King's Quest VII: The Priceless Rant
First posted on 03 October 1998. Last updated on 26 July 2009.
Sierra On-Line's King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride hails the use of one icon, one button interface in attempt to sport a new level of intuitive gameplay. While this design philosophy is certainly, in part, influenced by marketing forces to lure in new adventure fans as well as parents searching for family oriented entertainment software, it also hails a potentially dangerous trend of flash over substance in adventure game design. Moreover, this sequel seriously ignores much of the history set forth by the previous games in the series. In fact, it appears that the design team of this title pays no attention to the themes and morals which the previous games have so brilliantly depicted. In the end, I feel that King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride is a game that has taken a gaint step backward rather than forward for the series.
A lot of ballyhoo has been made over the graphics, the animation, the sound, and the overall production values of King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride, but I have never been really impressed by those in the game. Truth to tell, I very seldom have. It is hard for me to look at any game using those as the defining criteria. To me, they are only the most superficial of ideas, not truly important where the game is concerned. When dealing with what makes a game good, I think one can only truly deal with the gameplay and the storyline, and the varying elements that branch off from those. I do not see how this game can compare favorably in either of those areas.
To begin with, the gameplay in King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride is a hallmark of current trends in computer adventure games. It heralds the emergence of a gaming philosophy even worse than the one introduced with the all icon interface of King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder!, something I never think to be possible. One icon that does everything? What is the point? The brilliance of a text parser is that you have to know precisely what you want to do. You cannot get away with any hodgepodge ideas or half formed thoughts about what may work. You have to know. The original multi-icon system hampers this but still requires at least some thought. You do still need to think about which icon may perform the correct action in whatever situation and about the different capabilities you possess because of each icon. With one icon, this is simply not possible. It is not really possible for the originality and invention of a game to be retained under these circumstances, something I think King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride demonstrates exceptionally well. It is the most limiting form of game interaction imaginable. The multi-icon system is bad enough, but you still have some freedom. Not so now. You are limited to looking at or performing only the actions deemed necessary or entertaining by the designers. The auxiliary enjoyment that comes from playing older games, such as trying something wild or perhaps clicking on an object to get a silly description, can no longer exist in this new format. The game has succeeded in dumbing down every element of interaction to the basest possible level. Because of this decrease in interaction, the puzzles are, for the most part, inane, limited to simpleminded, pathetic actions, most with very little basis in reality. Using a magic wand to tell the difference between the false king and the true one? Should a better denouement truly not be devised?
As if all those issues are not bad enough, the storyline in King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride is ridiculous. The King's Quest series, from the very beginning, has been a fairy based tale, but the characters in this episode take on a new shallowness. There seems to be very little nobility to any of the characters in this game, something that (whatever the faults of whichever game) every other game in King's Quest series has had. In the game, Rosella is a princess who does not want to get married, and its Valanice's job as a queen to make sure she is. I do not have anything against employing fairytale stereotypes for the purposes of a plot. It has worked in practically every other game in the series. Yet, since the plot basically involves Valanice trying to find Rosella and Rosella trying to find Valanice, can the designers really think of nothing better than a series of unconnected (and for the most part) uninteresting game segments that are linked only by pathetic cliffhanging sequences? When you add in the cartoon look and feel of the characters (none of the previous games in the series are cartoons, so why start now?) as well as the pointless emotional manipulation in sequences such as the dragon flying away (maybe if they have bothered to give the dragon a character first), you are left with a schizophrenic game suffering from problems that continue to mount as the game progresses.
While it is very likely that nothing can have rescued the game from the multitude of problems from which it suffers, the game may be at least bearable if it has a decent ending. The ending that is offered is only the rotten icing on top of an already not too delicious cake. No, it is not good enough for this game to merely have an ending that has nothing really to do with the quest itself, beyond the "we need to find a prince for Rosella" theme, but it also has to do everything it can to ruin the ending of one of the series' strongest games, King's Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella. As anyone who has played the game (which seems to eliminate most of the production staff of this game) knows, at the end of that game, the fairy queen Genesta grants Edgar a body to match his kind, princely personality, suggesting that even one from a very checkered background (the villain in the game, Lolotte, is Edgar's mother) can rise above presupposed perceptions to do well in life. The take on this by King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride is not that Edgar is truly a good person who deserves to look the way he behaves as opposed to the way his parentage dictates he looks (an appearance which matches their actions, not his), but rather Edgar is a good person who has been kidnapped and transformed into a beastly monster which Genesta realizes so she can change him back to his true form. Is the social message of the first game too difficult for this game's design team to digest? Furthermore, what purpose does Edgar truly serve in the game at all? The story can make the true troll king anyone to be. Fairytale procedure dictates that Rosella will have fallen in love with whoever it is anyway. Yet, the choice is made to bastardize a great character from a previous game in a move that has nothing to do with the rest of the game anyway. This, as well as so much else in the game, begs the question, why?
Based on all this, I simply cannot imagine the positive outlook for the series which King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride is hailed to bring. I have a very high tolerance for this kind of absurdity, and I am willing to forgive a lot. However, when the plot contrivances at the expense of other and better games in the series, especially when they contribute nothing to the game in question, it is in my mind an unforgivable sin. Therefore, I think, all things considered, the game does not deserve much praise. The game is not completely without merit—a few of the puzzles are fairly decent and there are some mildly creative stylistic choices used to represent the lands in which the game takes place. Overall, a few decent elements still cannot make up for the rest of the game that, in addition to ignoring its roots and presents some inane plot contrivances, sees fit to correct nonexistent mistakes that the original designers of its predecessors have never actually made.