Long Live the King
King's Quest: A Knight to Remember is a beautiful experiment in resurrecting the conventions of gaming’s past and dressing them up in the lush graphics available today. For the most part, it works, with this, the first of five episodes, telling a lighthearted fantasy story around simple action and rewarding puzzles about knights and dragons. The middle of its roughly six hours can drag a bit as you hunt down the items you need to progress, but even those are full of detailed art and enthusiastic performances.
As with the classic King’s Quest game from 1984, a Knight to Remember is the story of the likeable but overly excitable Graham, who's working his way toward being a knight (and eventually king). But this new version is a quality reboot that tells an all-new story of Graham’s attempts to outwit four other candidates for an open knight position, and it’s told capably enough that it should be appealing to newcomers as well as veterans. The caveat to that is that there’s no tutorial or even a quest list to introduce new players to the conventions of this old-school-style adventure and guide you through it, which means you’ll have to be comfortable figuring things out on your own.
This is a tale with a strangely appealing tone, as extended periods of goofy humor straight of classic Disney movies contrast with occasional scenes of surprising violence. To take a light example, you go from slaughtering goblins in one moment to cracking jokes with merchants in the next. Major story-altering choices are rare, but the ones I did encounter gave good opportunities to craft my version of Graham's story into either that of a hero or a bit of a coward. Others, such as an early decision as to whether to kill a dragon, may have much import for episodes to come (but there’s no way to know just yet). Much thought has gone into making the land of Daventry seem real, too - it's filled with little tidbits of lore that go far beyond the core story, all of which were worth reading.
Perhaps best of all, the whole adventure is framed as a tale told by the aging Graham to his rambunctious granddaughter Gwendolyne. and it's here where most of King's Quest's charms reveal themselves. The older version of Graham is wonderfully voiced by veteran actor Christopher Lloyd, and the range of his voice work here is at once staggering and impressive. It works best during the little puns and jokes the elder Graham sneaks in to explain away an accidental death or repeated failed attempts at interacting with an object, and the surprising number of variations in such cases are rewarding enough to stave off the weary repetition of experimentation in the point-and-click puzzle-solving segments. Conversations and cutscenes are annoyingly unskippable, though (I only wanted to avoid them when I’d already heard them, but had to go back to pick up hints I’d missed.)
To their great credit, none of these puzzles are particularly hard or guilty of absurd “adventure game logic” that forces you to randomly try everything on everything else to progress, and the ones that did stump me seemed painfully obvious after I completed them. Again, you’re on your own: no clues pop up that you're supposed to use this or that object with this or that NPC, and to use it or hand it over you'll have to select the object from your inventory after the dialog is over. It seemed awkward at first, but I later realized that much of the challenge and experience would be lost with any kind of hints.
Also, everything is gorgeous. There's an echo of The Banner Saga's homages to Eyvind Earle in young Graham's character design, and his red cloak flutters realistically as he shifts directions and hops over obstacles. Hand-painted backgrounds stretch far into the distance while detailed 3D models with painterly textures fill the foreground. There's hardly an environment in the whole story that doesn't evoke some awe.
That makes the business of getting around and experimenting with objects you've encountered in the world a pleasurable experience. Time spent roaming around, of course, is a staple of the genre, and it's important to note that King's Quest doesn't even allow quick travel. Early on this doesn’t matter much, as the necessary items to advance the story are rarely more than three screens away from the objects they belong to.
However, when I reached the midgame, in which Graham undertakes one of his first major challenges against the other knights, he spends too much of his time trotting back and forth between screens as he tries to hunt down several objects and find others to interact with, and load times in this segment are brief but annoyingly frequent. Ultimately, though, I can't say it bothered me that much. While Graham does venture away from the tournament, he never goes too far, and time and time again I was surprised to discover something I'd missed on previous walkbys, which kept that time from feeling wasted.