Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed), Xbox 360, PS4, PS3, PC
Sierra’s reimagined King’s Quest adventure series has been a truly enjoyable diversion with it’s two previous installments. The third episode in the series, Once Upon A Climb, is now available and while the game contains all of the fun and humor of the previous installments some fans of the previous episodes may find it lacking for challenge.
Romancing The Throne
While the previous episodes of King’s Quest took some of their inspiration from the original King’s Quest graphic adventure. Once Upon A Climb turns its attention to the original series first sequel, King’s Quest 2: Romancing The Throne. That game dealt with Graham’s attempt to rescue a princess from a tower and that’s the crux of this title as well, though things will take place slightly differently as you might expect.
The game opens with King Graham of Daventry. Some time has passed since the last episode and Graham has grown, in both age and size, as he’s become much more muscular than his previous iteration. The one thing Graham hasn’t gained in recent days is any friends. He’s lonely in the castle so when the magic mirror shows him a tall tower with a princess at the top, he runs off to rescue her, in hopes of finding true love. What he finds instead is a pair of princesses, both more interested in freedom than marriage. It’s up to Graham to help them, while figuring out which of these ladies may be his true love.
Will You Marry Me? No? How About You?
What follows can only be accurately described as the first western dating sim I’ve ever played. While many RPGs contain relationship mechanics by which you can romance NPCs, it’s always a side quest. Here, it’s the focus of what you’re doing. You’ll have conversations where the answers will cause each princess to like you more or less, and you’ll do little jobs to make each happy.
Most of the game’s puzzles have multiple options and depending on how you decide to solve a puzzle you may impress one princess or the other. Each has a distinct personality so it’s rarely a question which one you’ll be wooing at any given moment, though there are a few surprises. Vee and Neese, the two princesses, are both entertaining characters in their own right so you may have trouble being forced to chose between them. Neese is your standard manic pixie dream girl, but in the most adorable sense. Vee is much more grounded, but she’s never stuffy.
Lots of Style, Little Substance
One of the strengths of the previous King’s Quest episodes have been their reliance on strong puzzles. Unlike Telltale adventure games, for which there is rarely a question of what to do next, King’s Quest occasionally left you with a handful of items and places to use them, while it wasn’t always clear what the right combination was. The game’s last episode, Rubble Without A Cause, was essentially one giant puzzle which was frustratingly beautiful in its difficulty. While that episode went hardcore into the puzzle, Once Upon A Climb goes very hard in the other direction, focusing almost entirely on the story.
There are a few puzzles to get through but they’re not particularly difficult, and it’s always clear what it is you need to do, even if it takes you a minute to figure out how to do it. This is unfortunate, as the puzzles have been the thing that separates Sierra from Telltale, much as they separated Sierra from LucasArts back in the heyday of adventure games.
At Least You’re Trapped Somewhere Pretty
Chapter 2 took place nearly entirely inside a dim dark cave, offering few colors outside blue and black. Being trapped in a tower at least makes for nicer scenery. The environments of King’s Quest are beautiful to look at and each new aspect of the adventure has something new to show you. The sound is also solid, as the music is kicked up a notch. One of the princesses plays the lute like she’s Jimi Hendrix on the guitar. This episode had me checking to see if the soundtrack was available (sadly, only for episode one so far).
The voice acting remains solid with the new characters brought into this episode. Each princess is an entertaining character, which is why you want to get to know them both.
The lack of difficult puzzles will have you breezing through Once Upon A Climb likely faster than any previous episode, but you won’t feel ill used for the time you spend with it. You may be tempted to go back and win the hand of whichever princess you did not woo the first time around. Either way you’ll likely be looking forward to Episode 4 before you were quite ready to be, but you will be looking forward to it.