Despite not selling as many copies as its direct predecessor, King’s Quest VI was yet another success for Sierra’s flagship franchise upon its 1992 release. While King’s Quest V was a major step up from its own direct predecessor in terms of presentation and gameplay, King’s Quest VI ironed out a majority of its flaws. The untrained office employees were replaced by professional voice actors. Combined with more user-friendly design choices and sensible puzzle solutions, there was little question King’s Quest VI managed to be the pinnacle of the franchise as soon as it debuted. Even if making a sequel was the logical thing to do, series creator Roberta Williams had her work cut out for her.
During this time, Disney’s success after having fully recovered from a nearly fatal slump in the 1980s effected what is believed to be the studio’s renaissance. The film most commonly cited for starting this era was The Little Mermaid in 1989. This triumph was then followed up by Beauty and the Beast in 1991 and Aladdin in 1992. All three of these films are beloved classics by anyone versed in the medium – and even those who aren’t. Realizing just how much life these films breathed into the medium, the Sierra staff sought to capture that energy and transplant it into the next King’s Quest installment.
With the rising popularity of the CD-ROM format, Ms. Williams had begun drafting ideas for a game featuring heavy amounts of full-motion video footage. Its name was to be Phantasmagoria. As a result of her busy schedule, she helmed the development of King’s Quest VII alongside two other new directors: Lorelei Shannon and Andy Hoyos. Even so, Ms. Williams was enthusiastic about the project, often bouncing ideas off of Ms. Shannon. It was to the point where they were sad when the planning process came to an end, for Ms. Shannon believed they could have devised new ideas for the next two years.
In order to make as good of an impression as possible, Sierra’s co-founder, Ken Williams, had the idea to contact an up-and-coming animation studio known as Pixar. They had made a favorable impression on animation enthusiasts with their collection of short films, and were in the process of creating their theatrical debut: Toy Story. To Mr. Williams’s surprise, he received a call from Pixar founder Steve Jobs almost immediately after proposing a possible collaboration. Unfortunately for Sierra, the plan fell through when it became clear the Pixar team was far too busy to entertain making a short film for them. To bring their vision of an interactive cartoon into reality, Sierra contracted four animation houses: Animation Magic Inc., Dungeon Ink & Paint, LA West Film Production, and Animotion.
Despite the fact that most of these animators had limited experience in computer gaming, the development cycle proceeded fairly smoothly. The project eventually saw its completion in November of 1994 under the name King’s Quest VII: The Princeless Bride. Being the seventh installment of a long-running franchise, King’s Quest VII had no problems finding an audience, selling 3.8 million copies within the next eighteen months. However, while fans and critics alike were enthusiastic about the series’ previous entries, the seventh left them divided. Some disliked the Disney-inspired presentation while others had nothing but praise for it. Although many games to follow the franchise’s pinnacle gain a new lease on life with the power of hindsight, King’s Quest VII remains a divisive entry to this very day. Was it even possible for Sierra to successfully follow up a game as beloved as King’s Quest VI?
Analyzing the Experience
WARNING: The following review will contain spoilers for the series thus far. Moreover, several puzzle solutions will be revealed.
Some time has passed since Prince Alexander of Daventry left for the Land of the Green Isles. When all was said and done, he became the land’s new king with Princess Cassima as his queen. Partially as a result of her son’s exploits, Queen Valanice has been pressuring her daughter, Rosella, to find a prince to marry. However, the adventurous princess loves her freedom and is therefore wholly uninterested in being tied down. Not helping matters is that she finds a majority of her potential suitors boring.
During one argument, Rosella espies an image of a castle in the sky reflected in a pond. She decides to conduct a hands-on investigation by jumping into the pond. When her daughter doesn’t surface, Valanice follows her. As it turns out, the pond was a portal leading to another realm. Valanice finds her daughter, but before the two of them can reunite, an arm appears from the portal and grabs Rosella. When Valanice completes her descent, a sprawling desert awaits her. Trapped in a strange land, Valanice must find Rosella and rescue her from whoever – or whatever – captured her.
