King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella

Introduction

Like the two installments before it, King’s Quest III was a great commercial and critical success upon its release. Fans were initially confused as to what its protagonist, Gywdion, had anything to do with the adventures of King Graham. After a few months passed, they answered the questions for themselves, and began seeing King’s Quest III as the best game in the series thus far. Whether or not a sequel would be made was never a question, for Roberta Williams and her team dropped many hints throughout their game that King’s Quest IV lurked just around the corner.

Though the visuals had improved in subtle ways since the inception of Sierra’s Adventure Game Interpreter (AGI) engine, it was beginning to show its age. In 1987, LucasArts released Maniac Mansion. This unique take on the adventure game genre ended up being a grand success in its own right, impressing critics with its cast of characters and smart humor. Among those who praised it was acclaimed science-fiction writer Orson Scott Card. In the face of this fierce, new competitor, Sierra needed to step up their game to remain relevant. This led to the creation of the AGI engine’s successor, SCI. Interchangeably referred to as both the Script Code Interpreter and Sierra’s Creative Interpreter, this new engine was designed by programmer Jeff Stephenson

With the outdated engine ready to be replaced, there was no better game Sierra could have chosen to than the latest installment of their flagship King’s Quest series. However, as the engine was designed specifically for 16-bit little-endian computers, they realized longtime fans may not have the specifications required to run a game made with the SCI engine. On top of that, the engine had not yet been proven commercially. Therefore, Ms. Williams and her team opted to develop two versions of the game concurrently: one would be built using the AGI engine and the other upon the SCI engine. The former was intended as a fallback in the event the latter didn’t sell. Fortunately for Sierra, the series’ fourth installment, entitled King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella, ended up moving 100,000 copies within two weeks of its debut in August of 1988. Even better, the SCI version comprised a majority of those sales, eliminating the need for its AGI counterpart, which was discontinued mere months after its release. The commercial success of King’s Quest IV proved beyond any shadow of a doubt the sheer popularity of the series. Was the new SCI engine what the series needed to evolve?

Analyzing the Experience

WARNING: This review contains spoilers for the series thus far. Certain puzzle solutions will also be spoiled.

By the time King’s Quest III was released in 1987, Sierra and any other developer creating content for personal computers found themselves dealing with a new wave of piracy.

Artist’s impression

As such, they began taking measures to combat these threats to their livelihood. Though software pirates had the means with which to copy a program, the enclosed manuals couldn’t travel nearly as quickly. As a preemptive measure, developers would require players to enter information they could only derive from said manuals.

Though some companies included a code card with their games and asked players to input the correct character, Sierra went a step further when they created King’s Quest III. As Gwydion, your goal was to escape your master, an evil wizard named Manannan, and find out the protagonist’s true identity. To this end, Gwydion had to sneak into his master laboratory and discover the secrets of magic for himself. Though it made for an excellent premise, a majority of the puzzles in the game revolved in some way around casting these spells. This meant King’s Quest III was decidedly short on puzzles. Most of the challenge of the game instead revolved around learning how Manannan functioned. This was a matter of trial and error as you learned how his schedule worked – typically through repeatedly dying to him.

Though King’s Quest IV has its own form of copy protection, it is far less intrusive. When the game starts up for the first time, you need to turn to a page in the manual and type in the word it asks for. If you fail to do so, the game automatically closes itself. Though it was annoying having to do this every time the game started, it is preferable to the spellcasting system in King’s Quest III because it leaves room for actual puzzles. Later versions of this game are less demanding the associated manuals have the keywords sorted neatly in one section. Either way, once you have typed the correct word, you are thrown into the game proper.

For as long as he could remember, Gwydion had been a slave to an evil wizard named Manannan. As he neared his eighteenth birthday, the young man decided he had enough of Manannan’s cruel treatment and sought freedom. He eventually succeeded, using his master’s own power against him to permanently transform him into a cat. Taking advantage of his newfound freedom by exploring the land of Llewdor, he met an oracle who held a secret that shook his very existence. His real name is Alexander, and his father is King Graham of Daventry.

