King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder! (1990)



What comes to Sierra games and well known old adventure game titles, King's Quest V might just be in a leading position in the contest of the worst ever designed point 'n' click games. It was the first game from Sierra to use then at the time modern point 'n' click engine, that didn't only allow the use of a mouse, but higher colour VGA graphics as well. Gone was the parser interface of yester yore and rasterized, 16-colour palette EGA graphics. Welcome to simpler interface and more glorious looking adventures.

And KQV does look good. The landscape of Serenia is just stunning, even today when 256 colours seem so little in contrast of colour depth of millions. The art direction definitely is the strongest aspect of this simply written tale of puzzles, that hardly weave into a coherent story. Another strong aspect is the music, which is, at that points, some of the best Sierra had put in their games.

But then we get into the game itself. As a game, King's Quest 5 is filled with dead ends, blink and you miss it puzzles, trial and error and puzzles that make no sense in any way or form. It also has 3 mazes, of which one is a desert, where you die if you don't find water soon enough, but still need to wander in order to find one specific item from there, as well as a brigand camp. The second one is a sea map, from which you need to find one island, and the last is a labyrinth beneath Mordacks castle, and that one is done in an annoying fashion where the orientation changes every time you change location and there's not even a compass to help you with that.  



The story itself is simple enough. One day King Graham is taking a stroll in the forest when his whole castle is kidnapped by an evil wizard Mordack, who is peeved because Alexander turned his brother into a cat in King's Quest III. Cedrick, the most annoying talking owl ever if you are unlucky enough to play the CD version of the game, informs Graham of this and takes him to Serenia, from where he needs to begin his quest to find his family.

Before anything else, let's have some words about that CD version of the game. It was, I believe, the first fully voiced Sierra release and as such it has an air of experimentation about is, as it wasn't voiced by professionals, but by the staff of Sierra. And it really sounds like that as well, as the voice acting is flat out bad. Especially the magical talking animals, like Cedric, make me want to strangle them. So do yourself a favour and play the floppy version, That "Poisonous Snake"-meme didn't happen for no reason. Even at best the voice acting is merely toleratable.

The puzzles design of the game is flat out sadistic. Often you find yourself from a situation where you have no idea how to proceed only to find out that you should have picked up some item from somewhere where you can't get by any other means than by restoring a previous game. These situations are so common, that you just have to save the game almost constantly in order the lessen the frustration levels that causes.



And then there's a string of puzzles that make no sense at all. Like in the witches forest you need to pour honey on the ground and attract a gnome to get stuck on it by throwing around gems. Or the moldy cheese puzzle at the end, that can get you stumped, as nothing really indicates where it should be used. The cheese is needed to turn on a magical apparatus, that transfers energy from one magic wand to an another if you were wondering.

The castle of Mordack itself is a terrible example of randomness. There's the monster that can put you in prison, which is actually a puzzle by the way, so that's not bad. But there's also the cat Manannan, who plagues the halls as well and the only way to get rid of him is to get rid of the monster first, but as they both appear randomly, that is just one big trial and error thing. Also, Mordack can teleport to a room you're into at the moment to kill you, so there's that as well,

But despite all these flaws, King's Quest V sold over half a million copies, becoming the best-selling computer game till the mid 90's. Because of how much is sold, there are a lot of people who still recall it with warmth, thinking it's one of the best games in the series. If you do look at it without nostalgia goggles, it's really not that good, nor even one of the best games in the series.



King's Quest V is at times a charming game, especially graphically. It has a seed of a game that could have been better, but the end result just isn't that. It was a gigantic leap forward in the technology for Sierra and for games, but that doesn't make it a good game.

Still, I do have a certain amount of appreciation towards it. That appreciation is mainly because of technical advancements they did with the game, not what's actually in it.

If you want to play King's Quest V yourself it can be bought from Steam of GOG.






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