I'm convinced that the Quest for Glory series is remembered for one primary reason: it has a fun attitude. It's amazing how often games--even good games--don't. They might be challenging in their puzzles; they might require a certain level of tactical or strategic thinking; they might be beautiful in their graphics and sound; they might offer evocative back stories or mind-blowing plot developments; they might convey a sense of steady character development and authentic role-playing; and I might love them for all of these reasons and more. But even when a game scores near the top of my GIMLET scale in all of these categories, in reflection I often feel that it was never truly enjoyable--that it forgot it was, fundamentally, a game. Quest for Glory never forgets that. It has some great RPG elements, sure, but what makes it truly memorable is that it remembers that playing a game is supposed to be, if nothing else, entertaining.
The result is a series of enjoyable, funny, tightly-structured, satisfying little adventure/RPG hybrids. They're not perfect, of course. They tend to be small and short. The puzzles (at least in the first game) are far too easy, and there are hardly any tactics associated with combat. While generally witty and honestly funny, the games do occasionally stray over the line to absurdity. I don't think any players would deny these weaknesses, and yet I've never heard from anyone who, having played Quest for Glory, honestly didn't like it at all.
|Thanks to my sponsorship of Hero-U, the Coles' Kickstarter project, I have a stuffed meep sitting next to me as I play.|
The initial incarnation of the game was Hero's Quest: So You Want to Be a Hero, one of the first true adventure/RPG hybrids. It remains one of the best. The others that came out the same year either under-developed their RPG halves (B.A.T., The Third Courier) or had senselessly goofy plots (Tangled Tales, Keef the Thief). Hero's Quest was unique in having strong RPG genes, with a great skill and attribute development system, along with a strong (if a bit easy) adventure game paternity. It had a witty, rather than silly, sense of humor, and its main quest was told straight. I had a fantastic time with it 18 months ago; I gave it "Game of the Year" for 1989; and it remains in my Top 20 highest-rated games.
Hero's Quest ran into trademark issues with Milton Bradley's HeroQuest, a board game that would become its own CRPG in 1991. The title of the series was changed to Quest for Glory in time for part II (1990), and in 1992, the original Hero's Quest was re-released with updated graphics and a new interface. That's where we are right now. I had originally intended to play this as a separate game in 1992, thinking that it was different enough from the EGA version to deserve a unique entry. Now that I've played it, I no longer agree. The re-release is fundamentally the same game, and it doesn't make sense to play and number them individually any more than it would have made sense to re-play the CD-ROM version of Lord of the Rings in 1993.
|Corey, you'll be happy to know I bought the entire series on GOG.|
But when I saw that Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire was fast approaching, I decided I wanted to replay the first game, primarily so I could end with a mage character to import into II. When I first played Hero's Quest, I played as a thief, and while I ended with a strong thief character, I didn't want to go forward with the series as a thief.
There are a few reasons. First, I never play a mage as the protagonist, so I wanted to have the new experience. Second, I believe II has a mage's college as a prominent set piece, and I wanted to experience it. Third, I played a thief the last time I went through the entire series. Granted, I barely remember it, but what I'll never forget is one moment in V in which I had to make a horrible role-playing choice, made it, and then found I'd made it for nothing because a key NPC didn't trust me because I was a thief. I'll recap it when I get there.
|Several NPCs have told me of the wizard's college in Shapeir. My endgame character has 8 of 9 spells needed.|
Most important, the mage faces the most challenging game in Quest for Glory. He needs to make more money to buy all of his spells, not to mention mana potions. It takes a long time to develop skills in the various spells. In the early game, he's weak physically and can't cast very much, so he has the hardest time against wandering monsters. Finally, his unique mini-game--"Mage's Maze"--was for me the most challenging part of my replay.
|There are 8 mage spells in the game. I'm lacking only "dazzle" here.|
It's worth noting at this point that this kind of discussion doesn't take place with many other games of the era. Quest for Glory was one of the first titles in which the choice of character class for the protagonist actually matters. Most other games with a single protagonist made him some kind of multi-classed figure who could do anything, or simply made the choice unimportant by having everyone face the same game, just with different strengths and weaknesses. Quest for Glory characters, on the other hand, face quite different games, with some areas available only to certain classes, different ways of solving puzzles, and a different scoring system (at least for a certain percentage of the points). Later in the series, the differences become even more acute, with the classes facing fundamentally different paths and even different endings. The choice you make in the first game is quite significant--unless you want to create a new character every time.
|Where the thief sneaks past the minotaur and the fighter kills him, the mage casts "calm" and puts him to sleep.|
Anyway, having decided to replay the game, I decided to check out the 1992 VGA version just for variety's sake. Quest for Glory II was still EGA, so it'll feel like regressing a bit when we get to it, but as we're going to discuss, I actually prefer the earlier interface.