The kingdom had been razed to the ground by a three-headed dragon, who demanded an annual sacrifice under threat of complete decimation. This year’s sacrifice was to be Alexander’s twin sister, Rosella. Alexander wasted no time setting sail for Daventry whereupon he used his knowledge of the occult to fell the terrifying dragon once and for all. Rosella was ecstatic to learn that her long-lost brother had been alive all of these years and the two of them returned to Castle Daventry together. Their parents, Graham and Valanice, were also overjoyed to see their children safe and sound.

Feeling that it would be for the best to pass the torch to a new generation, King Graham takes his adventurer’s cap and beckons his children to catch it. As the hat sails through the air, Graham suddenly experiences an excruciating chest pain and collapses to the floor. It is clear the aging king is on his deathbed. Overwhelmed over the thought of losing her father moments after being reunited with him, Rosella weeps for him alone in the throne room. There, she hears a voice emanating from the magic mirror.

Gazing into the mirror, she finds herself speaking with a fairy named Genesta. She tells Rosella of a remarkable tree in the land of Tamir that bears a fruit every one-hundred years. The person who consumes this fruit is guaranteed health and well-being for many years to come. Though Tamir is quite a long way from Daventry, existing on the same landmass as Llewdor, Genesta offers to bring her there with her magic. Realizing this proposition may be a little too good to be true, Rosella asks if there might be some complications. Genesta promises to explain more when they meet in person, though once she is brought to Tamir, she cannot return, for her powers are dwindling by the second. In spite of her initial reservations, Rosella accepts these conditions and suddenly finds herself in another world.

Genesta arrives and welcomes Rosella to Tamir. She then explains to Rosella that an evil fairy named Lolotte stole her talisman. As a result, her powers began to fade and her body has weakened. If the talisman is not returned to her in twenty-four hours, she will perish. Though unsure of how she can help a fairy, Rosella promises Genesta that she will find some way retrieve the talisman and the fruit needed to ensure her father’s survival. Disguising Rosella as a peasant, Genesta departs for her island, wishing the princess the best of luck.

Before you even issue a single command, it’s clear that King’s Quest IV is a significant step forward from its direct predecessor in terms of presentation. The game still has a highly limited color palette, but there is much more attention to detail this time around. Characters are no longer represented by stick figures and boast much more fluid animation. Though the artwork shown in the cutscenes could be considered ugly by today’s standards, they were remarkable for 1988. For that matter, the very idea of a video game story being presented in cutscenes as opposed to walls of text itself was highly novel for its time.

Along those lines, it’s wonderful to hear that the annoying beeps of the PC speaker have been replaced with actual music and sound effects. In fact, King’s Quest IV has the honor of being the first PC game to utilize an actual sound card. King’s Quest III and Space Quest demonstrated Sierra had capable composers on their team, but it wasn’t until this title that their talent truly got a chance to shine. Not only did this allow gamers who played in close quarters to others to play their game without fear of disturbing anyone, they could even do things they would take for granted in other situations such as adjust the volume or use headphones.

Despite these drastic changes, the gameplay is highly similar to that of its predecessors. King’s Quest IV is an adventure game, meaning that there is a great emphasis placed on exploration, collecting items, and solving puzzles in lieu of grabbing a sword and slashing your way through a swath of monsters. You control Rosella with the arrow keys. It’s important to remember that she is also capable of moving diagonally if you use the “1”, “3”, “7”, and “9” keys on the number pad on the right side of the keyboard. If it doesn’t work, you need to press the “Number Lock” key first.

King’s Quest IV is also the first game in the series to feature mouse support. You can use it to access the menu and if you left-click on a given screen, Rosella will attempt to move to that location. Admittedly, it’s not terribly useful, as the “escape” key brings up the menu faster and moving Rosella with any kind of accuracy is more easily accomplished using the arrow keys. The control panel itself has been greatly condensed. The main difference is that you can now precisely adjust the game’s speed and with the sound card comes the ability to control the volume.

