King’s Quest V: Absence Makes The Heart Go Yonder!

Publisher: Sierra
DOS, Windows, Amiga, Mac, NES, FM Towns, PC-98

Possibly the first big-name adventure game to be on CD-ROM and completely eschew the need to use the keyboard, King’s Quest V spends way too much time focusing on its shiny new features, leaving the actual game to suffer immensely.

After a leisurely walk through Daventry, Graham returns home just in time to see the castle vanish before his eyes. A nearby owl–a talking one, natch–reinforces Graham’s despair by recounting the details of the tragedy. He then sends the king to go see the local benevolent wizard. A lengthy dialogue ensues where the Good wizard tells Graham that a Bad wizard (who is related to Mannanan from King’s Quest III), is out for revenge against the royal family. The Good wizard gives Graham the wand necessary to destroy the Bad wizard, and more or less leaves Graham to his own adventuring wits, which he will need to get anywhere near the Bad wizard. While the plot does help tie the series together a bit, it is in true Sierra fashion detailed in full before the player even touches the mouse. Seriously, there is virtually no plot development the entire game.

The point-and-click interface dumbs down play to merely finding the correct pixel or combining the right inventory items together. While this does relieve the player of parser ignorance, and the dreaded “You can’t do that” messages, many of the puzzles in KQ5 require inane logic, forcing the player to randomly click until the solution is found. Pixel-hunting creates even more “You are a pathetic imbecile” responses than ever, and solving puzzles by accident isn’t exactly satisfying.

The one thing this game does get right is the implementation of all the pretty features. The graphics are excellent, and were simply amazing in 1990 to those who were used to sixteen color games. The voice acting is mostly pleasant; however, whoever’s idea it was to create Cedric, Graham’s sidekick owl, should be given a medal by Satan, as I’m sure he uses Cedric to torture the damned.   Cedric follows Graham practically everywhere, is rarely helpful, and when he would be helpful, he is nowhere to be found. And if you want an idea as to what he sounds like, think of Jar-Jar Binks, only condescending.

But what really deserves this game a place on this week’s list is the cruelest walking dead situation in history. While Leisure Suit Larry 2 had several cruel walking dead scenarios, they were aggravatingly funny in an Andy Kaufman sort of way. Not only is the situation here not funny, it is one working channel and there’s a marathon of King of Queens cruel. Either that, or an honest mistake that the shittiest beta-testers in history missed. There’s a spot in the game where a mouse is being chased by a cat. You must save this mouse by throwing a boot at said cat. Then, later in the game, the mouse will save you from an otherwise lethal predicament. But this event ONLY HAPPENS ONCE, and it happens so fast that if you turned away from the your computer for a few seconds, you would never know it happened! And if you don’t figure it out then, it isn’t even obvious later that you would need a mouse to save you. I know walking dead situations occur in nearly every adventure game before 1995 (heck, there’s even more in this game), but this one pissed me off more than any other. Having Cedric taunting me probably wasn’t helping.

Take all of the above annoyances and leave the player with a cliched and suddenly insultingly easy endgame, and you have a game you couldn’t pay me to play again.

3 thoughts on “King’s Quest V: Absence Makes The Heart Go Yonder!”

  1. My first encounter with this game was the floppy diskette version, so I never had to deal with the bad voice acting. Later I would learn how bad it is. Cedric is painful to listen to, however, the narrator was quite professional.

    While the walking-dead scenario with the mouse is indeed a bitch, I never fell prey to it. It just seemed pretty obvious that you were supposed to save him, so if he got killed, I always reloaded.

    The thing that annoyed me most though is the cruelness of the puzzles. Some of them are just ridiculous. Catching the gnome was insanely random, and defeating the Yeti was just stupid.

    Still, the graphics were just so damned beautiful at the time, I was able to forgive all these faults.

    1. I recall a puzzle in the dessert that was insane as well.

      I guess the mouse seems obvious in retrospect, but earlier King’s Quest games had so many random events that did NOT affect story progress, only points.

      Perhaps I would have forgiven those faults had I played the game in 1990. But it was about 2000 when I got around to it.

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