"It was not exactly as I remembered it, but it wasn't all that different either," says old King Graham, early in the new King's Quest. It's something like the fifth line in the game, and you can almost see the writer sitting behind the screen, speaking directly to you.
"Yes it's been almost twenty years since the last King's Quest," says this fictional writer. "Yes, games have changed considerably since that time--and especially conventions surrounding modern adventure games. But it's still King's Quest."
And our fictional writer isn't wrong. Moreover, King's Quest (or at least this first episode of a planned five episode saga, titled A Knight to Remember) is a strong adventure game in its own right, regardless of whether you played the originals.
Of cabbages and kings
As ever, King's Quest is the tale of King Graham of Daventry--or rather, it's the tale of Graham the young adventurer who eventually became king.
This latest King's Quest is set up as a frame story, a la Big Fish. King Graham is now grown old and feeble--he sits in bed all day telling stories to his rambunctious young granddaughter Gwendolyn, who inherited her grandfather's knack for daydreaming about fantastical exploits.
And some of those stories should sound pretty familiar. A Knight to Remember is both sequel and prequel, both new game and nostalgia trip. The game kicks off by recapping part of the plot of the original King's Quest, as Graham recovers the magic mirror and saves Daventry.
Here we see Graham at his most spectacular. We see Graham the legend--the bravest knight of the realm, the hero who always saves not just the day but the entire kingdom.
The bulk of A Knight to Remember is set even earlier, though. Graham isn't the bravest knight in the realm. He isn't even a knight. He's a clumsy, awkward, gangly young'un who earnestly wants to become a knight even though he is seemingly in no way cut out to be one.
Though of course elderly King Graham would never tell it that way. And here we get one of the best parts of the new King's Quest--the interplay between the story and its unreliable narrator. Thus when young Graham falls down a cliff hitting every tree on the way down, old King Graham tells Gwendolyn he rappelled down gracefully. Or after pulling the wrong switch and dying, King Graham says "That's what would have happened if I turned the left switch. But since I am here telling this story, you already know that I pulled the right one."
I love unreliable narrators in video games because they codify/legitimize what everyone already does when playing, which is "Do exactly what the game tells you not to do." When the game tells you not to blow the horn again, you blow it. When the game tells you to go right, you head left. When it tells you not to use the hatchet on everything, you...well, use the hatchet on literally every object you come across.
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