Although a savvy adventure game enthusiast may have quickly determined how to move their character in King’s Quest IV through basic experimentation, they would also observe that something important was missing on the bottom of the screen. With the playing field taking up nearly the entire screen, there doesn’t appear to be a text parser in this game. Make no mistake, King’s Quest IV still operates using a text parser; to make it appear, all you must do is begin typing a sentence.

Though it may seem strange that the parser appears in a text box, it is actually the single greatest improvement the SCI engine offers over its predecessor. Because it’s in a text box, the game pauses while you type. This means if you ever encounter a hostile monster making a beeline towards Rosella, you have a chance to input a command in response. It’s not like in a given AGI game in which you had to type as fast as you could, adjust the speed, or prepare the command in advance to survive. In fact, if you’re quick enough, you can even issue multiple commands or search through Rosella’s inventory before you run out of time.

Despite not being under the watch of an evil wizard, you must realize that time is of the essence. When Genesta tells you that she has only twenty-four hours to live, she means it. The game begins at around 8:00 A.M. and it functions in real time. If the game strikes 8:00 A.M. once more, you will lose. In practice, this limitation isn’t terribly imposing because twenty-four hours is more than enough time with which to complete the game. In fact, the programmers assumed the player would quickly progress and included two points in which time jumps forward several hours. The first, which causes day to change to night, only occurs when you have accomplished everything by that point in the game – including getting the magic fruit. Because certain puzzles can’t be solved until dusk falls, this is actually a blessing in disguise. Conversely, dawn won’t break until you’ve reached the end of the game by which point, there is only one place to go.

As was the case with nearly every adventure game in existence leading up to this one, you are given carte blanche to pick up anything that may be useful. Disappointingly, a majority of the inventory items lack descriptions in the SCI version. Curiously, this isn’t the case in the lesser-known AGI version. It is of minimal concern because most of the items have obvious uses. If they have descriptions in both versions, you can safely bet they benefit from being closely examined. Still, it’s a bit disappointing that the flavor text in the AGI version ended up being excised from its otherwise more advanced SCI counterpart.

Though King’s Quest III was doubtlessly one of the most experimental titles of its day, Ms. Williams realized she couldn’t possibly recreate what made it so unique. Therefore, in spite of its enhanced presentation, King’s Quest IV is a return to form for the series. With only your overarching goal in mind, you’re free to wander Tamir to the best of your ability. The inhabitants of Tamir are quite diverse; many of them continue the King’s Quest tradition of referencing myriad fairy tales. A poor fisherman, an inept musician, a satyr named Pan, and a prince who has been transformed into a frog all call this country home. Because many of these characters appear randomly, Tamir feels quite a bit livelier than what you saw of Daventry, Kolyma, or Llewdor.

Its most notable resident besides Genesta is the evil fairy Lolotte, who seeks to expand her influence over the world. Realizing she needs to retrieve Genesta’s talisman, Rosella marches right up to Lolotte’s castle.

The direct approach proves to be foolhardy, for Lolotte’s goons immediately capture her when she draws near. Rosella claims to be an ordinary peasant girl, but Lolotte quickly and correctly determines that the disguised princess is too smart to have approached the castle by mistake. She is then thrown into a cell, though she is let out shortly thereafter. Lolotte’s hunchbacked son, Edgar, has developed a crush on Rosella and pleaded to have her released. Against her very nature, Lolotte agrees, but in order to prove her innocence, Rosella must perform a series of tasks for the evil fairy. There is a unicorn that wanders around Tamir, and Rosella is to bring to Lolotte.

This sequence could very well be the first instance of having to perform an act of cruelty for the greater good in a video game. By carefully exploring Tamir, you will find the angel Cupid. He drops his bow to swim in a pool of water. Rosella then has a chance to take his bow. The unicorn normally flees as soon as you approach it, but by shooting it with Cupid’s bow, it becomes friendly. You can even talk to it and pet it should you so choose.

It makes it all the more difficult when you betray its affection by giving it to Lolotte. What I like is that the narrative doesn’t feel the need to guilt trip the player, instead being content to let the events pan out organically.

