King’s Quest Chapter 4: Maybe You Can Return Home Again?
by Christopher David Lawton
I’ve written in the past about the importance of King’s Quest in my own video game journey, so it should come as no surprise that I have consumed each chapter of the new King’s Quest as I can, as time allows, devouring their individual fleshes and treasuring each morsel. Despite my immense enjoyment, however, I can’t help but feel like these new games, as good as they are — and they are good — have felt disconnected from the original series I grew up with. The experience is familiar, but decidedly different. I’ve always chalked this up to the effects of nostalgia, how those feelings of childhoods spent in front of a screen can never be re-experienced, no matter how hard we try. With the release of Chapter 4: Snow Place Like Home, however, I’m starting to rethink my perspective on the new series. For the first time since the first chapter was released last year, with Chapter 4 I feel like the two series are coming together, and it makes me so happy.Before I go further, I should probably give a spoiler alert. I am going to talk about King’s Quest III: To Heir is Human (1986) quite a bit. If you don’t want this game ruined for you, you should turn around and go back to Twitter. Come back after you’ve experienced this great game that everyone should have played by now since it’s twenty years old.
Snow Place Like Home opens with the kidnapping of Prince Alexander, King Graham’s young son, by the wizard Manannan. Eighteen years later, Graham, still rocked by the disappearance of his son, is finally coming to the realization that Alexander may never return. When Alexander does return, however — having escaped enslavement by Manannan — he is cold and distant. To fight this, Graham decides to take the entire family on a trip to Avalon for a much needed vacation. While there, however, the family is split and forced to conquer a labyrinth of puzzles which require all of Graham’s puzzle-solving abilities to complete the maze and reunite his family.
Let me start by saying that as a chapter in the larger episodic game, Snow Place Like Home is a bit of a mixed bag. The puzzles within the labyrinth are mostly block puzzles, some of which can get old fairly quickly. There are a few true head scratchers thrown in to break up the monotony of the block puzzles, but the bulk of the puzzle rooms will all follow the same formula: Move blocks to create a path to the door, rinse and repeat. I didn’t mind the monotony too much, but I like block puzzles. Other players might not feel the same way.
Where the game truly shines, though, is in the story. This is probably the most story-heavy chapter in this new series yet, and it really gets a chance to show off some strong narrative chops as it deals with some fairly hefty concepts, like fear of parenting, children going their own way, and the upbeats and breakdowns of familial relationships. There are some very moving scenes throughout this chapter, and I feel confident in saying that despite some less-creative puzzles, this is my favorite chapter yet.
This is all made even better when set within the mythos of the original series. King’s Quest III: To Heir is Human is an interesting entry into the older series, as its connection to the first two games is unclear at first. Unlike the first two games, which starred Sir, and later King, Graham, To Heir puts you in the role of Gwydion, an 18-year-old young man enslaved to a wizard called Manannan. As you solve the puzzles and escape from Manannan, you eventually learn that you are Prince Alexander of Daventry, who was kidnapped as an infant and enslaved. Setting the bulk of Snow Place Like Home immediately after Prince Alexander’s return is a wonderful nod to the original series, and it greatly enhances the chapter for me.
As previously alluded to, this new series has always toed the line between being a remake of the original series and a sequel. The first chapter alluded to the adventure from the very first game in the series, but the third chapter was a complete retelling of the second game in the original series. This chapter, though, is something different. Not only does it acknowledge the original game, but it adds to the story. It enhances it. It builds on the framework laid by series creator Roberta Williams 20 years ago. Simply put, if you’re gonna reboot a video game series, this is how you do it: keep a healthy perspective on the original games, while further shaping and defining them to not only create a great modern experience, but one that makes the original games that much better.
And, this chapter speaks to me on a much deeper personal level, as well. To Heir is Human is the first King’s Quest game I played, and I played the crap out of it. I originally played it on this weird CD-Rom at my grandparent’s house that boasted “200 games.” These discs were common in the mid-90’s, taking full advantage of the larger space allowed by the new storage medium to gather a massive collection of old floppy disc games which were easy to install from a simple auto-run menu. King’s Quest III was one of those games I found on this disc when I was scrolling through. Despite the tagline of “200 games,” what the CD case failed to mention was that these were all demos, which could be anywhere from a single level to a chapter of a much larger game. I don’t remember where the King’s Quest III demo ended, but I remember finally reaching that screen, and realizing that I wasn’t going to get to see the end of the story. When I finally got a chance to play the full game — it was probably a year or two later — I finally finished it, and it was worth the wait. I left the game feeling completely satisfied, and I only wanted more. I finally got that with this game, and while it may not match the nostalgic memories of playing through King’s Quest III, playing through this new chapter came close, and for that, I am grateful.
I’m not sure I can fully recommend King’s Quest Chapter 4: Snow Place Like Home. Those who don’t have the connection with the original series may struggle with the game, especially with the monotonous block puzzles that make up the bulk of the gameplay. And those who don’t play games solely for the story — as weird as that sounds to me — might not enjoy the massive amount of in-between cutscenes enough to make it to the end of the game. What we’re left with is a game that might only appeal to a very, very small group of players. And while I love that this game exists in this world right now, I find it a bit of a shame that I might be in the minority with that perspective.
Maybe, I’m enough, though? I am a very large man.
We only have one more chapter in this series, and I’m feeling a little melancholy about that. I’ve really enjoyed this series, and I’m excited to see where they take it from here. But, it’s been fun to revisit a world that has meant so much to me throughout the years. I only hope that the final chapter ends on an upswing, and I leave the new series feeling as great as I came in. If not, though, at least I have Snow Place Like Home. I can always revisit this chapter and call that the official end of the series.
I’m okay with that.