Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Adventure of the Week: King's Quest VI (1993)

It's been a while since I covered one of Roberta Williams' seminal King's Quest 3-D animated adventure games, published by Sierra; after playing through numbers I-V in fairly rapid succession, I was feeling a bit burned out on the world's most polite royals.  But some time has passed, and at last I have gotten around to playing through the series' 1993 entry, King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow.  I thought I had finished this one back when the game first came out, but I completely missed a secondary, more difficult path through the story, so this adventure was well worth revisiting.

The game improves on the CD-ROM multimedia pioneer King's Quest V in a number of areas; the voice acting is tremendously improved, with a skilled professional cast, and Williams' collaborator Jane Jensen brings more elegant descriptive text and dialogue to the familiar universe and puzzle style.  Sierra's SCI VGA engine is still evolving here, as the DOS era transitioned to Windows; the engine still has a detail slider for balancing animation detail against PC speed.  This iteration also supports scaling sprites, mirroring Lucasarts' innovations in that area, and the technology allows for larger sprites and more cinematic screen layouts.  Most of the artwork is still limited to standard VGA 320 x 200 resolution with 256 colors, though the Windows interpreter supported higher-resolution dialogue portraits.  I played the DOS version, running it under DOSBox.

Sierra continues to push the technical envelope here, though not always successfully, with a clumsy animated CGI opening sequence that is woefully stiff and mannequin-esque, with minimal character animation and camerawork that necessarily takes great pains to avoid depicting facial expressions:

In short, Prince Alexander is feeling down in the dumps, and his mother Queen Valanice asks why.  He then sets off on a quest to find Princess Cassima, inspired by their brief meeting in King's Quest V.  Alexander says that he is "tormented by thoughts of her"; normally, this is a recipe for stalking and tragedy, rather than romance, but love at first sight is a fairy tale tradition, so we will accept it at face value here.  At sea, the animation shows its age again, with visibly low-res textures on the ocean waves in the foreground.  Alexander is inexperienced as a seafaring captain (though he does have his own telescope), which apparently proves fatal to most of those in his princely employ; the crew cries "Land ho!" just before the ship runs aground and is dashed against the rocks.  The royal doofus is safe, however, with nary a scratch on his garish green-and-yellow outfit, and so our story can get underway.

There are two pathways through King's Quest VI -- an "easy" path, and a "hard" path, but both are fairly convoluted and detailed.  As usual, I will be covering the entire story to the best of my ability in the following discussion, so readers who wish to explore the Green Isles for themselves are advised to step away and do so before continuing below.  This is a substantial game, and as the details will be similarly lengthy, I've put them below the fold.  Before clicking to read the rest, remember that there are certain to be lengthy...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

The game proper begins as Alexander awakens on the shore following the shipwreck.  Oddly, the narration mentions that Alexander is thankful there's no sign of his crew or their lifeboats, which sounds like he's planning a cold-hearted cover-up, though I think we are meant to understand that they survived but washed up somewhere else, far away. 

The narrator warns us that there's an undertow offshore, so Alexander doesn't drown by wandering too far into the ocean without some indication of the danger as was the case in some earlier King's Quest games.  We can walk Alexander more deeply into the water and get a more dramatic warning, and if we insist on going further, we can indeed drown him.  All death scenarios are accompanied by a creepy underworld scene, where Alexander turns in his ticket to the skeletal gatekeeper -- we will see this quite a bit, and if we take the difficult path, we will pay an extended visit to this location later on.

I have mixed feelings about Sierra's later parser-free graphic adventures; they are prone to point-and-guess solutions that don't always make immediate sense, or require great clicking precision to discover critical information.  In this case, we have to click experimentally to learn that we can't take the plank, but using the hand icon on it moves it aside to reveal a small box.  From the box, we can take a coin seen glittering inside it, with a pixel-precise hand click.  It would be so much easier and faster if we could just LOOK BOX and TAKE COIN, but the genre was evolving and such conveniences were considered old hat.

The game is nicely art-directed, with distinct visual and musical styles for each island; this first location, where Alexander will spend most of his time, has an Arabian theme.  Exploring the island, we discover a shiny castle with spires and dog soldier guards, with a convenient hiding place nearby.  I was afraid this would herald one of Roberta's annoying wait-it-out puzzles, as seen in several of the earlier King's Quest games, but its purpose becomes clear and specific later on.

