Sierra Quest: Quest for Glory 1 (1989)

The difference between the EGA and the VGA version is visible right from the start

Adventure/RPG hybrid is a genre that has always been surprisingly neglected. You'd think that as adventure games are often plot-driven puzzle hunts and RPG's are plot-driven quests hunts, a hybrid genre merging the two would be more popular. But it's not, though not because of no one wasn't trying.  In fact, back in the 80's, when Sierra was the king of games, husband and wife team Lori and Corey Cole gave the genre a good whack with their Quest for Glory games, which from the first game merged together Sierra's adventure game model with RPG elements.

Quest For Glory started its life as Hero's Quest but was later re-named as Quest For Glory because of a trademark dispute with a board game with almost a same name HeroQuest. In fact, if you manage to find some of the very first releases of Quest For Glory 1, you'll get the game with its original name. The mouse-driven VGA version has always been under the Quest for Glory moniker.

Sheriff of Spielburg and his goon are the official welcome committee on both versions

The first game in the series, a bit cheekily subtitled "So You Want to Be a Hero", starts the tale of a young adventurer, fresh out of Famous Adventurer's Correspondence School, in his first try of being a proper hero in the valley of Spielburg. This first game also sets the tone for the rest of the series as pun-filled, but relatively well written, fantasy, that has its each game set in a vastly different environments and mythologies: QFG1 is set in Germanic setting, whereas  QFG2 is set in Arabic theme, QFG3 tackles African themed mythology and QFG4 takes influences from Slavic mythology and the final game in the series is set if Greek themed setting.

The beauty of the series is, that you are allowed to use the character you start in the first game through all the games. In the first game, you begin literally as a novice hero wannabe, who's trying to make a name for himself. You've followed a flyer, where the barony of Spielburg is looking for a hero, and indeed, in a need of a hero, the valley is: there are brigands, missing heirs of the barons, roaming monsters everywhere and even an evil ogress Baba Yaga causing havoc among the populace.

Character selection screen. What a difference a couple of years make in games, eh?

You get to choose among three characters, a fighter, a thief and a mage, adjust the character as you wish, even as a hybrid class and start adventuring. The three classes also bring more variety in the game, as you can solve a lot of things differently, be it by using force, magic or thief's cunning. Also, if you're a score hunter, the game rewards you with points only if you solve things by using the methods your base character would use, so in order to get a perfect score, you need to think how you do things, even if you can solve things by different means.

Also, as a nice addition, the game has some additional content depending on what class you play. A thief can enter a thieves guild and do some burglaries, the magic-user can try to best the local wizard master Erasmus in a magic mini-game. The fighter, however, can focus mainly on being a tough guy around but has a chance to become a paladin later on in the series, if he has a high honour rate.

If you want to get most of the content with one character, it's the best to create a thief/mage. This allows you to tackle a lot of the class-specific content, as you know how to do thief specific stuff, such as make a thieves guild sign in order to gain an entry and every character who knows magic can do mage specific stuff, as all that takes is the knowledge of magic. However, a drawback is, thief it is a character that isn't eligible for Paladin class in the later games, so if that's your aim, a fighter who can do magic is a good choice as well.

Also, a thief is a solid choice because that's a class that can progress in all skills. Besides not being able to be a paladin, an another drawback with the class is, that you're limited to only using daggers as weapons and leather as an armour, but in the end that's not really a big deal. And there's always magic.

Character sheets. Left is a thief, right is a magic user.

As Quest for Glory is an RPG, as well as an adventure, combat, and skills, are a crucial part of the gameplay. Skills, like strength and throwing and so on, are developed by doing things, like simply throwing stones or daggers or just accepting a daily task of cleaning stables at the baron's castle. There's no level system, just a gauge from 0-100 for each skill which you progress through the game. It is actually fairly simple to quickly grind skills to the maximum, which also is a nice little boost if you use the same character throughout the series. On a note, each game adds 100 more points to the maximum, so Quest for Glory 2 has skill gauges ranging 0-200 and so on. A skill with 0 points can't be advanced at all, as the character just doesn't know how to use the skill properly.

The combat system is serviceable. Not brilliant nor greatly made, but just serviceable. It takes place in a separate battle screen, where the situation is viewed behind the heroes back. You need to watch the enemy movements and react correctly by trying to evade, block or hit by using the cursor keys. The spells are a bit awkwardly used by typing in a command like "cast zap" or "cast flame dart". Thankfully the EGA version of the game uses the Sierra text interface that pauses the game for the duration of the typing, so it's manageable system, albeit a tad slow. You can also use the spells outside the combat in order to soften the attacker a bit beforehand to hand clash.

