Let's Blast #3: King's Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella
It's been a while, but we're back with King's Quest 4!
Some of you might be wondering why I'm not talking about KQ1 or 2 on this blog.
The truth is, there isn't a whole lot to say about either of them. KQ1 is a simple plot held together by random encounters with fairy-tale characters, and KQ2 is just a normal "Save The Princess" adventure.
Okay, maybe 'normal' isn't quite the right word.
I do have a soft spot in my heart for KQ2, as it was the first parser-based adventure I completed without hintbook or help. Believe me, when you're talking about Sierra, that's much more impressive than it sounds, so it'll probably show up here sooner or later.
In the meantime, our Sierra journey continues with KQ4! It was released in 1988, two years after KQ3, and picks up exactly where that game left off: with a stranger who may or may not be Alexander having just rescued Princess Rosella from Death by Dragon-Nom and the royal family reunited for the first time in the throne room.
Apparently enough time passed between hugging and hat-throwing to get the decorators in.
As you can see, the graphics have taken a huge leap forward. They're nowhere near as gorgeous as KQ5 would become, but they're a step in the right direction.
Anyhoo, Graham decides to pick a successor to go out adventuring, which is a bit of a dick move on his part. I mean, Gwydion/Alexander just got done with an adventure, and there's no indication that Rosella's competent in that area. Still, Graham tosses his hat at his kids to see which one of them will catch it and then promptly has a heart attack and is rushed away to bed.
Distraught, Rosella goes to sit in the throne room and wishes there was something she could do. Right on cue, she sees an image in Daventry's magic mirror. A fairy, Genesta, tells her that there's a tree in her country of Tamir that produces a magic fruit once every hundred years. The fruit can cure any illness and bestow years of health upon whoever eats it, and she can summon Rosella to fetch it.
Rosella, who's smarter than your average princess, immediately suspects there's more to the story than that. Genesta smiles and says oh yes, there is, but she'll only tell Rosella if she agrees to come to Tamir. Oh, and by the way, her power is fading, so Rosella has to decide ASAP. Or as Genesta puts it, "If you care for your father, say yes NOW!" Because, you know, fairies enjoy emotional blackmail as much as the next person. Naturally, Rosella says yes and is promptly ker-ZAPPED to Tamir.
(On a side note, for those of you wondering why Graham didn't simply use that magic mirror to look for Alexander/Gwydion in KQ3, that actually is explained in the KQ3 manual: when Manannan kidnapped Alexander, the mirror stopped working.)
"Hi there, Stunningly Beautiful kidnapper who looks just like me!"
And now we come to the real heart of the game: Genesta reveals that the evil fairy, Lolotte, stole her magical talisman and now Genesta is powerless and slowly dying. In other words, Rosella has to infiltrate Lolotte's Evil Castle and retrieve the talisman if she wants to be zapped home in time to save her dearly-not-quite-departed Dad.
Here's the other problem: at some point, Sierra decided it would be cool and innovative to offer multiple endings. This has since become the norm in many games, but back then it was something new. They didn't quite manage to be first out of the gate - LucasArts did that with Maniac Mansion in 1987, which not only offered multiple endings, but multiple different ways to play through - but it wasn't a bad idea.
Unfortunately, it was badly implemented. Unlike most adventure games, which take the form of some kind of long journey with your goal at the end, the magic fruit you need is right there in Tamir. You have to get a few things to enable you to retrieve it, but that's fine. Basically, the magic fruit is a kind of while you're here sidequest.
Now okay, getting the talisman is a nice little development to the game. In fact, it's about 95% of the game that's supposed to be about saving your father's life and not some random kidnapping fairy's, but I don't mind that. The game as a whole is good, and the puzzles are pretty nice.
EXCEPT THIS %$&# ONE!!!
We'll come onto that one in a minute. Getting back to the poor design, the problem is that returning the talisman to Genesta immediately ends the game for good or evil, and the player is given no warning about this! In other words, you can - as I did - take the view that you'll focus on getting the talisman back and then pop over and grab the fruit afterwards, only to be scolded by the game for 'forgetting' the fruit and zapped straight into the Bad Ending. (Spoiler: Graham dies).
Or if only the player had been told that handing over the talisman WOULD END THE FREAKING GAME!
There are technically four endings, but the only difference is a few lines in the text, so for the point of view of this review, there's just the Good Ending and the Bad Ending.
But whatever. I'm completely over it and not at all bitter about the fact that my friend and I spent literally months dying and saving and reloading and bashing our brains out together trying to solve puzzles and retrieve the talisman and save Genesta's life, only to be brutally penalized for it. As soon as we realized what was happening, we just looked at each other in complete shock and the reaction of our 12-year-old selves was basically, "Oh, we're done with this s#!t! Screw you, Roberta Williams! You SUCK!" The shock utterly killed any desire we had to replay and try and get maximum points, or even to just try and see the good ending. But like I said, I'm not bitter. Not at all. Nope.
DIE, DIE, DIE!
So. Anyhoo, Genesta takes it upon herself to magically disguise Rosella as a peasant girl, so she 'won't attract attention.' Rosella is less than enthusiastic about this development, but Genesta tells her that it'll definitely be better for her this way and flies off home.