Regardless of the medium in which one crafts their work, it is important to grasp the principle of starting off on the right foot. While first impressions aren’t everything, they can, on occasion, give the audience an accurate idea of what to expect from the work going forward. The reason this bears mentioning in relationship to King’s Quest VII is because the animation is rather bad. This is especially evident in the opening sequence, which also contains a song that wouldn’t have felt out of place among Disney’s animated fare. The animations themselves are choppy and don’t really reflect the art style established by previous entries. Valanice and Rosella only barely resemble what they looked like in previous installments. Rosella in particular looks cross-eyed in many of her animations. This was likely the result of four animation studios being involved with this game’s production, each of which handled a different section.
Many years after the fact in retrospectives, detractors joked the animation resembled that of the infamous Nintendo-licensed games to have resulted from their partnership with the Dutch electronics company Philips – specifically, Hotel Mario, Link: The Faces of Evil, and Zelda: Wand of Gamelon. This would be because the company that animated the opening sequences, Animation Magic Inc., were the ones responsible for bringing the memorably bad cutscenes of those three games to life. To be completely fair, it was a respectable attempt for its time. One needs to remember the first attempt at a new style is inevitably going to look sloppy compared to an established method that had been used for a long time. However, even keeping this in mind, there is no getting around that the visuals have not aged well.
Then again, as any enthusiast knows, visuals are not the end-all factor for determining a game’s quality. Before you’re even given control of your character, one significant change to the series’ familiar gameplay presents itself immediately. Rather than simply being thrust into the game, you are asked to input your name. Whenever you return to the title screen or quit, the game saves automatically, bookmarking your progress. Such a change would have been unthinkable in any of the earlier games owing to how easy it was to save in an unwinnable position. Thankfully, the implications of this new bookmark system mean exactly what you think – regardless of how much you experiment with the game, it can always be won. No longer will you have to worry about making multiple saves or trying to deduce where you went wrong when you find you can no longer make progress.
Once you have named your bookmark, you are then asked to select a chapter from which you can begin the game. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with this, I have to comment that the ability to choose any of the six chapters is completely pointless. If you attempt to start on the final chapter, you can complete the game in a matter of minutes. However, should you choose to do so, you will lack any and all context leading up to that moment. I could understand this feature if you wanted to revisit a chapter after clearing it, but you can access all of them from the onset. Nobody who purchases a copy of this game is going to start on the sixth chapter and declare that they’ve seen everything it has to offer upon completing it. The design choice would make sense if the game was designed like Mega Man, which has a distinct advantage to playing the stages in a certain order, but it absolutely does not work in a linear, story-heavy experience.
After selecting chapter one, you are taken to the game proper. Valanice finds herself in a large desert in the land of Eldritch, and it’s up to you to find a way for her to escape it. For all of the issues I have with King’s Quest VII, one thing I truly admire about it is that it finally gives Valanice an adventure. She is a character who had always been important to the series, being the queen of Daventry. However, despite her importance to the setting, she never played an active role in any of the installments’ plots. She was the token damsel in destress in King’s Quest II before being delegated to the background for the next two games. She then needed to be rescued again in King’s Quest V, though her family was brought along for the ride that time. King’s Quest VI featured what was arguably her most important role yet, but once again, she faded into the background as soon as the game began in earnest.
Her status as a mere background character ends with this installment, for she is the one of the game’s two protagonists – the other being her daughter Rosella. The idea of giving a princess an adventure of her own may not have been common in the late 1980s or early 1990s, but it wasn’t entirely without precedent. Making the protagonist a queen was, on the other hand, practically unheard of. This isn’t a case in which the character in question was a newly crowned a queen either; Valanice is around the same age as Graham and has two adult children. With princesses being good and queens representing evil being a common trope in fiction, Ms. Williams and her team manage to subvert expectations using their premise alone.
Naturally, the best thing to result from making Valanice one of the protagonists is that it gives her some much needed characterization. Considering how every one of her family members had gone on at least one journey apiece, it stands to reason that their adventurous spirit would eventually rub off on her – even if her current circumstances were brought about due to an accident. Valanice is a woman who wants nothing more than to rescue her daughter. Nothing is going to stand in her way to see this goal through. As is expected of a wise queen, she is a composed, collected individual, though she isn’t afraid to comment on the strange situations in which she often finds herself or snap back at any of the odd inhabitants whenever they inconvenience her. Just like her husband, she also doesn’t suffer any injustices lightly, and is perfectly willing to right any of the ones she comes across on her journey. Ironically, despite Valanice having no adventuring experience, her journey ends up being longer and arguably more impactful than her daughter’s.
