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22 December 2016 @ 05:40 pm
Game Review: Quest For Glory I: So You Want to Be a Hero?  
I suppose I should technically put "Hero Quest I" in the title, but I'll get to that.

I grew up on Sierra adventures, your Kings' Quest and Spaces' Quest. But those actually came later. The first Sierra adventure game I ever played was this one, at a friend's house when we were playing around on his parents' computer. I really took to its weird combination of genre styles and, ignoring the message at the beginning of the game about piracy, I borrowed the disks from him and copied the game to my computer, where I proceeded to play it obsessively. This was around when Quest for Glory III: Wages of War came out, so I bought that and imported my character--which blew my mind, by the way--and continued his adventures, and that began a love affair that lasted to this day.

I'm not the only one. I played Heroine's Quest last year, a game that was clearly and obviously inspired by the Quest for Glory games. But I haven't played the original in over a decade, and now that I'm on vacation, and since I still remember the solutions to all the puzzles, why not?

You called?

The Quest for Glory games, original "Hero's Quest" until Milton Bradley got in touch with them because of the existence of HeroQuest, are hybrid adventure/RPG hybrids. They have all the characteristics of adventure games, like talking to people, picking up items, solving puzzles, getting points, and instantly dying in various amusing ways. But they're also RPGs, with a requirement to pick a class at the beginning from Fighter, Magic User, or Thief, that glorious Gygaxian trio, and then fight monsters, get loot, raise your stats, and die of starvation or having your hit points reduced to zero.

I say "raise your stats" instead of "gain levels," because unique to me at the time, the RPG aspect of Quest for Glory doesn't have levels. It's a learn-as-you-do system, with each class starting with a selection of the available skills and practicing those skills causing them to increase. There's an "experience" trait in the character sheet, but I'm not sure what it controls. It might control how difficult the random monsters you encounter are. In the beginning of the game, I spent most of my time running from battles and occasionally fighting a goblin or a saurus, and by the end of the game I was fighting saurus rexes during the day time and a non-stop stream of trolls at night. Or, I would have if I didn't sneak everywhere, partially to avoid encounters, but mostly to raise my stealth skill.

"Recommended strategy: run away."

And that gets to the main problem I found in Quest for Glory, coming to it after a decade of being away from it. In some ways, it has the disadvantages of both adventure games and RPGs. Like in adventure games, it's possible to end up in an unwinnable situations because you haven't brought the right item, or didn't talk to the right person, or wasted an item you needed on something else, though fortunately there are far fewer situations here than there are in the King's Quest games. And like in RPGs, you know exactly what you have to do and where you have to go, but be underleveled and have to grind your stats up before you can actually conquer the challenge. The beginning of this game is especially bad, since stats scale 1 to 100 and most stats in the beginning are in the 20-30 range, though new skills picked during character creation begin at 5. Each later game raises the cap by 100, but that obviously blunts the effect. The ratio between 5 and 100 is much greater than the ratio between 105 and 200.

That's the major reason why I played the EGA version of the game. There's a VGA version that came out after the EGA version, with a cursor-based interface and point-and-click graphics, but I have a nostalgic attachment to the original EGA since it's what I first encountered. But more than that, the EGA version has cheat codes that allow adjusting stats and granting items. Most of what I did is that after putting in a bit of time at the beginning, earning some money by stealing from the houses around Spielburg (German, "Game-town"  photo 3327b7f6b45a33781e80dce4e4461510-d4ipx9c.gif), I cheated in a ton of potions so that I could restore my Health, Stamina, and Power Points as much as I wanted. Potions can't be drunk during battle, so I wasn't giving myself an unfair advantage on the fights. I was just reducing the downtime.

The first couple in-game days, I'd practice skills, spend some time typing "rest," and do it again. Maybe get into one fight, then I'd have to run from other fights because my Health was too low to survive another fight and the only combat skill a wizard starts with, Zap, is cast on the weapon, which means you have to hit in combat with it. I love the idea of learn-by-doing skill systems, but just like in Morrowind, it produces a ton of degenerate gameplay. In Morrowind I was bunny-hopping everywhere and casting weak fire spells on myself, and in Quest for Glory I was sneaking everywhere and climbing up and down a tree for hours at a time.