By conversing with a number of well-acted characters, we learn that Alexander has landed on the Isle of the Crown, one of several islands in the Green Isles, and that the imposing structure is the Castle of the Crown.  The uniformed dogs are guarding Princess Cassima, who to Alexander's dismay is due to marry the Vizier, Abdul Al-Hazred.  (If the name sounds familiar, H.P. Lovecraft fans will recognize the name as the fictional author of the Necronomicon.)

Downtown, an old beggar in the street offers "Old lamps for new," trading new lamps for old ones in the hope of finding one containing a genie.  It's not a great business model -- and Jensen's dialogue recognizes this, which is a very nice change from Roberta's usual approach.  The old fool is rather insistent with his reptitious cry, even though as far as we can tell no new people have wandered by as long as Alexander has been hanging around.

The local Pawn Shoppe has many interesting items, but we can only trade our single Daventry copper coin to obtain, one item at a time with exchanges permitted, a mechanical nightingale, a wooden flute, a paint brush, or a tinderbox.  We can't carry or afford any of the big-ticket items, though there are some very funny references here to frustrating moments in earlier King's Quest games -- a hull-hole detector (V's unforeseeably fatal sailing trip), a golden bridle finder (IV's maddening hidden item), a shovel that's guaranteed not to break for over one-hundred grave diggings (IV's graveyard scavenger hunt), and a bridge repair kit (II's limited-travel bridge).

There's also a bookstore called Ali's Books.  (Ali sounds a lot like Crispin from King's Quest V, but the character is actually performed by legendary voice actor Don Messick.)  One book is available for free, as the shopkeeper is desperate to get rid of it, and it proves boring but useful later.  We also learn that there are docks to the west, at least three other islands to explore, and that we really should visit the leaders of each island, but it's too dangerous to travel by conventional means.  We can also obtain a single page that falls out of a romantic poetry book.

The game mentions that the pottery in front of the Pawn Shoppe is used as a "dump site" on occasion, which I took to mean 'a trash receptacle.'  A servant girl living nearby likes roses, which calls other fairy tales to mind, but her situation at the moment resembles that of Cinderella; Alexander can't interact with her just yet, as her evil stepmother keeps yelling at her.

Down by the disabled ferry, a boy swimming in the water tries to lure Alexander into danger by telling him he'll show him the way to the next island.  The dialogue here is not the game's best -- as Alexander founders and drowns, the boy cries "Ha ha ha!  Not a very good swimmer, are you?"; Alexander cries, "Help me!"; and the evil boy smirks, "Sorry, I think not!"  The moral of the story is, apparently, that strangers are evil.  But the boy vanishes in a puff of magic if we ignore him, and later we learn that he's a manifestation of the evil Al-Hazred's genie servant.

We can visit the local ferryman, but it's physically tricky to click on him precisely enough to engage him in conversation.  He tells us that the ferry isn't running, and can't be restored to service at present due to dry rot.  He suggests using a magic map to traverse the islands; Alexander already knows about these devices from his experience in King's Quest III.

We can also take a mint from the dish in the pawn shoppe.  Why?  As is often the case in this series, we really don't know yet, but we get some points and a chime sound for taking it.  It's an important item storywise, and also one of the easiest to miss, so if you're playing along but sneaking peeks here, remember to grab the mint!  Some mint leaves accessible later are even more important.

Jollo, a court entertainer we can meet in the bookshop, sounds a lot like Ed Wynne but is voiced by Chuck McCann, of Far Out Space Nuts and Lunch Wagon "fame."  I failed to befriend him, which is not fatal, but means we have to sidestep a certain scenario toward the end of the game if we take the difficult path.

The Isle of the Crown is fairly small mapwise, but it's packed with detail and it takes some effort to find all of the available puzzles and items.  I went back to the beach and found Alexander's royal insignia ring that I missed earlier; this is important, as it allows us to get into the castle long enough to learn, on official terms, that Vizier Al-Hazred is indeed scheduled to marry Princess Cassima.

Next, we can talk to the Pawn Shoppe proprietor about the magic map -- I somehow forgot the ferryman's earlier suggestion that I do so -- and pawn Alexander's royal ring for it.  We can also witness a strange old man stealing a mint, which apparently makes him drunk -- he's Al-Hazred's lackey in disguise, as it turns out, and noting this weakness is important for the endgame, much, much later.

Once we have obtained the magic map, we can visit the Isle of Wonders, which requires a sense of humor and puns; the Isle of the Beast, which is beautiful but very resistant to Alexander's attempts to travel very far inland; and the Isle of the Sacred Mountain, which has gorgeous inhabitants and a Greek mythological theme.  There's a fifth island as well, but we can't access it until we have solved some other puzzles.

