The heroine of Daventry
First posted on 02 May 2000. Last updated on 25 February 2006.
With each game in the King's Quest series, designer Roberta Williams nudges a little farther away from a simple treasure hunt towards a more complex mix of stories and characters. No more is this true than in King's Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella. This game distinguishes itself by the introduction of a female protagonist that strikes a heavy blow for equal opportunity heroism. Although Williams knows that featuring a female lead should be just fine for female gamers who may play this game, she is not sure how it may go over with the male gamers. Indeed, it is perhaps fittingly ironic that Lara Croft does not appear for another 8 years.
Birth of a heroine
Princess Rosella of Daventry is first introduced at the end of King's Quest III: To Heir is Human, when her brother Prince Alexander rescues her from the clutches of a fire breathing dragon. No longer a passive damsel in distress, Rosella is now the heroine who displays courage, intelligence, and fortitude in her dual quest to save both her father King Graham and the good fairy Genesta of Tamir.
In King's Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella, King Graham has fallen ill from a sudden heart attack. The fairy Genesta appears to Rosella in the magic mirror, telling her how she may save her father with a healing fruit. When Rosella allows herself to be transported to the kingdom of Tamir where the fruit grows, Genesta recruits her for a second mission. It appears that the evil Lolotte has stolen a life-giving talisman from Genesta herself, and, unless Rosella can retrieve it within 24 hours, Genesta is going to die.
Heroine in the making
Rosella's quest has not been an easy one. All 3 times she approaches Lolotte's castle, and all 3 times Lolotte captures her and compels her to undertake on another 3 quests. Yet, her only "reward" for success is a forced marriage to Lolotte's ugly son Edgar. The courageous Rosella fulfills each quest and, after a dramatic confrontation, reclaims Genesta's talisman and escapes from the castle. She then braves the dangers of a swamp to find the healing fruit, returning to Genesta just in time to save the fairy's life. Once back to Daventry, Rosella gives the magical fruit to her father, where it works its marvelous healing magic and saves King Graham.
King's Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella continues the series' charming tradition of weaving elements of fairy tales into the game's plotline. Rosella's quests, for instance, require her to find the Pandora's box and a hen that lays the golden eggs. The player guides Rosella through many unique quests and puzzles, calling for solutions that are both original and refreshingly unpredictable. To Williams' relief, the portrayal of a female lead has not been as controversial as she has expected. Many players openly embrace Rosella and identify with her in her fight against the evil Lolotte. Williams explains, "I knew the female lead is just fine for women and girls who play the game, but wasn't sure how it would go over with some of the men. And you know what? It wasn't as controversial as I expected. However, it was real strange at first designing the game; quite a different point of view. Having the woman die bothered me more than I expected."
Trouble in paradise
However, not all is well at the land of Tamir and Daventry. This is because the game is so puzzle heavy that at times the story of Rosella often recedes into the background and loses its narrative momentum. Although it carries an impression of a fairly complex plot, the plot is largely a frame device that sets a long string of puzzle in motion and wraps things up when the puzzles are completed. The subplot involving Lolotte generates several sub quests, but again each of them is essentially a sub stream of puzzles.
Characterization of Rosella is, therefore, somewhat thin and unsatisfying. Rosella is simply the "heroine", without any specific personality that can be easily described. She has even less depth and individuality than her nemesis Lolotte. In spite of these shortcomings, Williams recalls how uneasy she has felt about watching Rosella succumb during the many sudden death sequences whenever the player makes a fatal decision.
As a game, King's Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella marks a transition in the series from "treasure hunts" to full-blown interactive narrative stories. As the heroine, Rosella marks a turning point in the evolution of the King's Quest series by introducing to the audience a strong female lead. At a time when violent first-person shooters dominate the gaming market, we cannot help feeling nostalgia for the fundamental innocence of this fairy tale game as seen through the eyes of the heroine of Daventry, Princess Rosella.