King's Quest II: Romancing the Throne

Posted by Harry Kaplan.
First posted on 15 November 1999. Last updated on 08 August 2009.
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King's Quest II: Romancing the Throne
Graham enters the lair of the evil Hagatha.
King's Quest II: Romancing the Throne
A ghoul ferries Graham to Dracula's castle.
King's Quest II: Romancing the Throne
King Neptune greets Graham under the sea.
King's Quest II: Romancing the Throne
Graham seeks Valanice on the enchanted island.
King's Quest II: Romancing the Throne
Graham meets a hungry lion at the top of the stairs.

The success of King's Quest: Quest for the Crown eventually prompts Roberta Williams to make a sequel. Released in May 1985, King's Quest II: Romancing the Throne continues the adventure of the noble Graham who is the main protagonist in the original title. In this sequel, Sir Graham is now King Graham and his new adventure takes him away from the kingdom of Daventry to the kingdom of Kolyma. Despite these differences, adventure game fans who have helped Graham through his previous quest may experience a strong sense of déjà vu throughout this one.

King Graham wishes to take a wife, but none of the maidens in Daventry has captured his heart. In his despair, he suddenly sees the woman of his dreams in the Magic Mirror. He learns that her name is Valanice, who is held captive in a quartz tower in an enchanted land. In order to free her, he must travel to the kingdom of Kolyma and unlock the 3 doors that shall lead him to her. On his journey, Graham encounters many fairy tale and mythological characters who may either help or hinder his noble and romantic quest to win his lady fair.

Despite a 2 year hiatus between the original title and this sequel, no major design changes have been made in this game that are discernable. The game supports only low resolution EGA graphics but does feature the pseudo-3D environment that remains a breakthrough for its time. The game runs in only DOS. Neither sound card nor mouse is supported.

The game is written in AGI (Adventure Game Interpreter), a proprietary game engine pioneered by Sierra On-Line that is also used in the previous title. The functions of AGI are to provide a game interface and handle all subroutines used to display graphics and sounds. The game itself is then programmed using scripts written specifically for the interpreter. As such, the scripts themselves are platform independent, and can be played in any platform given the right interpreter. AGI is the first interpreter made by Sierra On-Line. It supports only text input and low resolution (160x200) EGA graphics of the IBM PCjr for which the interpreter is originally written. It is, however, the first game engine that supports a pseudo-3D graphic environment whereby characters or objects can be moved on screen in front of, behind, or over other objects on screen. It also uses vector graphics rather than bitmaps in order to speed up screen redraws while minimizing the size of the graphic data files.

Graham's movements are controlled with the 4 arrow keys, which creates a bit of a trick towards the end of the game when he must climb a winding staircase after another. All other actions are specified using text input, such as "Take the trident" or "Give the basket to Red Riding Hood". The puzzles are straightforward and are based on inventory use or movement manipulation. The game is replete with possibilities for sudden death, so frequent saves are the order of the day.

Like the previous game in the King's Quest series, there are several puzzles with dual solutions, with the cleverer solution scoring more points. The rationale behind this design philosophy seems ambiguous, and it can be a source of chagrin when a player has missed out the added satisfaction because the game has accepted the lesser solution.

It is hard not to admire the spirit of whimsy that brings together Little Red Riding Hood, King Neptune, and Count Dracula in the same game. Despite the primitive EGA palette available to the designers, each side quest in this game has its own characteristic look that ranges from the dark tones of Dracula's castle to the colorful worlds of Neptune's undersea kingdom to the bright ambiance of the enchanted island on where Valanice's tower lies. This title is an ideal choice to pick for family gaming, both for its fairy tale storytelling and for the simplicity of its puzzles which the children can solve themselves.

Here is an "Easter Egg" you can find in this game—first, locate the cave with a symbol of a black bat over the entrance, then walk south off the screen and back again to the cave, keep doing this and see the Batmobile drive out.

Of necessity, this sequel invites comparison with its predecessor. The comparison is unfortunately not favorable. This game is a virtual carbon copy of the original title in both concept and style. As with so many sequels, the game has lost both the charm and the freshness of the original. Where many puzzle solutions in the original game are cleverly tied to the events of the fairy tale story (such as "Billy Goats Gruff" and "Jack and the Beanstalk"), the puzzle solutions in this sequel are far more perfunctory, involving only trivial uses of the inventory. In fact, there is not a single truly challenging puzzle in the entire game, making the gameplay more suitable for children but less so for adults. The characters that pop up on screen at random (the good fairy, the thieving dwarf, and the spell-casting wizard) have been simply exported from the original game into this sequel without any change.

Williams has once described both the original and this title in the King's Quest series as "treasure hunts with lots of simple goals". Unlike the original, however, there is not enough distraction in the sequel to mask this schematic structure. As a result, the player misses the presence of a true story in the more modern sense. It is clear at the outset that the story of in this game is a direct spillover from the first one, but one which is greatly compromised by the overuse of the tried fairy tale cliché of "a maiden in distress". This is evident in a quote from Williams, "King's Quest II reminded me a little of Wizard and the Princess. We saw how the previous games (Mystery House and King's Quest I) were received by the public, and I was anxious to try my hand at a bigger story right away. Graham would be king by now. What quest should a lonely king go on? What should he see through the magic mirror? A maiden in distress! I started to foresee a family for Graham in the future. I couldn't fit some ideas into King's Quest I, so I was happy to get a chance to include King Neptune, Dracula, everyone from Little Red Riding Hood, and that infamous rickety old bridge you could only cross so many times."

King's Quest II: Romancing the Throne may be better titled King's Quest I: Part II. It is possible that the overreaction to the success of the first game has prompted a design decision by Williams and her team to deliver a nearly identical game, in order to quickly give the fans more of exactly what the company has perceived them to have wanted. Luckily for the adventure genre, the series has not remained stagnant and proceeds to break revolutionary new ground with its next sequels. However, gamers who are tracing the evolution of graphic adventure games back through the King's Quest series are not going miss much by giving this one a pass.

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