I enjoyed the fully-voiced dialogue, but the verbose descriptive narration is also fully-voiced and slows the pacing down; fortunately, we can turn the speech off, and the game plays much faster in text-only mode, very handy for retracing.

On the Isle of Wonders, we find oysters literally bedded down on the shore, snoring, in keeping with this island's Lewis Carroll/fairy tale vibe.  Five very weird dwarf guards shortly arrive to kill Alexander, as no humans are permitted on the island (so I guess we know what happened to Ms. White.)  Alexander has to present deceptive items to each of the five dwarves' senses --  a flower of stench, the mechanical nightingale, a mint, and a rabbit's foot cover four of them.  The dwarf with sight is the hardest one to fool -- but it turns out that the ink bottle from the Pawn Shoppe contains invisible ink; it appears empty on inspection, so we only discover this when Alexander tries to open it by clicking it on himself.  By Roberta's rules, this action makes the opener briefly invisible, which fools the fifth dwarf -- in his rhyming wrapup, he exclaims, "Four morons do I sleep with nightly," making this one of the more polyamorously progressive adventure games in my experience.

On the Isle of the Sacred Mountain, the narrator suggests that Alexander consult the original game manual for some clues to climbing the logic cliffs; it's included in PDF format on the discs containing the most recent King's Quest Collection release, and served as the original release's copy protection.  Alexander can read "IGNORANCE KILLS WISDOM ELEVATES" etched in the stone, but the puzzles are less difficult than clicking precisely on the stones Alexander must step on to climb the wall -- it's easy to get sloppy and send him plunging to his death.  RISE is the first clue, which can be guessed at, and we just have to select the corresponding stones marked with apparently random letters.  The second puzzle features a verbal clue that offers several four-letter possibilities, but we know from the available symbols that the word can't be PASS.  I tried RISE and LIVE, and uttered a few four-letter words of my own, before again consulting the (unfortunately NOT searchable) PDF manual to discover the correct word: SOAR.  The third is a straightforward number puzzle, with four switches that must be selected in the correct order based on a poem in the manual.  And the fourth is a complicated manual lookup for the four cryptic symbols corresponding to emotion -- tranquility, color -- azure, creature -- caterpillar, and element -- air -- DOQG are the four letters needed, or at least they were in my case.  The fifth puzzle requires selecting letters to answer a riddle, again dependent on the manual.

At the top of the mountain, an old woman with a glint in her eye tries to get Alexander to eat fatal nightshade berries, but this is clearly a trap if we've experienced the swimming boy/drowning Alexander scenario.  The island's leaders ask Alexander to rescue their daughter, Lady Celeste, from the Minotaur, and so we are off to explore a dungeon maze.  There are no invisible dead-ends or odd wraparounds in the old-school adventure game tradition, but there are some fatal dropoffs, and there's no way to avoid them except by saving, restoring and mapping (although some time can be saved by referencing the rough map in the manual.)

Robby Benson voices Prince Alexander, which was a big deal at the time thanks to his stellar work in Ode to Billy Joe Disney's Beauty and the Beast.  He does a nice job with Alexander's often heavy-handed and overly polite dialogue; unfortunately, Roberta Williams' lead characters rarely get to have interesting personalities, and the "talkie" era did little to change this.  Even when other characters are trying to kill Alexander, he's still fond of the "I'm sorry, but I can't allow you to do that" school of diplomacy.

As we map out the Minotaur's maze, we can acquire a skull, maneuver through a dangerous poison dart trapped room by walking on the correct floor tiles corresponding to another poem in the manual, acquire a shield, and steal two old coins from a skeleton's eyes (like his father, King Graham, and sister Rosella, Alexander demonstrates little respect for the dead.)  The skull isn't strong enough to jam the gears lowering the ceiling in another trap room, and by another possible route a fake Lady Celeste lures Alexander to his doom.  Clearly, we need something else to stop the gears in the trap room, which I had neglected to bring with me on my first attempt at the labyrinth, so it was time to restore and try again.

Returning to the Isle of Wonder, I ran into a minor bug -- the game happened to hang when I was looking at the spiderweb near the bookworm's collection, but normal operation resumed after a restart and restore.  The black widow who lives in the web bites if we try to take the scrap of paper caught in her sticky abode -- I was stuck here for a bit, unsure of what else to do, until I noticed a loose strand in the web.  Pulling it distracted the black widow (who has a very sexy voice) long enough to retrieve the paper, which reads simply LOVE, another clue for later.