For the details of the plot, I suggest you check out my 2012 series on Hero's Quest. Briefly, the titular hero wanders into the valley of Spielburg (literally: "game town") just before snows close the only pass out of town. He finds the valley, its castle, and its town under a curse. The Baron's daughter, Elsa, has been missing for a decade, and his son for almost as long, and he's turned into a recluse. The Baron's soldiers aren't enough to handle monsters that wander the valley, and a local band of brigands has become curiously well-organized and has recently robbed a merchant from Shapeir (a desert land to the south) as well as a local centaur farmer. A lot of this mischief seems to be related to the evil ogress Baba Yaga, who schemes from a hut on fowl's legs.
|And she's an ugly old thing.|
As the hero explores and collects evidence, he discovers that the brigand leader stays hidden behind a hood, has a high-pitched voice, and seems to care about the people of the town (among other things, the leader had the centaur farmer taken to the healer when some of the brigands got rough). This coupled with the fact that the brigand warlock sounds an awful lot like Yorick, the castle jester who went missing while searching for Elsa, leads the player to learn that the brigand leader is in fact Elsa herself, suffering under a spell of Baba Yaga's. The Baron's son turns out to have been turned into a bear by a kobold wizard.
The "counter-curse" to Baba Yaga's evil is given as a rhyme:
Come a hero from the east
Free the main from in the beast
Bring the child from out the band
Drive the curser from the land
|Third line accomplished!|
The player slowly satisfies the prophecy by freeing the baron's son from his magic shackles, finding the ingredients for a dispel potion, infiltrating the bandit's fortress, and tossing the potion on Elsa, who returns to her normal form and memories. He then takes a magic mirror to Baba Yaga's hut and rebounds her "turn to frog" spell, causing her to freak out, take flight in her hut, and leave the valley forever. After a party at the Baron's castle, the newly-dubbed hero boards a magic carpet piloted by his friends from Shapeir and heads to the next adventure.
|A victory party in the baron's castle reunites every NPC in the game, and some not in the game. I think I see Riker in the right-center. I have no idea who the dudes on the stairway are.|
The primary differences between the two versions are updated graphics, updated sound, and a new point-and-click interface. Although the graphics are the most noticeable difference in these screen shots, the interface made the biggest impact on gameplay. In the EGA version, you typed commands (THROW DAGGER, ASK ABOUT BABA YAGA, OPEN DOOR, PICK LOCK) in a small text window that you brought up with the SPACE bar. In the new version, you have a ribbon of icons at the top of the screen and you click on them to walk, look at things, speak, take or activate something, cast a spell, access inventory, use an inventory item, and access game settings. I guess the interface was known as the SCI1.1 interpreter, and it was used in a lot of Sierra games of the time, including King's Quest VI, Space Quest IV, and Quest for Glory III.
|Standing in front of Baba Yaga's hut. The command icons are at the top of the screen.|
My problem with the interface is that it renders an already-easy game even easier by not requiring the player to do any thinking or even much note-taking. In the EGA version, the player had to watch NPC dialogue, take notes, and study the environment before deciding what to ask NPCs. For instance, the player must talk to Hilde or the Sheriff in town before he knows to ask Heinrich (the centaur farmer) about the bandit attack. With the point-and-click interpreter, every character's dialogue options are right there on the screen.
|I have no idea why I can ask about so many individual vegetables.|
The new mechanic ruins some fun moments. I remember asking the centaur lass about DATE and being delightfully surprised that the developers knew players would do that, and they programmed in an answer. In this version, the word DATE is just sitting there among the choices. In the previous version, I had to study all the heads on the Adventurer's Guild wall before I knew to ask the Guildmaster about them; in the VGA version, they're all arrayed in the dialogue in front of me. And in this later version, there's no need to write down passwords such as "HUT OF BROWN NOW SIT DOWN" because you know the game will have it waiting there for you when the time comes.
The point-and-click interface hurts more than just dialogue. On a screen where you have to catch a seed being spit about by plants, in the earlier version you had to figure out the puzzle by typing CLIMB on the right rock and then CATCH SEED when it was in the right position. Now you just click on stuff with the hand. It wasn't a tough puzzle in the first place, and the new interface makes it essentially impossible to screw up.
There are some advantages, though. Obviously, the graphics look nicer. I didn't think they looked so bad in the EGA version, but they look beautiful here. Moreover, the developers took the time to re-design some screens that might have been confusing the first time. The bear cave is a good example. In the EGA version, it wasn't clear that there was a passage behind the bear, where in this version you couldn't possibly miss it.
|Note the difference.|
Some other comparison screens:
|Fighting a mantray.|
|Defeating Baba Yaga in her hut.|
|Proudly posing on the victory screen.|
The second advantage is the time and effort allotted to responses when you "look" at things. Almost every discernible object on the screen can be activated with the "eye" icon, delivering at least some basic descriptive text. It's very impressive. The screen below, near the castle, has absolutely no purpose. You can't enter the barracks and the guard has nothing to say to you. Nonetheless, there are separate descriptions for all of the objects on the screen: the chimney, the castle's central keep, the garden area, the exterior wall, the turret, the empty wagon, the guard, the barracks building, the crest above the door, the door itself, the pot in the corner, the door in the leftmost turret, and the watering trough. Every screen is like this to some degree.