For that matter, it is nice getting to play as Rosella again, for King’s Quest VII marks the first instance in which she plays a major role since the series’ fourth installment. After King’s Quest V gave definitive voices to its characters, it was interesting seeing how the developers interpreted them. King Graham was a fearless, stoic adventurer determined to rescue his family. Prince Alexander was a more melancholic figure, which could be attributed to his less-than-ideal upbringing under the evil wizard Manannan. Nonetheless, he had a touch of iron underneath the surface, so anyone who underestimated him did so at their own risk. What King’s Quest VII does is reinforce the character traits King’s Quest IV implied for Princess Rosella. She is a remarkable foil to her brother, being wholly uninterested in silly romances when she could go off on adventures. Like the rest of her family, she has a strong sense of justice and even if she lacks Alexander’s proficiency in magic, she is resourceful enough to effectively deal with any evildoer who crosses her path.
When you begin the game in earnest, you will realize that the narrative structure is quite a bit different as well. The first four installments of the King’s Quest series were presented from a second-person perspective. Although it enforced the role-playing aspect inherent in adventure games, this presentation choice was a holdover from Ms. Williams’s early titles such as Mystery House. These games were presented from a first-person perspective and exposited from a second-person perspective. However, because the characters you played as in the King’s Quest series were well-defined within this universe as opposed to being entirely featureless for the sake of immersion, the narration shifted to third-person storytelling starting in King’s Quest V, evoking the feel of an interactive novel. King’s Quest VII then takes this trend to its logical extreme by removing the omniscient narrator entirely.
I think both approaches are effective, but I will admit one undeniable benefit from this change is that it now places a far greater emphasis on showing over telling. Typing strange commands into the parser or clicking on random objects invariably returned snarky messages from the narrator, but in King’s Quest VII, your experimentation causes the player character herself to indirectly comment on your commands. Moreover, without a narrator to help things along, you actually get to see the interactions that were previously only described in text boxes. This had been the case as the technology improved, but it is especially obvious in this installment courtesy of its then-advanced animation.
Though I question the wisdom of making all of the chapters selectable as soon as you launch the game, how they divide the experience is sensible enough. Valanice is the protagonist of the odd-numbered chapters whereas even-numbered chapters focus on Rosella. A majority of the chapters end on a cliffhanger of some kind, whether it’s an enemy accosting the player character or some other unexpected development that would make for a natural cutoff point.
The reason I have been laying out all of what I like about King’s Quest VII upfront is because a significant portion of the game’s goodwill is forfeit the exact second you begin playing. If the bookmark system didn’t successfully signpost what this game has to offer is vastly different than anything that came before, the new interface will. King’s Quest V was Sierra’s first game to feature a point-and-click interface operated by a mouse, and it shows. A majority of the potential interactions in that game are in some way required to complete it. Of the exceptions, most of them only render the game unwinnable. King’s Quest VI remedied this by fully embracing the point-and-click interface, allowing the player a degree of interaction far greater than what the previous game offered. Once again, reading all the flavor text through strange interactions managed to be a game in of itself.
It is unfortunate, then, that King’s Quest VII manages to take several steps backwards from what its direct predecessor accomplished. King’s Quest V and King’s Quest VI both featured a point-and-click interface that transformed the mouse cursor into one of five icons, depending on what you wanted your character to do. King’s Quest VII, on the other hand, greatly simplifies things. In this game, the mouse cursor takes the form of a magic wand. By default, the clicking on a certain point will cause your character to walk there if possible. When the icon rests on an important set piece, however, the wand will begin to glow. If you click the mouse as the wand glows, your character will interact with it in some way.
In a manner similar to pioneering computer role-playing games, the interface is always displayed on the bottom of the screen. Certain areas scroll as Valanice or Rosella reach the edge of the screen. In these areas, there is a slider bar that allows you to see what lies to the left or the right. However, you cannot scroll your character offscreen. A significant portion of the interface is dominated by a black void. This is where your character’s inventory items are stored. To use an inventory item, you must select it with the cursor. The cursor transforms into an icon that looks just like the item you selected. When you hover the cursor over certain set pieces, it will light up. This is how you can tell whether or not you can use the item in a given situation.