The Isle of Wonder also contains a swampy area with some rather talkative punning vegetation -- dogwood, a stick in the mud, some milkweed, and a bump on a log.  A nearby garden sprouts Rotten Tomatoes and heads of fresh, cold iceberg lettuce.  The ivy here proves fatal, with no real warning, and taking the hole-in-the-wall seems possible, but it hides behind some guardian flowers every time we try to grab it.  Playing the flute from the Pawn Shoppe causes the flowers to dance, giving Alexander a chance to obtain the hole-in-the-wall while they are distracted.

A more specific allusion to Alice in Wonderland finds the Red and White Queens fighting over who gets to send which wedding gift to the Vizier and Cassima, and following the squabble a red silk scarf gets left behind, which Alexander can take.  We also learn that the Queens believe the Beast stole something from them; this will be a recurring theme among the island leaders, for reasons Alexander may (or may not) learn about later.

We can read the free, boring book from Ali's bookshop to a young, sleepless oyster on the beach, grabbing a large pearl when it yawns, which can be traded to redeem Alexander's ring from the pawn shoppe.  There is also a sentence floating on the surface of the water here, but getting it requires patience; it's easy to get overeager and drown Alexander, when in fact we just need to stand by the waterline and wait for it to drift within reach.  These kinds of waiting puzzles always trip me up; I never expect to the solution to consist of inaction, and so I wasted some time trying to draw the sentence in closer with various objects, to no avail.  Again, this item won't come into play for a while.

Alexander is able to cross the Isle of the Beast's boiling water by using the iceberg lettuce to cool it down -- if he tries without doing that, we learn in the grand Sierra tradition that the boiled Alexander is now "in a stew."  An arrow fired by a guardian statue kills Alexander past this point, so we probably need to retrieve the shield from the Minotaur's maze before we can proceed.

Stopping by the Isle of the Crown to prepare for a go at the labyrinth, we find a real nightingale in a tree near the castle, who seems intrigued by the mechanical one from the Pawn Shoppe.  If we give the bird Alexander's royal ring, she takes off and returns with Cassima's hair ribbon -- fortunately, the Princess recognizes the ring from their meeting in KQV, and Alexander is overjoyed to learn she was checking him out.  If we send her the love poem retrieved from the black widow's web, a note from Cassima comes back; she expresses distress over her impending nuptials, and notes that she needs some small means of defense.

If we hang out near the castle, we can see some servant women entering to assist with wedding preparations.  This is a clue to the easier path later on, but Alexander still has quite a bit of unfinished business to address.

There are lots of item puzzles in this adventure, in the King's Quest tradition, and unless we're unusually lucky, we typically need to backtrack and collect things once we understand what is needed.  The Minotaur's labyrinth requires a brick, the hole-in-the-wall, the red scarf, and the tinder box, as it turns out.  We can trade the mechanical nightingale in at the Pawn Shoppe to obtain the tinder box in its place, without so much as a restocking charge; even Jane Jensen wasn't able to come up with any interesting dialogue for the shopkeeper here, as he says, "Enjoy your tinder box."  Nobody really talks like this!

Back on the Isle of the Sacred Mountain to face the Minotaur, we find that the brick works much better than the skull to stop the ceiling trap's gears.  Past that point, a trap floor inevitably plunges Alexander into darkness (we must ignore the manual's map here, as it warns us away from this room.)  Alexander can now use the tinder box to light a torch and continue as before, again encountering fatal dead ends.  Applying the hole-in-the-wall (which can only be used once, so saving and restoring is important) at the non-fatal dead ends allows us to see what's on the other side -- the only interesting room hints at something seen to the east.  We can see what looks like a tourist poster from a Greek diner on the wall, and once we find a secret entrance hidden behind a tapestry, the toreadoresque music hints at how to deal with the man/bull Minotaur.  Waving the red scarf sends the charging Minotaur into his own fiery fore, and a grateful Lady Celeste gives Alexander a small dagger.  She's beautiful but kind of whiny, hence no distraction from Alexander's quest for Cassima.  As a reward, Alexander is allowed to visit the Oracle; this sequence benefits from very nice voice acting and spot visuals, though her feathered 'do looks straight out of the 80s. 

The Oracle advises Alexander to visit the Druids on the Isle of Mists, which now appears on the magic map, and gives him some water from the Sacred Pool.  (This is the point where the game started to seem unfamiliar to me, so it's possible I never even played past this stage back in the day!)

