Preview - King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride (DOS, 1994)

Sierra's King's Quest series has already proven itself to be an unusual and durable favorite in the computer gaming industry. While most fantasy adventure games tend to clamber over each other in stylistic imitation (which all hearkens back to J.R.R. Tolkien, generally), the later KQ's have taken a completely different path. They are not your typical sword and sorcery tales. Instead, they take a distinctly lighter tone and create a truly family-oriented setting.

The newest installment, King's Quest VII: The Prince-less Bride, is yet another radical step forward for Sierra (and in particular, for designer Roberta Williams). For one thing, there's scarcely a "King" to be found in the plot. Instead, the story is divided into eight novel-like chapters, which alternate between two characters in two different places, the beautiful Princess Rosella Daventry, now of marrying age, and her mother, Queen Valanice. At the game's beginning, the two characters are having a minor spat about Rosella's matrimonial prospects. (Basically, Valanice thinks it's a good idea and Rosella doesn't. ) As they walk by a reflecting pool, a magical door appears beneath it, and Rosella jumps in, eager to leave the heavy conversation. A flustered Valanice soon follows, but the magic of the pool transports her someplace else. The player will get to trade off between the two characters as the story progresses.

Before finally being reunited, Rosella and Valanice will travel to six fanciful countries, including Nonsense Land, The Rubber Jungle, Ooga Booga Land and the Mountain of Winds. As they travel, they will meet such interesting characters as the Troll King ,the Boogeyman, Oberon and Titania, and the evil villainness, Malicia, not to mention various and sundry dragonettes and jackalopes. The events in the game borrow from Lewis Carroll, William Shakespeare and more, but the combination is quite unpredictable and engaging.

As with the previous KQ's, there will be lots of puzzles to solve along the way, but with an unusual twist. While there are a number of complex puzzles for the adult players, there are others that are based on references to children's stories, and may require a younger player to get them. Sort of brings a whole new literal quality to the term "for the whole family," doesn't it?

While these elements of the game are noteworthy enough, the thing about KQ VII that has everyone talking is the graphic style. Once again breaking the adventure game mold, Roberta Williams has chosen a character style more reminiscent of Disney and Bluth than Frazetta and Vallejo. Also, the carefully detailed backgrounds contrast with the somewhat "cartoony" characters, creating an effect similar to Jeff Smith's "Bone" comic book. But whether or not you can mentally track down the artistic influences in this game, you will have to admit, it looks fantastic. SVGA graphics have been combined with true film quality animation techniques to create a look that will blow away even the most jaded game players.

There's really very little difference in the production values to distinguish KQ VII from a full-length animated feature. The dialog is all in digitized speech, using the talents of numerous professional voice actors and actresses. There's also a fully orchestrated musical score, recorded in CD audio, which includes "leitmotifs," or signature tunes, for over 20 characters. There's even an elaborate opening sequence to the game, featuring Princess Rosella singing the theme song. How cinematic can you get?

Yet, with all of this film-style influence, we are still talking about a computer game here, and even the best visuals and sound could bog down terribly if the gameplay was too awkward. So one of the major priorities of the design team was to develop an interface instinctive enough that a novice player can keep the story moving along without getting bogged down in syntax. As it happened, just such an interface had already been developed . . . for Roberta Williams' other new game, Phantasmagoria. So, at least there was no problem in getting permission to use it.

King's Quest VII is bound to be a very unusual game. Between the unorthodox storyline and the Disney-style animations and designs, it breaks a lot of the traditional molds of the computer fantasy adventure game. However, I strongly suspect that the tired old Tolkien cliches really needed to be challenged, anyway. The market is very limited when it comes to games that really are "for the whole family," and The Prince-less Bride may just fill that gap.