Perhaps A Knight To Remember couldn’t have been anything but a nostalgia piece. As the first of five chapters that make up the new episodic King’s Quest, it is, after all, the series’ first entry in 17 years. That’s plenty of time for the world to forget that these fairy-tale adventure games were once blockbuster releases, the sort of mainstream titles that hoarded sales records and game-of-the-year awards. Those who do still fondly remember those games would acknowledge that, today, they are archaic and broken, full of inscrutable puzzles and random unavoidable death. King’s Quest was what needed to be fixed about video games, a cautionary history lesson. Still, many of us gave our childhoods to the series, and so kind of like it anyway.
A Knight To Remember is not—and was not built to be—a blockbuster. Instead, it’s designed to stoke the nostalgia centers of fans’ brainstems, immediately doubling down on the appeal of the good old days. It takes place in a frame story: The aging King Graham cannot leave his bed, and so summons his granddaughter Gwendolyn to listen to the tale of how he defeated four other hopefuls to become a knight to the kingdom of Daventry. That’s right—the storyline of this throwback game is literally about an old man being nostalgic.
The game that plays out in these retellings is a simple one. There will be puzzles, like an early one where Graham has to distract a dragon—Gwendolyn loves the dragon parts. Solving these requires either finding and using a nearby item or manipulating a contraption with precisely ordered steps. It’s never difficult, and even when the game gives you a wide berth to explore and collect things, getting lost or stuck is much less likely than stumbling over an answer by happenstance.
So the puzzles aren’t interesting on their own. They’re occasionally bolstered by an offering of three solutions: a brave choice that is often violent, a kind choice that is often ridiculous, and a cunning choice that is often cruel. These choices make little difference in how Graham’s reminiscences play out, but they do matter to Gwendolyn, who may take these lessons on to the game’s future chapters. It’s not clear what she’ll do with them when she gets there, though.
This is a beautiful game, with ’90s Disney-inspired character work that is often overshadowed by the well-framed and painterly storybook backgrounds. It’s also energetically voiced by a talented cast that includes Christopher Lloyd, though Gideon Emery’s haughty, nameless royal guards steal the show.
Still, Knight To Remember lacks confidence in its combination of bare-bones puzzle-solving and series self-fondness. Its solution is a poor one: to weigh its script down with pandering reference humor, like a joke about “leg day” that is repeated at least four times. Then it triples down on nostalgia; it frequently references fantasy film classic The Princess Bride—and not just by being a frame story. It also employs the voice talents of Wallace Shawn, and without saying too much, gives him a similar character to the one he plays in Bride. This isn’t the first time King’s Quest has paid this homage (1994’s Kings Quest VII is subtitled The Princeless Bride), but here, in a game with nostalgia at its core, it’s just overboard.
As a result, A Knight To Remember has little identity of its own. If the goal of this first chapter is to act as a bridge between old and new, and the later chapters offer more original themes, storytelling, and puzzles, then we might be looking at a lesser piece of a greater whole. There’s reason to believe this might be the case, as the most interesting part of the story, the development of Gwendolyn, takes center stage by the end of the chapter. But right now, this new take on King’s Quest is hoping that a fondness for the fairy tales of yesterday will hide that it has nothing new to offer. It doesn’t, but at least it has time to find its purpose.
King’s Quest: Chapter 1—A Knight To Remember
Developer: The Odd Gentlemen
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Reviewed on: PC
Price: $10 for single episode, $40 for full season