In previous games, examining items would give you a basic description of them. Unlike King’s Quest V, King’s Quest VI featured various items that changed states. Players could also use items on other ones within the inventory window. You know you could store something within an item if you received a description that spanned more than one piece of dialogue. King’s Quest VII takes this basic idea, but implements it in a slightly different fashion. By placing the item on the eye marking on the right side of the interface and clicking, you can examine it in closer detail.
Within this window, you are told what the item is, which is handy when it’s not obvious. While King’s Quest V and King’s Quest VI allowed its protagonists to manipulate inventory items with the click of the hand icon, King’s Quest VII expects a bit more out of players. One of the first items Valanice can obtain is a basket. You must click on the basket’s handle in order to examine what is inside of it. From here, you can spin the item on axis so you can examine it from multiple angles. If you examine it closely, you can discover a kernel of corn inside the basket you need to advance.
The ability to examine inventory items in closer detail is a nice touch because, keeping true to the presentation upgrade, it stays true to the show-don’t-tell axiom of adventure games. However, I have to say that the interface forms the basis of what I believe to be the weakest aspect of King’s Quest VII – it’s far too easy. Given the numerous annoying puzzles present in the previous games, one may consider this a blessing, but if Ms. Williams and her team sought to address these weaknesses, they ultimately overcorrected. Brute forcing was an option in previous titles, but the many possible results from your experimentation discouraged the behavior. This tactic was only consistently tenable in King’s Quest V, which is a significant reason why the game is not fondly remembered in retrospectives.
However, with its drastically simplified interface, King’s Quest VII suffers from the exact same problem as King’s Quest V. That is, the extent to which your characters can interact with the world is almost exclusively limited to important set pieces. Although you can get a fair bit of flavor text from examining superfluous areas of the game, any pretense of going off the rails and receiving an amusing admonishment for your troubles is gone. Part of the appeal of an adventure game was to see just how many potential player actions the developers accounted for, which ties seamlessly into the central exploratory ethos of the genre. By denying players that opportunity, they’re merely following the path the developers paved for them without a chance to deviate from it at all. In this particular regard, King’s Quest VII is actually worse off than King’s Quest V due to the lack of an omniscient narrator.
By giving its players such simple gameplay, it seems to be of little wonder that King’s Quest VII would also remove any significant penalty for dying. It is fully possible to lead your character to their doom, but instead of Sierra’s trademark Restore-Restart-Quit window appearing, you are instead taken to a screen in which the player character expresses annoyance over their death. Sometimes, this can cue players into the correct course of action, but if the death was particularly foolhardy, they’ll instead make a darkly humorous observation. From here, you can either choose to keep playing or quit. If you choose the former, your character will be placed back in the game with a chance to avoid repeating the mistake. Should you opt out of the game, your progress will be saved instead.
This development is something of a double-edged sword. LucasArts differentiated themselves from Sierra in that they eventually excised the concept of rendering the game unwinnable. Players didn’t even have to worry about killing off their characters; they were free to experiment as they saw fit. Although it would seem to take all of the challenge out of the game, many players realized there wasn’t much point to enforcing incorrect puzzle solutions under penalty of death if they could just reload a save file immediately afterwards. Consequently, they began to realize just how poorly designed many pioneering adventure games were. For want of meaningful alternatives, this wasn’t obvious, but in hindsight, the flaws were laid bare. Although I can appreciate rendering death a minor annoyance in King’s Quest VII, the game is still optimized under the pretense that it’s a significant setback. I can appreciate the Sierra developers wanting to keep up with the times, but by giving players an easy out whenever their characters die, the game experiences the worst of both worlds.
Despite these setbacks, I do have to say that the puzzle variety in the first chapter is solid. As Valanice, your goal is to escape the desert. It is clear that Sierra learned their lesson after King’s Quest V because, while you can stray from the main area, there is only one point of interest to be found from exploring the desert at length. This means you no longer have to make traverse random screens of the desert and hope you accidentally stumble upon an oasis. Indeed, what makes the first chapter so admirable is that you can go about circumventing the obstacles in various creative ways.
