King's Quest II: Romancing the Throne (1985)

For some reason, I've always adored the simple intro sequence of King's Quest II. After the logo blasts on it, King Graham of Daventry walks from the left to the centre of the screen, cordially bows to you, the player, and the exits right. It is a small, nice intro, which has always resonated with me, most likely because this is the first time we actually see Graham presented as a higher resolution character than he is in the game itself.

As a game, King's Quest II is a refinement rather than a clear improvement over the first game in the series. In many ways, it is very similar to its predecessor, but in some other ways, it also is an improvement.

After King's Quest had become a success for Sierra, Roberta Williams wanted to venture forth with a game with more focus on storytelling. The first game had been mostly just a glorified treasure hunt, with next to no plot, so adding a proper storyline would be an improvement. The developers were already more familiar with PC and their own AGI engine, so they could really crank up the ante.

Graham standing at a beach in Kolyma. From here opens the world and the adventure.

Graham is now a king of Daventry. While he's loved by his people, thanks to rescuing the lost treasures, Graham has come to a conclusion, that love from his subjects isn't enough: he needs a spouse. No fear, the magic mirror is near to give out insight into the dilemma. There is a fair maiden in the land of Kolyma. This maiden is imprisoned in a magic tower, so it is a very kingly task to rescue the said maiden. Again donning his adventurer's cap, Graham sets out to Kolyma to find the woman whom he knows only from pictures. This must be what true love is like.

When Graham arrives at Kolyma, he eventually stumbles upon a magic door that has an inscription on it, that tells him how to open it. As the woman of his dreams is just behind that door, he starts to rummage the countryside for items he needs in order to get the key, which he finally finds from Neptune's realm. The key reveals another door, which tells him more clues, which take him to a mountaintop, where he can either kill a snake or free it of its charm in order to turn it a Pegasos, after which he's free to take a key number two. The final key is in the Dracula's castle, where he can if he's found the needed things, also hammer the bloodsucker down.

Opening the third door finally takes Graham to an oddly coloured realm, from where he finally finds the tower the maiden is trapped. The only thing left to do is to defeat a lion guarding her door, make introductions, kiss and get hitched. This is speed dating at its finest, as the only thing the duo knows of each other is their names. And maybe occupation. But like the future tells, it was a solid marriage, even providing two kids, so I guess Graham could have done much worse than Valanice, at least as far the royal lineage goes.

At the house of a dwarf, who tries to mug Graham if he ever stumbles upon him in the forest. In a name of the fair play, Graham can loot everything he can from dwarves house.

King's Quest II, while making some strides in technical improvement, doesn't quite manage to escape its roots as a treasure hunt game. While many items you collect are used to solve puzzles, there's only one right way to solve the puzzles. You can collect different kinds of treasure items, which you can use to solve some problems, but by doing so you lose points.

For an example, the magic lamp puzzle can be solved by giving the shopkeeper two pieces of treasure. But the way to get to the full score is to get the bird from the old hag living in a skull cave. Still, getting the bird is fully optional if you don't care for the final score. In fact, there are multiple puzzles you don't have to solve in order to get to the finish and that is actually somewhat refreshing. You can buy your way out from some problems you meet and that is a nice alternative way for getting forward if you don't know how else to proceed. This isn't anything new to the series though, as the first game had some of that as well.

As for the story, there's a bit more of it in KQII. From a modern perspective, the narrative isn't a remarkable one, but back in the 1980's the leap from the sparse basics of King's Quest would have been more noticeable. There are more characters you can interact with, even talk to, who help Graham on his quest. Not everyone is out to get him this time.

The magic doors that will take you to whom your heart desires.

The puzzles are also more constructed this time around, as not every puzzle is open right from the get-go. You have to open a door to get to the next progression point whereas in King's Quest I, you could go and try to the magical items in any order you wished. In King's Quest II you always need to go to Triton first, then to the mountains and then to the Dracula's Castle. After that you get to the magic Tower Valanice is prisoned in. But almost everything else you can do in any order you want.

Another piece of complexity, at least at the technical level, is more music. Of course, if you are using the standard PC-speaker, the music is not much to write home about, but with the help of modern replacement engines like ScummVM, you can play the game using a 3-voice sound system, which does make the music more bearable and even pleasant.

Technically though, KQII isn't as huge of a leap forward as KQI was. Then again, at that point in time it would have been almost impossible, as KQI brought the adventure genre from being mostly text and still image based on an era, where everything was presented in the graphics and where you could navigate the screens in 3D-like environments, which allowed you to walk behind and around objects and not only move screen by screen with written commands like "Go West".

The tower looms in the centre of a small island in a magical realm.

King's Quest II is filled with dead ends, sudden deaths, random encounters that can kill you and at times somewhat obscure puzzles. None as obscure as the infamous Rumplestiltskin puzzle from KQI, but still puzzles that many people, including me, would call unfair. But unlike many other people, I already know how to proceed with the game, knowing most of it by heart, as I know it by heart, I can't really be mad at it.

In many ways, I do prefer KQII over KQI, but also in many ways, I do see it only as a slight technical improvement over the first game. As far gameplay goes, it is more of the same really. Not that it's a bad thing. Far from it, as Sierra was just perfecting their methods at this point. They did try something different with KQIII and, in my opinion, they failed in that. But that, I think, is a lecture for another time.

King's Quest II can be bought from GOG and Steam.