"Success! Your nose is now open!"

It's hard for me to offer any kind of assessment about how difficult the puzzles are, because I didn't have to figure any of them out. I remember everything, from what flying water was, to how to get the green fur, to where to go to find the dryad and what to give her, to how to get the glowing gem to put into the skull to gain access to Baba Yaga's house, to how to beat Baba Yaga and fulfill the final part of the prophecy. But I do think that there wasn't anything that was as obscure and terrible as how in King's Quest V, pies are yeti's natural enemies. The only real way to end up in an winnable situation is to arrive at the brigand's lair without the dispel potion. There are other ways to render the game unwinnable, but they mostly involve attacking everything in site, including friendly townspeople. Hard to get the dispel potion if the healer refuses to open the door to a murderhobo.

There's even multiple ways to win. For the first few years of playing, I wasn't used to parser-based adventures and so I didn't exhaust all the conversational options, so I never learned about the magic mirror, never took the mirror from the brigand's lair, and never defeated Baba Yaga. That didn't happen until much later. Probably when I finally bought the VGA version and got a list of topics, so I realized the breadth of material that I could ask about. I suppose that is what the grognards feared when icon replaced the parser, were those moments of discovery of typing everything into the parser and hitting on something the game understood.

Quest for Glory I beat Baba Yaga photo sciv_288.png

 photo getin.001.gif

I think one of the reasons I took so well to Quest for Glory is that it's one of the earliest games I can think of that replicated both sides of a tabletop RPG game. For most of computer RPG's early history, they were synonymous with dungeon crawling, as in Rogue and its various descendants, or Wizardry, or Dragon Quest; or with tactical combat, like with Wizard's Crown, or the SSI gold box games. While some games like Ultima IV broke from that mold, usually there wasn't much of a sense of a world around you.

Quest for Glory was a huge departure from Moria and AntKill and the other shareware RPG games that I played on the shareware CDs my father brought home occasionally. It had characters you could talk to, with their own limited routines (going home at night, but that's something at least), a character arc from zero to...uh, hero, and a sense that I was solving problems and making the lives of people in the valley better. It couldn't match the flexibility of a human GM, but the multiple solutions to puzzles to accommodate the three classes meant that I could try magic, guile, or force for any individual puzzle, and if I couldn't figure out one solution, maybe I could find out another. Throw a rock at the spirea to intercept the seed mid-flight, or cast Fetch to haul the seed out of the air, or climb the rocks and pluck it from the air as it went by.

And, unlike Heroine's Quest, I got full points no matter what solution I picked. What mattered was that I overcame the problem. Just like a real RPG.

I swear, they were like this when I got here.

Does the game hold up after a decade away? Absolutely it does. Even with its flaws, I had a ton of fun playing, though that's with the caveat that I skipped the grind at the beginning. As a child I had a lot of fun climbing over that initial mountain, but now I'd rather play a game that does the initial grind in a more interesting way, like Dark Souls, than a game where it's just about getting big enough numbers. And while the characters aren't as memorable to me here as they are in later games--especially in Quest for Glory IV, my favorite of the games--I still remember the first time I saw the dryad, or beat Erasmus at Mage's Maze, or learned who the brigand leader really was.

And to this day, it has one of my favorite bits of pixel art and music in a game--Erana's Peace (QFG VGA here). If we had room on our walls, I'd get a print of that meadow and hang it there.

There's only an official EGA version of the second game, but fans went and remade a VGA version, including character importing and the icon-based gameplay of later games in the series. I'm looking forward to playing that, now that I have a character with good stats and a ton of money from repeatedly slaughtering those poor goblins.  photo emot-qfg.gif I remember all the puzzle solutions from that game, too, so playing these games is like taking a long, hot bath for me. A bath with bad puns, RPG stats, and great music. Just what I need right now.
Current Mood: amusedamused
Current Music: Quest For Glory I: So You Want To Be a Hero - Late Snows of Winter (jmr OC ReMix)