This is enforced when you can help a wandering spirit who has died of extreme thirst. By giving him fresh water, he will give you one of his earthly possessions, including a rope and a can of bug-reducing powder. One of the areas of interest is a temple. Once Valanice enters it, however, she learns it is guarded by a giant scorpion. Naturally, she can use the bug-reducing powder to transform it into a harmless, normal-sized scorpion, but she can also fashion a flag out of a stick and a torn-off piece of her petticoat and distract it temporarily. The former is ideal because it allows you to examine the puzzle within the temple for as long as you like whereas the latter option imposes a time limit. However, even if one solution makes the game slightly easier than the other, it doesn’t punish the player in the long term for choosing the worse option. Indeed, the ghost’s possessions are not interchangeable keys intended for the same exact puzzle, which means you will need to explore carefully and have a good idea of the obstacles you face before choosing one.
The astute readers may have noticed that I specifically praised the first chapter for having a solid diversity in its puzzle solutions and inferred I was implicitly condemning the rest of the experience. They would be entirely correct, for once you have guided Valanice out of the desert, the puzzle diversity ceases to exist. From the exact second you gain control of Rosella for the first time, you can expect every single problem you face to have exactly one solution. This means a majority of the experience entails combing the land for the metaphorical key you need to advance until the game ends. In light of the general lack of interactivity to be found, this flaw is especially egregious.
In fairness, you won’t find puzzle solutions as bafflingly terrible as tossing the bridle on the snake in King’s Quest II or throwing a pie at the yeti in King’s Quest V. However, you will find that King’s Quest VII has more than a few highly irritating sequences you must suffer through. One portion involves Rosella infiltrating the main antagonist’s abode. Said character owns a particularly irritating dog with a decidedly shrill bark. In order to successfully sneak in, Rosella must dig a hole behind the antagonist’s house and emerge from the floorboards. If the dog can be heard barking, attempting to sneak in will result in Rosella’s quick demise. To counteract this, you must leave the screen and return until you no longer hear the dog. It is completely random as to whether or not the dog is barking when you arrive on the screen in question, so you can potentially try twenty times in a row with no success. To add insult to injury, you have to repeat this task as Valanice in the very next chapter.
Speaking of which, although Valanice has an elaborate final chapter, it is also home of the game’s worst sequence. When she arrives in a dreary world known as Ooga Booga Land, she soon finds herself tasked with undoing the curse placed on the Headless Horseman patrolling the area. This involves breaking into the horseman’s mausoleum and retrieving his head from the tomb. There is no key to the door, but some troublemaking kids provide her with the next best thing: a piece of dynamite. Unfortunately, the stick is already lit, so you must quickly guide her to the tomb. This is easier said than done because it does not take long to detonate. On faster computers, this task was nearly impossible to complete because the dynamite would explode almost instantly. There is a degree of mercy in that choosing to restart the game will place Valanice exactly where she was when the dynamite exploded. Even so, slogging through this sequence is a matter of taking a few steps to the left, dying, reloading, and repeating the process however many times until Valanice is right next to the tomb’s door. This, to me, sums up the gameplay’s fatal weakness. Although the puzzles in King’s Quest VII tend to be sensible, the game frequently prevents players from implementing the solutions through no fault of their own.
With the gameplay having significantly deteriorated in quality from King’s Quest VI, one might wonder if King’s Quest VII, despite its presentational issues, provides an interesting scenario. On its surface, it would appear the writers succeeded. Naturally, the biggest draw of the game is that the writers finally gave Valanice a chance to become an adventurer, but Rosella’s scenario is intriguing itself. After disappearing into the portal, she was kidnapped by an unknown entity. The responsible party is a troll who identifies himself as King Otar Fenris III. Through some strange magic, Rosella herself is transformed into a troll. Therefore, the goal of her first chapter is to restore her human form and escape the trolls’ underground kingdom.
From this development, it is easy to conclude that Otar is the scenario’s primary antagonist. His goal would appear to be the most in line with a typical fantasy villain – kidnapping a princess and forcing her to marry him. Naturally, this being a part of the King’s Quest series, Rosella subverts the “damsel in distress” trope by having the agency to escape on her own. Moreover, as Rosella explores the underground, she learns things aren’t quite as they seem. The princess learns from Otar’s nursemaid, Mathilde, that the king has been acting very different as of late. Mathilde suspects that a powerful sorceress named Malicia has brainwashed Otar so he will be coerced into cooperating with her scheme.