Back on the Isle of the Beast, Alexander's shield is shattered by the statue's arrow, but now the trap is disarmed and he can pass through the gate, only to find his progress impeded by an impenetrable hedge.  We need to visit the Isle of Mists to find a scythe and come back here, allowing us to reach the Beast, who believes the Druids stole his coat of arms.  (Adventure game characters often have deep emotional ties to these stolen and missing objects, yet they never seem to lift a finger to actually find them until some desperate adventurer comes along to do the heavy lifting.) 

Having broached the topic in conversation with the Beast, Alexander now finds himself with a mere two hours to get the beast a wife, or be forced to become the Beast's slave himself (again, this game is quite progressive.)  He can talk to the rose-tending girl on the Isle of the Crown now, and if we take a rose to her as well as the Beast's ring, and can click carefully enough to actually engage the girl in conversation, Alexander has surprisingly little trouble convincing her to escape her evil stepmother and go to the Isle of the Beast to be the monster's wife.  The Beast gives her a new gown and she gives Alexander her old clothes... it all feels a little bit quid pro quo and hasty, but this is a fairy tale world so we presume the precipitous marriage will work out.  At least it seems that Alexander can now sneak into the castle in drag.

Back on the Isle of Mists, Alexander finds a pagan fire ceremony in progress upon his return.  Alexander can get killed here, hoisted as a sacrifice in a cage above the flames; this is one of the most graphic death sequences in any King's Quest game, as our heroic prince reddens and dies of heat exposure and smoke inhalation.  We don't have time to prepare for or avoid this situation, as Alexander gets kidnapped immediately after returning to the Isle of Mists, so we need to be ready before going there again.

Fortunately, circumstances elsewhere in the world have changed to facilitate the approaching endgame.  Ali now has a spell book for sale, which he is willing to trade for another rare book.  We can also talk to the bookworm on the Isle of Wonder now, and learn that he wants us to bring him an interesting article of speech.  On the Isle of the Beast, a possum-like creature calling itself a dangling participle now appears.  This is not great adventure game design -- we just have to travel around and discover these interdependent trading opportunities, with no real guidance or clues.  We give the WHERE? sentence found floating near the Isle of Wonder to this animal, he goes with us to the Isle of Wonder, and we hand him over to the bookworm.  We get the rare book, trade it for the spell book, and we're good to go.  Except that in my playthrough, the game crashed at this point.  Sigh.

Now we can use the spellbook to make rain to extinguish the Druids' fire and save Alexander from gruesome death.  We need the teapot lamp from the lamp seller, per the recipe, it would seem -- except, no, wait, we actually need a lamp with a spout and lid, so it turns out that the original old lamp is the one that works.  And we need "salt water not from the sea," which we can obtain from the baby tears plants on the Isle of Wonder.  Now we can see if the mixture boils over the Druids' fire -- and whoops, in my case I forgot to incant the spell before getting Alexander into trouble.  And I was also missing the "falling water" -- the light rain falling on the Isle of the Mists during the ceremony does not count, apparently.  So it was back to the Isle of the Beast to grab some water from a fountain there.  Now the rain spell puts out the Druid fire, but Alexander still has to beat out the encroaching flames, burning the slave girl's clothes to ashes in the process.  And that means that Alexander is now bound to take the "hard way," closing off the easy route for a more challenging pathway involving the Realm of the Dead.

So it's time to backtrack a bit and explore both routes, for completeness' sake.  This is a rarity in adventure games -- Sierra invested in a lot of content that some gamers would never get to see, so I think it's important to discuss both of them here.

The Easy Route

Alexander can dress in the slave girl's clothing and infiltrate the castle.  He foolishly takes the outfit off in a non-interactive sequence after getting inside, probably to minimize the special animation required, but now if he gets caught, he is thrown into a cell and can do nothing to stop the wedding, so it's game over.  Taking the left staircase upstairs is safest, as the dog guards here are initially chatting and not patrolling effectively.  To avoid them, Alexander must hide in an alcove -- and positioning him in what looks like the right spot is not sufficient, despite the precedent established by earlier KQ games.  We actually have to click on the pillar to get Alexander to hide himself behind it.

We also need the mechanical nightingale at this point, so if we don't have it we need to restore and visit the Pawn Shoppe again before entering the castle.  Setting it up in the hall gets rid of the guards, for a while at least, as they take the novel creature to Princess Cassima, knowing of her love for birds.  Now Alexander can sneak into Al-Hazred's bedroom across the hall, where he finds a piece of paper with ZEBU written on it, some old dice, a locked trunk, and some other items, but he can't take any of these.  Cassima is found locked in a bedroom in the northern hallway, and Alexander can slip her Lady Celeste's dagger under the door.

