open and close based on your need of items in the shop, but one in particular slaps players in the face. A big chunk of cheese is just inaccessible. Valanice has no reason to want the chunk of cheese, but engages in a few puzzles to get it. Her reward? She's arrested and made to return the cheese, itself another little puzzle! Worse, you must do this, or else you can't finish chapter 3.
KQ7 is a frustrating muddle of a game, but there is some good gameplay here. Recommended for fans of the series.
2009-12-27: Minor edits.
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