As one would deduce from the fact that Malicia is featured prominently on the box art, she is indeed the primary antagonist of this game. With her vain, narcissistic personality and potent magical powers, she brings to mind classic Disney villainesses such as Ursula from The Little Mermaid or Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. In terms of the King’s Quest series, however, she comes across as a fusion of Mordack and Abdul Alhazred. She is a fairy from the land of Etheria. Much like Alhazred, she sought to overthrow the king and queen of the land, Oberon and Titania, though she went about doing so through sheer brute force similar to Mordack as opposed to careful political maneuvering. She enlisted the help of a faction of local fanatics to see this goal through, but even after her forces were killed or banished, Malicia would not surrender. One of the royal family’s allies, Count Vladimir Tsepish of Ooga Booga Land, dealt a critical blow to her, though Malicia got revenge on him by sending her gargoyle to decapitate him. At the end of this battle, Malicia’s powers were revoked and she was subsequently cast from Etheria.
However, this did not deter her in the long term. She gained new magical powers and now seeks to destroy both Etheria and Eldritch by activating a volcano connected to the troll’s kingdom of Vulcanix. With two protagonists, the game does an admittedly interesting job of giving them distinct goals. In broad strokes, their goals are intertwined with Malicia, but how they confront her is slightly different. Rosella is the one who directly deals with the sorceress. As it turns out, kidnapping Rosella was not part of her plan; Malicia’s collaborator acted independently. Because of this, Rosella must evade the sorceress’s wrath upon regaining her human form. From there, she teams up with the real King Otar and finds the one artifact capable of defeating Malicia
Meanwhile, Valanice’s journey to rescue her daughter eventually entails the queen having to undo the significant damage Malicia has inflicted upon this world. Unlike Mordack, Malicia grasps the importance of patience, and realized that accomplishing her plan in the fewest steps possible would leave her vulnerable. Heading for the volcano’s control room and turning up the heat would merely prompt the trolls to stop her. Because of this, she made sure that when it came time to effect her plan, she would be entirely unopposed. To this end, she imprisoned the leader of Dreamland, cursed the resident guardians of Eldritch, and, though providing strategic disinformation, caused Oberon and Titania to leave Etheria. She accomplished this last feat by kidnapping the prince of Etheria and transforming him into an imposter troll king.
Although the basic premise for this game is decent, I have to say that the presentation manages to ruin it for me. Aside from the visuals, King’s Quest VII is a marked step down from King’s Quest VI when it comes to voice acting. It does sound a bit more professional than the acting in King’s Quest V and the leads are passible, yet at least once per chapter, you will come across a character with a voice so grating, you wish you could simply switch over to text. Admittedly, King’s Quest VI had its fair share of subpar voice acting, but they were limited to minor characters with very few lines. In King’s Quest VII, even major characters will get on your nerves. It’s almost as if the team tried to out-Disney Disney in terms of being whimsical. Naturally the sixth chapter, being the shortest in the game, is the sole exception to this rule.
Then again, even if the voice acting were better, it doesn’t change that Valanice and Rosella have to deal with several obnoxious individuals on their journeys. The desert is home to a jackalope who has stolen the glasses of a talking rat. Attempting to get it back civilly will only result in the rude creature blowing a raspberry at Valanice. It does make solving the puzzle cathartic, but the goodwill is lost when you realize this isn’t an isolated incident. The next chapter involves Rosella having to borrow an item from a troll who attempts to flirt with her. When the player regains control of Valanice, she will find herself in Falderal – a town populated by talking animals. This area could be described succinctly as a less interesting version of the Isle of Wonder from King’s Quest VI with its bizarre inhabitants and haphazard architecture. Shortly upon arriving there, Valanice ends up having to retrieve the moon, which is a wheel of green cheese, from the town’s fountain and is prevented from leaving until she launches it in the sky with a rubber chicken. Although this sounds highly imaginative, it’s much less exciting than it sounds, which is the general feeling one gets playing the rest of the game.