After getting Lolotte the unicorn she desires, she then demands Rosella sneak into an ogre’s house and steal a hen that lays golden eggs. While these first two quests could be seen as Lolotte testing Rosella, the final one demonstrates the extent of her depravity. There is a crypt in Tamir that contains Pandora’s Box. Just like the item from Greek mythology, this box contains a horde of demons that, once released, will doom the world. There is no sliver of hope to be found if this ends up in the hands of someone like Lolotte, yet Rosella finds she has no choice but to give it to her.

Given how a majority of the experience involves Rosella begrudgingly doing Lolotte’s bidding, King’s Quest IV could be said to be a twisted version of the game that started it all. In the original King’s Quest, the noble knight, Graham, must retrieve three treasures for the benevolent King Edward so that the kingdom of Daventry may prosper once more. Eighteen years later, his own daughter, Rosella, finds herself having to perform three different tasks for the openly malevolent Lolotte just so she can have a chance of recovering Genesta’s talisman. Although handing over Pandora’s Box to Lolotte may sound reckless, it also accents just how desperate Rosella’s situation is. With only a day to recover the talisman, she needs to win Lolotte’s favor by any means necessary.

All of these elements, when combined, make King’s Quest IV the single darkest game in the series. It seems only fitting, then, that the quest to obtain Pandora’s Box involves Rosella having to explore a haunted manor in the dead of night. Though ironically one of the safer areas in Tamir, the manor was the single creepiest section programmed in any King’s Quest game by this point in its history. It seems only fitting that after referencing many classic fairy tales and nursery rhymes, Ms. Williams saw fit to make a more mature allusion – to H. P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror – by naming this domicile Whatley Manor.

What I admire most about the narrative of King’s Quest IV is how much it fleshes out Rosella’s character. Despite being introduced in the final act of King’s Quest III, Ms. Williams envisioned Rosella going on adventures of her own in a sequel. She had her reservations about casting Rosella in the lead role because the gaming industry was dominated by a male demographic. She then reasoned that because many female gamers had enjoyed the King’s Quest series, replacing the hero with a heroine “felt natural, like it was time”. To her delight, the game received a lot of critical acclaim and became one of the best-selling PC games of 1988.

Princesses in most video games at the time typically existed for no other reason than to be rescued. Dragon Quest II broke the mold a year earlier by featuring a princess as one of its three leads, yet King’s Quest IV was one of the first to have one as a protagonist. While Rosella did fulfill the stereotypical “damsel in distress” role in King’s Quest III, she turned around and took the opportunity to save her father with only the slightest bit of hesitation in the same day she was nearly sacrificed to a three-headed dragon. It’s highly fitting that King’s Quest IV comes across as the dark twin of the series’ inaugural installment because Rosella takes after her father. Though not a tomboy in appearance, she is brave, audacious, and unwilling to stand for any kind of injustice. The game doesn’t give her much in the way of dialogue, yet the actions she must take to complete her quest end up speaking for themselves.

Although King’s Quest IV could be considered a marked improvement over its predecessors, it does prove to be quite the flawed experience.

Anyone writing an extensive critique on King’s Quest IV is going to mention a whale. In order to capture the unicorn, Rosella must swim around in the ocean until she spots a whale. It will proceed to swallow her up by accident and she must climb its tongue to get out. Specifically, she has to climb up to its teeth and use a feather to tickle the whale’s uvula. This will cause the whale to sneeze her out near a desert island, which contains the bridle she needs to ride the unicorn. Where on the whale’s tongue she has to climb isn’t at all clear. You have to start on one side and hope she doesn’t slip down into the water. The worst part is that if you take too long, Rosella will die as a result of the noxious fumes. Given that you can only figure out how to climb the whale’s tongue by studying which areas will cause her to slip, it’s easy to see why this would be a problem.

Although navigating the whale’s tongue is highly irritating, it’s limited to one portion of the game. The same can’t be said of any staircase you may come across. Navigating stairs and other narrow paths was annoying in AGI games due to giving characters such limited space to move without falling. However, this was mitigated somewhat by clearly defining where the drop zones were. Unfortunately, I have to remark the new SCI engine actually managed to make this problem worse.

