Today’s entry was penned by longtime contributor and friend of the site, Jonathon Howard. He’s pretty consistently talked about point and click games for this feature in past years, and, well, here we are this year!
Sierra On-line’s King’s Quest series has always been a hodgepodge of fairy-tale, folklore, and mythic elements combined with a simple unifying narrative and Roberta Williams’ famous, and oft-maligned, puzzles. While this combination sounds simple it was effective enough to make Sierra On-line one of the juggernauts of computer gaming during the 90’s. From its first chapter the series toyed with the horror genre. King’s Quest had two dark underground caves featuring monsters, and the second game featured Dracula ensconced inside a haunted castle. But, it wasn’t until the fourth chapter, The Perils of Rosella, that Sierra and Roberta Williams took their first steps into horror, a journey that would ultimately end in such game franchises as Gabriel Knight, Phantasmagoria, and Shivers.
King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella tells the story Rosella, King Graham’s daughter, (King Graham, the hero of two of the previous King’s Quest games) on a journey to save her father’s life. This journey leads her to an enchanted island and the Fairy Queen who watches over it. The Queen promises that she can help restore Rosella’s father to health if, in turn, Rosella will restore to the Queen a magical amulet that was stolen from her by an evil fairy that resides on the island. In the course of her quest Rosella will be tasked with completing a series of tasks for the evil fairy in order to save the Fairy Queen and her father.
Near the end of the game the evil fairy will demand Rosella retrieve Pandora’s Box for her. Conveniently, the box is located on the island, locked away in a Cliffside crypt. King’s Quest IV is a time game, taking place over a 24-hour period with the clock ticking along regardless of the player’s actions. Eventually night will fall. When it does the visuals of the entire game change and some gameplay changes occur as well. Specifically, there are three locations that during the day are largely non-descript that at night come alive, or more accurately, undead. These spots are central to opening the crypt and retrieving Pandora’s Box for the fairy.
These areas are a haunted mansion and the two graveyards that surround it. In order to progress through the game, the protagonist has to interact with a series of ghosts in the mansion, rob numerous graves in the cemeteries, and avoid the lumbering undead! Oh, and there’s a mummy at some point too. I told you the King’s Quest games were a hodgepodge! Rosella will be required to complete a series of fetch quests that involve the robbing of graves and avoiding shambling zombies in order to complete done of these tasks will require Rosella to retrieve Pandora’s Box from a crypt on the island. In order to get the key that will unlock said crypt our protagonist will have to complete a series of fetch quests
King’s Quest IV was released in 1988 and in its most sophisticated form could had a resolution of 320×200 and portray 16 colors on the screen at a time. Such low graphic fidelity required Sierra’s artists to get creative in engendering the player with the appropriate tension and mood. This is largely done through the darker pallet at night, with an especially heavy use of purple, black, and blue. The mansion, and graveyards also have their own theme songs as each ghost has their own ditty that plays when you encounter them all of the elements work together to create… I wouldn’t go so far as to say fear or horror, but they certainly help the player get in the mood. It was so different from any of Sierra’s other games or any other game I had ever played up until then.
The mansion and cemeteries are the focus for horror in the game but there are some additional elements in there that are genuinely creepy. Rosella must pass through a forest of possessed trees in order to reach a skull faced, the home of three blind witches who share an eye (I’m sure you’ve heard this story before,) There’s a pitch black cave that must be navigated while being chased by a nigh invisible troll, and finally there is the dark, alluring beauty of the dark fairy, Lolotte. Horror is not the main focus of King’s Quest IV but it is the predominant theme for the third act of the game and was a preview for future more horror-centric games from Roberta Williams.
- Released: September, 1988
- System: PC (DOS, Amiga, Apple ][, Atari ST)
- Developer/Publisher: Sierra On-Line