For all of this game’s problems, I can say that, unlike King’s Quest V, it does stick the landing reasonably well. When the real King Otar confronts his doppelgänger in the volcano’s control room, Rosella uses his magic wand to reveal the latter’s true form. The imposter is none other than Edgar – the man the evil fairy Lolotte attempted to pass off as her own son in King’s Quest IV. This casts a lot of the false king’s previous actions in an interesting light. Malicia had brainwashed him into complying with her plan, so Edgar capturing Rosella and convincing her to marry him could be seen as a failed attempt to break free and ask for help. In the end, Malicia’s plan fell apart because she was unaware of the feelings Edgar harbored for Rosella.
The only aspect I don’t like about the ending is that, like many Disney films, it renders death a minor inconvenience. Edgar ends up perishing in a magical duel against Malicia, forcing Rosella to use the mysterious device she retrieved from the sorceress’s bedroom to deal with her. As it turns out, the device turns whomever it is used on into infant. To revive Edgar, Rosella uses an extra life granted to her by a talking black cat in Ooga Booga Land. While it is nice that, for once, a cat is portrayed in a positive light in this series, it cheapens the established lore. One of the most admirable aspects of King’s Quest VI is that when Alexander resurrected Caliphim and Allaria, the narrative firmly established he accomplished the impossible. He had to journey to the underworld and challenge the Lord of the Dead himself. Though the solution to this challenge was simple, it still required the player to carefully consider their options. In King’s Quest VII, Rosella does a random good deed and is given an extra life. While preferable to the deus ex machina that drove the ending of King’s Quest V, there’s no getting around how contrived this development is.
Fortunately, the actual ending sequences do allow the narrative to bounce back somewhat. When Edgar is revived, Titania takes the infant Malicia and vows to raise her to be a good person, preventing the sorceress’s old personality from ever returning. Rather than going off to get married right away, she and Edgar instead settle for courting each other and let their relationship develop organically from there. Considering all they’ve been through, I do give the writers credit for granting their characters common sense in a genre that isn’t always known for it.
Drawing a Conclusion
One of the most unfortunate things that can happen in any creative medium is whenever leaders become followers. It’s not impossible for an innovator to successfully begin conforming to trends that arose independent of their own influence. Three years prior to the release of King’s Quest VII, a band known as U2 cut an album entitled Achtung Baby. The musical landscape had changed so dramatically two months prior when Nirvana dropped their landmark sophomore album, Nevermind. This one record effectively injected alternative rock into the mainstream. Suddenly, many defining artists from the 1980s struggled to retain their relevance. Through their seventh album, U2 proved to be one of the few bands capable of drastically changing their sound to fit the zeitgeist without alienating their existing fans or prompting alternative rock fans to label them poseurs. However, when a trailblazer isn’t able to successfully follow the current trends, the results can be downright tragic – Billy Idol’s Cyberpunk having been a particularly big recent misstep at the time of this game’s release. Similarly, with Sierra’s decision to take so much inspiration from Disney, they cast aside the series’ unique identity.
Now, this isn’t to say that King’s Quest VII is a disaster. Like its six predecessors, there are plenty of good story beats to be found. I also am truly grateful that Sierra learned from their mistakes and thus excised any intentional unwinnable situations from their game. The problem is that in order to appreciate what this game does well, you’re going to have to put up with many obnoxious characters along the way, which is only exacerbated by the subpar quality of the voice acting. You won’t have too many problems figuring out the puzzles due to how easy they are to brute force, but this speaks more to the experience’s overall lack of challenge than its quality design choices.
Many King’s Quest fans consider King’s Quest VII to be one of the worst games in the series. I honestly feel the consensus can be attributed to the fact that this game had the misfortune of being a follow-up to what was – and still is – considered the series’ pinnacle. However, even after taking King’s Quest VI out of the equation, there is no getting around that King’s Quest VII is a weak entry in its own right. By hiring four animation studios, I can’t help but feel the development process was a case in which the left and right hands frequently clashed. If so, it shows in the final product, being a mishmash of good and bad ideas. At the end of the day, King’s Quest VII is a game only people already fully invested in the series can realistically get anything out of. If the series hasn’t won you over or if you only intend to seek out the genre’s highlights, it’s not worth the investment.
Final Score: 3/10