One of the negative effects of the game’s improved presentation is that the staircases are now rendered a little more realistically. If it’s a spiral staircase, you have to deal with the vertical controls reversing – as though the up arrow key now means “ascend” rather than “travel north”. It is every bit as cumbersome as it sounds. Making matters worse, many of these screens are presented in a way that you often can’t see where Rosella stands. This makes it nearly impossible to determine a staircase’s borders. This is one of the few areas in which the mouse comes in handy, but it’s not a guarantee you will be able to navigate them without incident. In fact, you better be prepared to save whenever you’re attempting to ascend or descend a staircase in this game.

Since its inception, the King’s Quest series has featured an array of random encounters as a way of catching players off-guard. In none of their implementations have they ever added anything substantial to the experience. In the original King’s Quest, they were entirely pointless because these threats never appeared on a screen you ever needed to visit. As long as you memorized where they were, you would never have to deal with them. King’s Quest II increased the amount of territory they could cover to include screens that contained valuable items. While this could be argued to have made the game more difficult, they too were easily rendered pointless. All you needed was a fairy’s protective spell, and none of the enemies could harm Graham. There wasn’t even a limit to the number of times you could receive the spell.

By the time King’s Quest III was released, the development team slowly began to understand that players didn’t like these random encounters. Why would they? Playing a game only for it to randomly kill your character is infuriating. Enemies in King’s Quest III would appear in a similar fashion to random encounters in the first two games, but in most cases, they were obstacles the player needed to circumvent. The only truly random encounters were not a threat to Alexander’s life – just his possessions. From observing this pattern, one may conclude that the development team would have learned their lesson by the time they worked on King’s Quest IV.

Unfortunately, this installment marks a particularly nasty relapse of old habits. To give the development team some credit, there is only one threat you have to worry about when exploring Tamir normally. An ogre patrols the area near his formidable house, and his territory is only limited to two screens. However, unlike in the AGI installments, which announced the arrival of an enemy with a text box and a musical sting, the ogre appears silently. This isn’t so bad on the screen containing his house because he always appears as soon as you enter it. Should you happen to enter the screen directly to the south of his house, however, be prepared for a shock. He hides behind the tree in the foreground on the left and makes a beeline for Rosella if she remains in the area for too long. In a sinister touch, it can take several seconds for him to jump out. You can watch out for him by entering the command “LOOK MAN” before he appears, but you wouldn’t think to do this unless you knew he existed in the first place. Then again, you don’t actually need to ever visit this screen to complete the game and get every point, so it is nothing more than a cheap beginner’s trap – especially if you enter it from the west.

In a stark contrast to King’s Quest II or King’s Quest III, King’s Quest IV requires Rosella to jump into the ocean and swim across, for it’s the only way to reach Genesta’s island. While en route to the island, you will discover that a shark patrols the ocean. Like the ogre, it can appear even if you have lingered on a section of ocean for a certain period of time, though you can’t watch out for it until you see it. Unlike most of the random encounters in this series, leaving the screen won’t save you if it is close enough to Rosella as you make the screen transition. If you want to traverse the ocean successfully, your only course of action is to save beforehand and hope it doesn’t show up. Should you attempt to switch between screens multiple times in succession in an attempt to fool the random number generator, Rosella will tire out and sink into the ocean. Astoundingly, this isn’t the most annoying portion of the game.

That honor would go to a dark cave you must traverse to reach the magic fruit. The cave is tedious to navigate because the lantern you use to light your way is worthless. Unlike the candle from King’s Quest II, which completely illuminated the dark hallways of Dracula’s castle, the lantern only allows you to see where Rosella is in the darkness. Though this is a crucial benefit, it means making your way through the cave is a matter of running into the walls and feeling your way around. Just to ensure you don’t feel too good about making progress, the programmers saw fit to place an invisible chasm on the last leg of the cave. This is guaranteed to blindside the player the first time they play the game. You can see the signs of a large drop-off illuminated by the lantern, but chances are great that you won’t be able to react in time.