Which means I get to whip this baby out again!
Or: Why Genesta Is Actually Evil
1. If Genesta can zap Rosella back to Daventry once she's back at full power, why can't she zap the fruit to her as well before sending her home?
2. For that matter, if she wanted to help Rosella that badly and she had the power to zap her to Tamir, why didn't she send her fairies to retrieve the fruit and zap that to Daventry without involving Rosella? One fruit can't possibly require as much zap-juice as an entire person, and the royal family of Daventry would be grateful enough to help Genesta.
3. What about Rosella's mom, Queen Valanice? Genesta gives Rosella no chance to say goodbye to her mother or long-lost brother or even just leave a note explaining the situation. She just emotionally blackmails her into agreeing and instantly zaps her away.
This means that if Rosella dies, all Valanice will ever know is that Rosella ran out of her father's room in tears and was never seen or heard from again. Bad enough she had to endure eighteen years of pain and anguish over Alexander/Gwydion's disappearance as an infant. Now Genesta's willing to put her through the same heartbreak over her daughter? If Rosella does die, Valanice will lose her husband and her daughter in a 24-hour period and be left with no family except Alexander/Gwydion, who doesn't even remember her.
4. If Genesta has so little magic left, why does she waste it transforming Rosella into a peasant? I'll agree that Rosella's dress is less conspicuous and probably more practical, but if Genesta dies before she can send Rosella home, not only is Rosella stranded in Tamir, but she's stranded with no money and no evidence that she's royalty. How's she supposed to get back? If she still had the princess gown, she could trade it with a passing caravan for a simple dress plus a lift to Daventry, and at least it would tell whoever she asks for help that she's from a rich family who can offer a reward. This is Genesta ensuring that Rosella is completely dependent on her for a ride home and thus has no choice but to do what Genesta wants.
5. Rosella is taking a lot on faith from a fairy, a species that's notorious for mischief and trickery. This is fine given the circumstances; I have no problem believing that she's desperate enough to grab at any thread of hope, no matter how thin. It still doesn't change the fact that:
5A. Rosella only has Genesta's word for it that this magical tree even exists.
5B. Even if it does exist, Genesta says it bears a single fruit once every hundred years. Rosella has no way of knowing if the timing's right.
5C. Exact wording is in play here: Genesta never says that the fruit can cure someone who's already sick; just that if you eat it, you'll be healthy for a long time. In other words, it apparently prevents sickness. There's a big difference between prevention and cure.
So basically, Rosella's looking for something that may or may not exist, may or may not be available at that precise moment in time and may or may not do what she needs. And if she doesn't obey Genesta by getting involved in an inter-fairy war, she'll be stranded without money, without her title and without any friends or family in a strange land hundreds of miles from home. And the second she returns the talisman, Genesta's reaction is basically, "Fine, you did what I wanted and now you're of no further use to me. Bye!"
Are we SURE this is the evil one?
But anyway, Rosella trots off to Lolotte's castle, is picked up by her Flying Monkeys and brought to see her. Lolotte accuses her of being a spy for Genesta but tells Rosella that she can prove her innocence if she'll capture the unicorn. Furthermore, she'll also grant Rosella her freedom and a great reward.
The unicorn, being wild, won't let you near it until you shoot it with one of Cupid's arrows. Unfortunately, shooting it isn't enough to let you ride it. Whenever you try, the game will point out that although you can mount the unicorn, you have no way to guide it. Fortunately, there's a bridle nearby that's very easy to get to! All you have to do is:
-swim to Genesta's island that you didn't even know existed
-follow a peacock around until it drops a feather
-pick up the feather
-swim around in the sea until you get nommed by a whale
-tickle the whale's uvula with the feather before you die due to the...lack of oxygen? Slow digestion? I'm not really sure.
-get sneezed out by the whale with such force you skim over the sea to an island that has an abandoned bridle on it, give a fish to the pelican so you can get the dolphin whistle, grab the bridle and ride the dolphin back to the beach!
And no KQ4 review would be remotely complete without the bane of adventure gamers everywhere: The Whale Tongue.
I'm guessing Sierra went to the Disney school of Whale Anatomy.
See, after being nommed by a whale, you have to climb up its tongue to reach the uvula so you can tickle it with a feather. However, there's a certain path you have to follow. Otherwise, you'll fall off the tongue and have to start over from the beginning.
And you will fall off the tongue and have to start over from the beginning.
Many, many times.
Eventually, though, you'll reach the magic spot on the tongue where you can simply stand up and walk.
Success! Now all I have to do is walk over to the uvula and--
AAAARGH, WILL SOMEONE PLEASE JUST HARPOON THIS F***ING THING ALREADY!?
Yes, yes, eventually, after many restored/saved games, you'll do it. It's actually quicker to save your game as you progress along the tongue and restore it when you fall than to try and start over. It can still take upwards of ten minutes to pull it off. You get the bridle from the island, hop on the unicorn and ride it to Lolotte's castle, where it freezes in fear as Lolotte's goons come and take it.