The combat is, not so surprisingly a tad easier for the fighter class, as fighters have better weapons and armor, though, at the same note, the equipment side of QFG games is way, way simpler than in other RPG's: there's daggers, a sword, leather armor and a chain mail for the fighter. Mages got some spells ranging from utility spells like open to battle spells like a flame dart. And then there's food rations and the always necessary potions like healing, mana, and stamina. None of the games in the series is very big about providing a cornucopia of equipment, it's mostly bare necessities, though in a game like this it's not necessarily a bad thing, as it's not really about how customizable the character is.

Combat! On the left a VGA version of a brigand, on the right a lovely EGA goblin

Also, depending on if you play the EGA or the VGA remake of the game, some tactics are better than some others. In the VGA version the best way to battle is just do basic attacks, as not even the DosBox emulated version handles the combat correctly, so defense moves are somewhat useless, as the game speed allows you to do more attacks quickly, so if you get into a good rhythm where your hits land, you'll kill the enemy pretty fast with minimal damage taken. The EGA version, on the other hand, seems to utilize the defence moves better, so in it a healthy combination of attacks and defences works better. But in the end, combat is just a simple QTE button smash, where the QTE indicator is what moves the enemy does. It's not the greatest system in the world, but serviceable.

The VGA remake allows you to play with either keyboard or a mouse driven system. If you play with a mouse, you'll just click on the appropriate icons located on the right corner of the screen and you can switch between physical and magical attack icons. Or you can use the numpad keys to wreak havoc. Either way, the system is very similar to the original sans the need to type in the spell cast commands.

What Quest for Glory loses in the combat system it wins around in freedom: from the very beginning of the game you're allowed to go anywhere you want. The whole game world is open you and you can start tackling the problems of Spielburg in any way you want. You can check out the basic quests in the adventurer's hall or just ignore it and go directly to the woods to see what you can do there, mapping the area and gathering more experience by doing combat or just climbing on trees or throwing rocks.

Same forest scene from the VGA and EGA versions of the game.

Another interesting thing about Quest for Glory games is, that from the first game onward they've had a night/day cycle. During night time the doors get closed. The city gate is shut, the stores aren't doing business and furthermore the wilderness has some additional nighttime beast wandering all about. Some things, like thief's burglary mission, can be done only during the night.

The official VGA remake done by Sierra is pretty much the same game with the difference of that it's fully mouse driven. Instead of typing in commands, you just click on the screen with a right icon and things happen. As the game never was the most difficult nor the longest game around, this remake makes it even a bit too easy. If you play QFG1 the first time I can easily see it taking anywhere from 5 to 10 hours, but if you know what you need to do, it will take less than 2 hours to complete even if you do some stats grinding.

One thing that contributes to the length of the game is, that while the game does track days you spend in Spielburg, the main bulk of the story isn't tied to any specific game dates. The open nature of the game allows you to, if you already are familiar with the game, start tackling the quest lines immediately. Bulking up the character makes things easier, but nothing really stops you from going directly to the locations you need to do important things at. Another contributor to the game's length is, that the game area isn't that big. As the game areas, including the forest around the city of Spielburg, are done in a good adventure game fashion,  the size of the game world is also limited on what was reasonable for the technology at the time. The world consists of about 65 screens, so it's not a hard task to learn how to navigate around. (of course someone could point out Sierra's own Time Zone and its 1500 screens, but that would have been insane with QFG's higher fidelity art. And most of those screens were obsolete anyways)

Night has fallen. Not only are the night screens tinted in bluish hues, the forest turns into a bit more dangerous place with tougher monsters like trolls lurking about.

All in all Quest for Glory 1 is a solid game. It still is a good representative of a genre, that never really did take off. RPG games tend to sway towards a more action-oriented side of things and the adventure game type questing is, if not completely absent, a bit more rare kind of a beast in them. It's a niche genre with only a couple of recent entries, which both are so heavily Quest for Glory inspired, that they even are done in retro pixel art style.

It's actually surprising how well Quest for Glory 1 holds up, be it the EGA or the VGA version you play. Unlike many other adventure games of its time,  it doesn't feel like a result of design choices meant to prolong the game by using cruel tricks and illogical puzzles. And even when you die in the game it feels like you're dying because of RPG reasons, like in combat and what not instead of cruel trick done by the developers. And what's more interesting is, that you can complete the game even if you bungle some of the bigger quests of the game. I'd even dare to say that it feels positively modern in many ways if you can look past the clunky combat.

Not all things you do are heroic. Cleaning the castle stables gives you a couple of silvers and decent workout for your muscles. Stables also work as a safe place to sleep, if you don't have enough coin to sleep at the inn.

If you're interested giving Quest for Glory a try, you can get all the 5 games in a collection from GOG. If you already have them but want to give similar games a go, there's a brilliant freeware game Heroine's Quest and an okay commercial game Quest for Infamy, that tackles the genre from not so valiant point of view of a thief character. It's pretty slim pickings in this genre though as it is a niche within two niches.