As I mentioned, sound is improved for contemporary sound cards, and this is one game where I keep the sound and music active. We were just talking about background music in the context of Dragonflight, and I was saying that I didn't like it and usually turned it off. Quest for Glory, however, uses music the way I like it--for accent rather than background. Instead of some tune constantly droning away, different leitmotifs punctuate different scenes. A little Persian tune plays when you walk into Shameen and Shema's inn; a haunted minor theme starts up on approaching Baba Yaga's hut; a pizzicato theme that evokes sneaking plays in goblin "ambush" area; a little victory tune ends a successful combat. I even think (though I could be wrong) that the combat music--which I mostly found repetitive--modulates keys and tempo as victory nears for one of the combatants.
The sound improvements also include some nice effects and background noises. Birds trill and crickets chirp as you walk through the forest, but sparingly and non-repetitively, so it never gets annoying. There are realistically-satisfying sound effects to accompany spellcasting, damage in combat, and a variety of other game actions.
If you've read my blog for a while, you know how I feel about a mouse-only interface. This one isn't quite mouse-only. You can still use the keypad to walk or run in whatever direction, and the "5" key cycles through the various icon options (as does the right mouse button). But I wish there had been more keyboard support. It would have been nice to switch from walk to run, activate a spell, and perform other actions with a mapped key.
The interface did cause me some problems, though I'm going to assume it's modern emulation rather than a problem with the original version. The "walk" icon often failed when I clicked on the edge of the screen (trying to leave), so I'd have to use the keypad instead. The command selection often switched when I moved from one screen to another, forcing me to fiddle around changing commands while my character charged onto the next screen in the meantime. The "movement" submenu (allowing switching between walking, running, resting, and viewing the character portrait) didn't work at all with the mouse; any twitch of the mouse after bringing it up would send it to the background again. I had to click on it and then use the arrow keys to move to the right selection, making it annoying to switch between walking and running. I also had a lot of freezes when trying to transition between areas.
I didn't really notice many differences between versions in terms of plot and content, though I didn't play as a mage last time and I'm sure I missed some dialogue options in the EGA version, so I don't know if any of the dialogue options here are new ones. The only major difference I could see is that there is no longer a treasure cave off the secret entrance to the bandit's hideout. There were minor adjustments to "look" options owing to the re-designed screens. Maybe you know some more.
|The Three Stooges sequence was, alas, still here.|
While I had a lot of fun with the game, I was slightly disappointed that the developers didn't use the improved technology to add a little more content, such as dialogue options that change depending on where the player is in the story. NPCs happily talk about the missing children of the Baron long after you've rescued them, for instance. I was also a little disappointed that the combat system remained essentially the same. More on that in a second.
These minor complaints shouldn't suggest I didn't have fun with the game. I won it in a couple of long sessions totaling around 4 hours. (I still remembered all the puzzles from the last time I played.) Much of this time was spent in training, building my attributes and skills. This is the dynamic that gives the game its strongest RPG credentials, and I love it. Few other games offer such a satisfying sense of character progression, with various activities simultaneously increasing skills and their associated attributes. For instance, climbing a tree will raise the "climbing" skill as well as dexterity and strength. This is one of the few games that allows you to "grind" your character without necessarily engaging in combat. You can climb trees and walls, run back and forth, throw daggers and rocks at a target, train with the castle's weaponmaster, spend a few hours mucking out a stable, cast spells over and over, and engage in several other tasks to engender improvements in various skills and statistics.
|Working in the stables builds strength. And you get 5 silvers for it!|
Of course, combat is a major part of the game, with goblins, cheetaurs, bandits, trolls, mantrays, and sauruses--half of these original creations--wandering the wilds. It's enormously satisfying to progress, in a few hours' time, from barely being able to stand up against a goblin to taking on several trolls in a row. If the game world was larger and the game longer, I'd say that character progression happens too quickly, but in this game it fits the size perfectly.
|Standing my own against a troll. The interface is on the "spell" portion.|
The combat mechanic still leaves me a little lukewarm. Fighters have one screen with four options: swing, thrust, parry, and dodge. Mages have a second screen with three spells--"flame dart" (like a magic missile), "zap" (charges a weapon with electricity for the next strike), and "dazzle" (temporarily stuns)--plus an "escape" icon. Fortunately, these options are mapped to the keypad, so you don't have to click around a lot during combat. The "5" key switches between the two selections.
|Battling a cheetaur, perhaps the game's most interesting creation. This time, I'm on the weapon interface.|
Fighting as a spellcaster, I tried to cast a few "flame darts" and one "zap" (I got "dazzle" very late) before switching over to the weapon pad. There's really no way to play combats as a pure spellcaster until late in the game; you always run out of spell points before the enemy dies. Everyone has to learn how to use a weapon.