You meet Lolotte again. Surprise, surprise; she's still not completely convinced of your innocence. This time, she wants the hen that lays the golden eggs, which has been captured by an ogre. She promises that if you bring her the hen, you'll earn your freedom and a great reward! Hmm, where have I heard that one before?
Compared to catching the unicorn, getting the hen's easy. You walk into the ogre's house, hide in the closet and peer through the keyhole at regular intervals. At some point, you'll see the ogre enter, fall asleep and then you just grab the hen, walk out and take it back to Lolotte.
I'm beginning to see a pattern here...
So for your final task, you have to retrieve Pandora's Box.
For anyone who doesn't know the story behind Pandora's Box, the Cliff Notes version goes something like this: in Greek mythology, the Titan Prometheus created Man out of clay. The clay had some odd seeds that he scraped off, put in a box and promptly forgot about. One day, his sister-in-law, Pandora, was cleaning the house when she came across that box and thought that it would be good for jewelry, so she opened it. The seeds had mutated into all the ills of mankind, such as sickness, blindness, old age etc, and they flew out and that's why people get sick and die and no longer live forever. (You can blame Pandora for human emotions and inner conflict as well, but that's a whole other myth and nothing to do with the Box).
This is the mint, never-been-opened Pandora's Box. You know this because if you do open it, you're the one who unleashes all these evils upon the world. Unlike Pandora, you don't survive the experience.
I thought it was a cookie jar!
The way you get it is pretty neat. At some point, day turns to night. Some places are no longer accessible, others open up or change.
And others become infested by legions of the undead! But I digress.
So you have to explore this big, haunted mansion, meet the ghosts and try and figure out which graves are theirs by reading the epitaphs. You then dig them up, find a personal belonging and give it to the ghost in question. You only have six attempts before your shovel breaks, however, so if you make a mistake, the game becomes unwinnable.
But you get the box, give it to Lolotte and finally get your reward! Which is...well:
But I wanted a puppy!
Rosella is then escorted to a room that's fairly nice for a prison cell. After a little while, Edgar shows up and leaves a rose with a tiny golden key that will get Rosella out of her room. Naturally, you immediately flee at top speed!
Maybe I should've slowed down a little on the stairs.
Eventually, Rosella's wanderings will bring her to Lolotte's room, where Lolotte is lost in peaceful slumber, completely unaware of your presence. What's a sweet princess to do?
Yeah. You read that right. That's not me being funny with the parser; it really is what you're supposed to do here. Rosella has been presented to us as a sweet, gentle girl who will always do The Honorable Thing, and who decides that The Honorable Thing in this case is to shoot Lolotte in her sleep. Cupid's love arrows turn out to be so toxic to the evil fairy that she immediately dies, allowing you to grab the talisman!
6. What exactly is Rosella hoping to achieve by making Lolotte fall in love with her? She already has one stalker in the form of Edgar; isn't that enough?
7. If Lolotte doesn't understand the concept of love, what about her and Edgar? Presumably she loves her son enough to get him a princess?
So yeah. Having gone through the game being subjected to constant repetitions of "You are NOT a violent girl, Rosella," it turns out that you actually are.
I mean, I'm fine with non-violent characters. The whole point of adventure games as opposed to, say, platformers is to encourage players to find creative, logical and above all, non-violent solutions to puzzles.
Vampires don't count!
I'm also fine with characters that are willing to kill and games that forbid them without being preachy about it. In KQ3, if you type "kill wizard," Gwydion/Alexander doesn't refuse on moral grounds, but on pragmatic ones: Manannan's too powerful for him to succeed, so he's not crazy enough to try. Likewise, using a spell to sink the pirate ship in KQ3 instead of making the pirates sleep will net you a Game Over. Not because Gwydion/Alexander is so noble, but because you happened to be on that ship and have now drowned with the pirates. See? Non-preachy ways of enforcing creative, non-violent solutions. (Although now that I think about it, those sleeping pirates better hope that someone comes along and breaks the spell before dehydration sets in...)
But whatever. The sweet, noble, non-violent Rosella murders the sleeping fairy, grabs the talisman and runs/swims back to Genesta's island, pausing only to free the unicorn, grab the hen and return Pandora's Box along the way. Those last three are optional, as is giving the hen back to Genesta.
There's one last twist, though: Edgar follows you to the island. Genesta zaps Rosella back into her princess dress and declares that Edgar's a lovely person inside, and his exterior should reflect that, so she turns him into a handsome prince. Because ugly people can't possibly be good, right?
Edgar immediately goes to one knee and proposes to Rosella.
I don't care that we're complete strangers and you just murdered my mom! It's love, I tell you!
Rosella, in a nicely refreshing take, turns him down and is ker-ZAPPED back home. With or without the magic fruit, but we've done this already.
And that's it for KQ4. Is it as bad as its predecessor? No, not really. It's a lot more forgiving when it comes to mistakes, and much more intuitive. Unfortunately, the badly implemented multiple endings means it's at the bottom of my Games To Replay list.
Next up: KQ5! Which...oh boy. That's going to be a very, very long one.