Finding your way around the cave is by itself irritating, but to make matters even worse, a fearsome troll dwells within. If it appears, you might as well restore a save right there and then. Worst of all, there is nothing you can do to prevent the troll from appearing. There is neither an item you can use to ward it off, nor a way to hide from it. It is possible to outrun it, but you absolutely cannot run into anything. Even the slightest misstep will cause the troll to catch up and drag Rosella off to a gruesome fate. Considering that you cannot see the walls of the cave, it’s only a matter of time before it catches up unless luck happens to be on your side. Otherwise, the only way to deal with the troll is to hope it doesn’t show up. If it doesn’t show up, save; if it does, reload. Needless to say, this is an appallingly bad design choice. The game arbitrarily prevents the player from making progress until it decides not to spawn the troll. So, while King’s Quest IV doesn’t feature as many random encounters as its predecessors, the few it does have are far worse than those of its predecessors.

Much like King’s Quest III before it, part of what makes these bad game design choices particularly sting is that they make it difficult to appreciate the excellent story beats. The final act is where they really get an opportunity to shine. Thankful that Rosella managed to bring her Pandora’s Box, Lolotte rewards the princess by forcibly marrying her to Edgar. She is escorted to a tower where she is to be wed the next day. However, Edgar sneaks a rose into her room. Examining the rose reveals a key to Rosella’s room, allowing her to make an escape. Most players would have believed that Edgar was nothing more than Lolotte’s evil son, so seeing him selflessly risk his own happiness for Rosella’s demonstrates there is much more to this character than they initially thought.

Should Rosella get caught at any point exploring Lolotte’s castle, she will be thrown back into her room. Dawn will break, and the wedding will commence as planned. After Edgar is allowed to kiss the bride, Rosella faints. She would have every right to do so. Genesta and Graham are doomed to die, she is stranded in Tamir, and Lolotte is in possession of Pandora’s Box, meaning she now rules the world. This isn’t even getting into the fact that Rosella now has Lolotte as a mother-in-law. Typically, whenever the protagonist loses in a video game, what happens as a result of their failure is implied. Here, you get a glimpse as to what is on the line should Rosella fail in her mission. It’s an amazingly effective way to get players to realize the gravity of their character’s situation. Fortunately as depressing as this sequence is, it’s not canonical, so you have an opportunity to restore a save and set things right.

Rosella sneaks out of her tower and into Lolotte’s bedroom. Attempting to steal the talisman would prove fatal, so Rosella must resort to something drastic. Given that Rosella used one of Cupid’s arrows to fulfill Lolotte’s first task, it’s thematically fitting how the other severs their pact. By firing an arrow sustained by the power of love into such a vile being, Lolotte’s existence can’t be maintained. Thus, the evil fairy’s scream pierces the night sky as her corpse slumps forward. Rosella recovers the talisman and she has the opportunity to recover Pandora’s Box along with the hen. Being the prudent woman that she is, Rosella places Pandora’s Box in its crypt, locks the door, and kicks the key into the sealed room, ensuring the artifact will remain out of the hands of evil forever. She can even set the unicorn free, though it pointedly avoids Rosella should they cross paths again.

Rosella arrives in the nick of time with Genesta’s talisman in tow and returns it to the fairy. Genesta expresses her gratitude, though she realizes there is someone else to thank for saving her life as well. She transports Edgar to her island, and transforms him into a handsome man. Edgar asks Rosella if she will marry him, but she declines, realizing her family needs her right now.

Fulfilling Lolotte’s tasks puts a dark, introspective take on the standard fantasy plot. By doing what is expected of a hero in this situation, Rosella would be rewarded with the standard reward of having the hand of the monarch’s child in marriage. Having it come to pass is the absolute worst outcome. Despite this, the introspection doesn’t end after Rosella has killed Lolotte. In most situations, the princess would be ecstatic to see a handsome man pine for her and gladly marry him before the credits roll. Rosella doesn’t do this; she has her priorities straight and chooses to help her family first. In light of the destruction Daventry has suffered because of the three-headed dragon, her kingdom needs her now more than ever. The first step is to deliver the magic fruit to Graham and ensure his survival. With Genesta’s power, she is able to do just that. Upon eating the fruit, Graham makes a swift recovery. His daughter assures him that his adventuring days are not over yet. Everyone agrees, and the king dons his signature cap once more.

