Can a video game make you cry? Industry professionals have been batting this question around for years. Some even paid a lot of money for a research firm to http://www.wired.com/news/games/0,2101,69475,00.html">do a formal study on the issue. Every time it comes up, I'm puzzled that they even need to ask. Of course video games can make you cry. Syberia, Grim Fandango, and Final Fantasy VII are some of the titles players consistently cite as having a very real emotional impact. I've even been known to shed a tear while gaming, myself—and not only out of frustration.
According to industry lore, King's Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella was the first such game. In fact, Sierra based the game's marketing campaign on the premise. By today's standards, the positioning of a King's Quest game, with its fairy tale puzzles and corny humor, as the epitome of tear-jerking gameplay may seem downright laughable. At the time, however, KQIV broke new ground, both with its female protagonist and its relationship-driven plot. It may not have withstood the last two decades as the emotional powerhouse that Sierra claimed in their ads, but the game did explore interpersonal relationships with a depth that few, if any, games had up to this point.
King's Quest IV opens with a hauntingly pretty theme accentuated with what truly sound like a flute and a harp. This is the first of Sierra's games to have a fully-orchestrated, music-card compatible soundtrack, developed to show off the Roland-MT 32 sound cards that were top of the line at the time (1988). The game's extended introductory cutscene starts off literally where King's Quest III left off: King Graham is throwing his trademark adventurer's cap out to Prince Alexander and Princess Rosella, bridal-bouquet style, with the hope that one of them will catch it and carry on the family questing tradition. Before the cap can land, tragedy strikes, with Graham clutching his chest and falling to the floor. He is transferred to bed, where his family stands around him, fearing the worst. The feathered cap lies forgotten in the throne room where it landed.
Lest you think I'm spoiling big chunks of gameplay here, we're only halfway through the opening cutscene! Advances in technology allowed for a longer, more cinematic introduction than in previous KQ installments, complete with close-ups and accompanying mood music. Likewise, this is the first King's Quest game, and one of the first adventure games in general, to have extensive in-game cutscenes.
Overcome with emotion, Rosella runs from her father's bedside to weep in the empty throne room. (She's such a girl.) Right on cue, an equally blonde fairy named Genesta appears in the royal family's trusty magic mirror with a proposition: she'll help Rosella save Graham's life if Rosella will do her a little favor in return. Rosella agrees, and is poofed away to Genesta's homeland of Tamir in a cloud of smoke. Genesta greets Rosella on a beach, flanked by two fairylets whose presence is never explained--I like to think of them as Genesta's posse. Genesta tells Rosella where she can find a magic fruit that will cure her father. In return, Genesta needs Rosella to retrieve her magic talisman, which was stolen from her by the evil fairy Lolotte, who lives in the mountains to the east. Without it, Genesta will die, and Rosella will never get back to Daventry to save King Graham from certain death. Oh, and here's the kicker: our unwitting heroine has exactly one day and one night to make all this happen. This is where Rosella is left to begin her quest, dressed like a peasant girl so as not to arouse suspicion, the clock literally ticking away.
King's Quest IV was the first game in the series—and the first Sierra game, period—to be made with the SCI (Sierra Creative Interpreter) engine. (A few other versions of KQIV were developed as well... more on that in a bit.) The engine allowed for 16-color, 320x200 resolution graphics that were significantly more detailed than in the previous KQ games. Perhaps because less is left to the imagination, the characters are a little worse for the wear. Alexander has mysteriously grown a none-too-flattering mustache in the few minutes that passed since the end of KQIII, Rosella's looking very 1980s with her feathered hair and purple eye makeup, and all the characters have a reddish skin tone that suggests they've been spending too much time at the tanning salon. These nitpicks aside, the game is graphically leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessors, and hints at the beauty that is to come in the next few KQ games. I like to think of King's Quest IV as a bridge from the primitive earlier installments to the more robust point-and-click gems that find themselves on many adventure gamers' "best of" lists.Continued on the next page...