(This is part of my journey going checking out King’s Quest V. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)
Playing through a computer game series successively is a fascinating experience that I’d recommend people try at least once. Even if you’re familiar with the series, it’s eye-opening to jump between installments to see how it progresses and to witness video game history unfold.
So we’re going from 1988 (King’s Quest IV) to 1990 with King’s Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder! I am not overly fond of that title — it’s trying too hard to make the pun work — but hey, I’m still a bit thrilled that I’m forging ever-deeper into this series that I never played past the first two chapters in my youth.
As you can plainly see, the graphics are definitely a lot better than King’s Quest IV, thanks to a jump from EGA to VGA in the early 90s. This is the era that I really started to love computer game visuals, and even today they’re quite attractive.
What you cannot plainly hear is that the music’s been upgraded as well, and since I think that this is the CD-ROM version, there’s speech on the soundtrack. The third big change is that we’re finally to the point where point-and-click action with the mouse took over for cursor keys and parser commands. Love it.
But enough of that, let’s get into the game!
Generic castle, ho!
Soon enough, a wizard shows up, waves his wand, and generic castle goes flying off in a tornado. Should’ve watched the weather report last night, is all I’m saying. This is the evil wizard Mordack, because if you’re evil, you might as well have “mor” in your name somewhere.
I love this intro. Seriously, it looks leaps and bounds better than King’s Quest IV (not to mention I, II, and III), and there’s a noticeable attempt to make it more cinematic and atmospheric. The brook here is animated as a strange figure walks down the path. Oh ho, it’s King Graham, still rocking those tights and that jaunty hat!
Graham is stunned to find his castle missing, and as he puzzles this out, a talking owl with a monocle and vest flutters down for a chat. This is Cedric, who quickly becomes in my view the Jar-Jar Binks of the series. I guess it doesn’t help that the voice acting is of both the “amateur” and “first take only” variety.
Cedric fills Graham in that the castle was taken and that his only hope is with Cedric’s master, the good wizard Crispin (Glover?). Without waiting for assent, Cedric tosses fairy dust on Graham and makes him fly to yet another far-away country. Seems like every installment of the KQ series has another country — wonder how big the world is.
Crispin is somewhat of a disappointment. Nice fellow, but bad voice acting and a forgetful wizard. He rummages through a trunk and tosses Graham a used-up wand and a piece of snake (!) (that lets him talk to animals) before pushing him out the front door. He also sends Cedric to hang out with Graham, something that Graham seems to have no say in either. It’s been a long day for our king and it’s only 9:30 a.m.
With no more direction than “head out and hopefully save your family,” Graham starts wandering down the path from Crispin’s cottage. There’s a snake on the second screen, and Cedric pipes up a warning not to go near it. Oh, and if you stand still too long, Cedric starts chiding you to get a move on. FORGET YOU OWL YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME.
Yes, I killed myself out of spite. I already loathe this owl so much. Also, while I’m complaining, I miss the option for descriptive text and subtitles. This version of the game doesn’t offer any, so all you get is dull voiceover to the max.
I feel I should balance these complaints with some praise. The move to a mouse-driven interface is simply divine after the previous four games. No more typing out weird commands, no more using the keyboard to navigate! To move anywhere you only need to click where you want Graham to go, and by right-clicking you can change the cursor to different interactive icons (look, take, talk, etc.). Playing a King’s Quest game with only one hand is downright novel.
Graham heads into the nearby town, at which point Cedric decides to hang back until he leaves. Fine with me, bird. Oh hey, what’s this! It’s a dead, rotting, smelly fish! Well, this is an adventure game, so… into Graham’s pocket it goes!