Drawing a Conclusion

Pros:

  • Good music
  • Improved presentation
  • Interesting plot
  • Fleshes out Rosella’s character
  • Stellar world design
  • Text parser now pauses the game
  • Good cast
Cons:

  • Difficult without guide
  • Navigating certain areas is difficult
  • Easy to render unwinnable
  • Random encounters are extremely annoying

I find myself in a strange spot when it comes to how I feel about King’s Quest IV. I have absolutely no doubt that it was a major step up from its predecessor, and its presentation is emblematic of the rapid changes undergone by the medium at the time. In a lot of ways, it’s difficult to fathom that it was released only one year after King’s Quest III, as nearly everything about it, from the presentation to the surprisingly deep story, demonstrates a lot of growth on the development team’s part in such a short time. Not only that, but Rosella quickly established herself as an excellent female character, being every bit as capable as her father and twin brother. This was an era in which most female characters were only playable by choice, yet King’s Quest IV managed to become a bestselling game and was well-received by most critics. Despite Ms. Williams’s reservations, she was able to get her audience to accept the idea of a game having a female lead simply by writing naturally, which is laudable even today.

Ultimately, the problem with recommending King’s Quest IV is that it is an experience utterly lacking in middle ground. That is to say, when it’s not brilliant, it’s actively terrible. The story beats are solid, especially for their time, yet you’re going to have to put up with a treasure trove of poorly implemented puzzles and bad design choices to appreciate them. Despite this, I would be a little more likely to recommend King’s Quest IV than not because from a narrative standpoint, it has held up reasonably well over the years. Although some of the references may be lost on you, it wouldn’t a terrible choice to start with if you’re completely new. Even if the gameplay of King’s Quest IV hasn’t aged well, it deserved the praise it received back in 1988 for being one of the first titles to give a princess an adventure of her own.

Final Score: 6/10

6 thoughts on “King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella

    • If there is, it has eluded me for decades. You’ve certainly got a point though; every other game in the series save for the original and Mask of Eternity has a pun of some kind in its subtitle (though it should be noted that the original King’s Quest didn’t have a subtitle for its initial release).

      Liked by 2 people

      • Being able to hear about a King’s Quest game again after a long time is such a wonderful recollection.

        The Perils of Rosella was a fun great game, and it’s impressive considering the fact that it’s from the 1988 era.

        Making games like King’s Quest IV was magnum opus for consoles in the past.

        NES could have done it but at the expense sacrificing processing and audio.

        The huge improvement of graphics and gameplay is a sight to behold.

        Thanks for sharing a look back on this game.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Though I don’t believe King’s Quest IV to be the pinnacle of the series, there’s no denying that it’s a major step forward from its predecessors. In terms of presentation, it was practically peerless at the time. If it wasn’t for its bouts of terrible design choices, it would be an all-time classic. As it stands, it’s mostly good in spite of itself.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. This game was my introduction to King’s Quest. I never got very far in it, though. I could run around gathering things, but wasn’t able to figure out more than a handful of puzzles. Those days before the internet guides were dark indeed.

    And yeah, those stairs, those were absolutely horrible. It appalls me to think someone put it together, ran their character up it, and thought, “Yep, that’s how I want the stairs to work.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just don’t believe developers were thinking about their games from their audience’s perspective during this era. While it doubtlessly allowed them to innovate a lot, it also meant the audience having to put up with amazingly bad design choices such as the staircases in this game. I also kind of think some purposely made their games as cryptic as possible just so they could move as many strategy guides and hint books as possible. In a lot of ways, that’s arguably worse than microtransactions we put up with today because it doesn’t technically add any content.

      A lot of independent critics treat this era as a sacred cow, but the fact of the matter is that a very large portion of these classic games really have not aged well. We put up with them when there was no alternative, but in hindsight, they’re harder to defend. I find the eighties games that do hold up tend to be exceptions rather than the rule. King’s Quest IV manages to be a step forward from its predecessor overall, but you have to put up with a lot to appreciate what it does well.

      Liked by 1 person

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