It's not true, as some have said, that there's no strategy to the combat. Different foes move in different ways, and you do have to watch their actions to know the best times to swing, thrust, dodge, or parry--at least, if you want to get out of combat with a minimum hit point loss. The primary problem is that dodging and parrying are essentially useless. They just consume stamina points while offering little advantage. It's easier to counter-attack and get the enemy on the ropes than to anticipate, time, and evade or block the enemy's own attack. Nonetheless, I tried to work a lot of dodging and parrying into combat just to build those skills.
When I set out, I had a vague plan to get all my skills and statistics up to 100, but it gets harder to grind them as the game goes on, and I decided to stop when most were between 55 and 80. Characters created in Quest for Glory II start with around 40-70, so that should give me a little advantage while not breaking the second game.
|My character towards the end.|
The economy remains quite strong throughout the game, especially for a mage, who needs a stock of health, stamina, and magic potions. I ended the game nearly broke.
Perhaps most important, the game's wit and humor is generally enjoyable throughout. I assume this mostly comes from Lori Ann and Corey Cole, though I don't know how much the other programmers contributed. Some of it is in dialogue, such as the beggar who regards begging as his "business" or the interplay between Erasmus and his familiar, Fenrus. Much of it simply springs from the game scenario itself. I love how I received repeated warnings not to drink Dragon's Breath (an instantly-fatal brew in the tavern) except from the one truly "evil" NPC. I laughed when the provisioner was reading a book titled Quest for Glory: A Hero's Death, and when my character tripped on some mushrooms. Some of the humor comes from the interface, such as how clicking on yourself with the "speak" icon produces this:
There are a lot of witty literary allusions--Shakespeare is a favorite--in both NPC dialogue and the manual. Finally, a lot of the humor comes from the various ways you can hurt or kill yourself, such as trying to run on ice, standing in front of 'Enry the 'Ermit's door when he swings it open, drinking Dragon's Breath, standing under Baba Yaga's hut when you command it to sit down, and attacking the white stag in the forest (the Dryad turns you into one). A new one I found this time was waiting too long to go under the portcullis after the gate guard opens it for you.
There are times that the humor is too broad, nonsensical, or goofy for my tastes . . .
. . . but for the most part, it works very well for the setting and kept me grinning through the game.
|Ah, puns: the refuge of the desperate.|
My newest experience playing as a mage was defeating Erasmus in "Mage's Maze," an interesting but often-infuriating mini-game in which the player and his opponent each try to coerce and cajole a little randomly-moving "bug" from a starting point to an exit. This is done by using the "open" spell to remove boulders, the "fetch" spell to move ladders and bridges, the "flame" spell to draw the creature closer to something, and the "trigger" spell to change the bug's size so it can fit through tunnels or climb ladders. The game consumes a lot of magic power, so you need to have several potions at hand to re-fuel during the contest, and I didn't have enough money until late in the game. Erasmus isn't a particularly difficult opponent; the problem was that I couldn't keep my own bug on the right path to save my life, and I kept running out of mana trying. I finally won on my tenth or eleventh attempt, and Erasmus taught me "dazzle." I rather liked the thieves' dagger-throwing mini-game better.
|Playing Mage's Maze. It doesn't help that the two bugs are colored blue and purple.|
I won with 499/500 points. It's infuriating, but I can't figure out where I missed that 1 point. I even consulted a walkthrough just before going into Baba Yaga's hut for the endgame, but I couldn't find anything I hadn't done that would be worth one point. I guess I'll just have to live with it.
I've already given a GIMLET score of 53 for Hero's Quest, putting it into the top 10% of games I've played so far. For the VGA version, I would give the same score. What it gains in graphics and sound, it loses in the interface and the level of challenge; most substantive categories remain exactly the same. I know some people hate text parsers, though, so mentally adjust it upwards by a couple of points if you're one of them.
Fortunately, I get to return to my favored interface for Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire, which I imagine I'll be starting soon. I'm going to let Trickster over at The Adventure Gamer take the lead on it. Back in 2012, we were supposed to play Hero's Quest simultaneously, but I had the week off or something and I ended up getting way ahead of him. (I think I actually won the game on the first day.) This time, I'll only offer each post on the game after one of his, even if it means I have to intersperse them with some other games.
|On to the sequel!|
See you soon in Shapeir. For now, back to Dragonflight.