A nail found behind a painting in the hall allows Alexander to pick the trunk lock in Al-Hazred's room, where he finds an incriminating letter to Abdul Al-Hazred from the wizard Shadrak.  Saladin captures Alexander if he tries to bring the evidence to light before the wedding, so it's better to show the letter to Cassima under the door; she returns it to him after reading and resolving not to go through with the wedding.  (The actress sounds briefly and uncharacteristically Bronxian here, saying, "Alexander! Whaddya sayin'?")

Alexander has to hide from the dog guards again when they return, and put the painting back on the wall so they don't notice anything out of place.  The wedding march starts up after a short wait, and in a continuity glitch, Alexander cries out "Cassima!" when he hears her struggling down the hall, and the guard dogs don't notice him even when they're standing right next to him.  Now Alexander can approach the ceremony and show the letter to Saladin; the dog general allows our hero inside, but we still have to find a way to stop the wedding.

Holding a mirror up to the genie, who is in disguise as a ready and willing Cassima (making one wonder about the Vizier and his genie's role-playing habits), reveals the farce in progress.  It also reveals the genie's name -- Shamir Shamozzle, rather than, say, Hassenpfeffer Incorporated -- and we chase Al-Hazred upstairs for a final battle before rescuing the captive Princess Cassima.

Dang -- now it develops that we need the peppermint leaves from the Isle of the Sacred Mountain to eliminate the Vizier's genie.  I had never obtained them, so I had to restore, backtrack and get them before replaying the endgame up to this point.  Giving the mint leaves to the genie gets him roaring drunk, so much so that he kills himself with his otherwise-fatal-to-Alexander dazzle ball.

Now Alexander can grab a heavy longsword from the wall and battle the Vizier, who has carelessly left a weapon available for the adversary he knew full well might show up.  Alexander fights valiantly but soon tires, presumably exhausted from all the running around and head scratching he's been doing immediately after surviving a shipwreck, with no sleep and only a mint to sustain him.  Fortunately, Cassima has her little dagger handy, and stabs Al-Hazred, but it's easy to miss Alexander's brief opportunity to finally claim victory here, as the fight is mostly animated and non-interactive except for this single critical click.

With the bad guy sent to the graveyard dungeon, the lovers kiss for the first time, and then decide it is convenient to take advantage of the wedding preparations already made.  Jollo the court entertainer gives Cassima away, in this version, since her parents are (still) dead.  Alexander has no family in attendance, either, so it's all a a bit tawdry and below the usual state wedding standards.  But military leader Saladin believes Alexander is good and true, and apparently has the power to nominate Cassima and Alexander as King and Queen; it seems there are no official rules for succession.  It also seems a bad idea to base a country's government on whomever the dog likes, and there are also some loose ends concerning the ongoing inter-island friction.  There are only a few people cheering at the wedding -- the guard dogs and Jollo -- but all ends well.

As the credits roll, we are treated to a cheesy, very 80's-sounding pop song, called "Girl in the Tower" -- Sierra made some efforts to get radio airplay for this tune when the game was released, but I don't imagine they had much success.  We can note several recognized voice actors in the credits, including Russi Taylor of 1980s Strawberry Shortcake cartoon fame.

The Long Way

The endgame is similar, so I'll focus primarily on the big differences from the easy path here.  Having escaped the Druids' wicker cage of certain death, Alexander now has to travel around and put some more spells together, starting by grabbing a cold lump of coal from the Druids' extinguished fire.  (As it turns out, the spellbook isn't really even needed for the easy route -- this was just the point where my easy and hard playthroughs diverged.)

Alexander can now find a teacup in the garden on the Isle of Wonder, and try to obtain some swamp water, causing the stick and the bump to get into an argument.  Unreasonably angered by the stick-in-the-mud's taunts, Alexander attempts to throw a rotten tomato at the stick but misses.  The bump-on-a-log suggests a native needs to throw it, so Alexander gives him another rotten tomato, a brief skirmish ensues, and all of the animated metaphors and similes go to sleep.  Alexander sees a glob of swamp ooze on the log now, and can take it with the teacup, though again it's hard to get the mouse pointer positioned correctly, and the player can miss this easily.

We can also see that the White and Red Queen are at it again.  "Polish THIS, your highness!", the white queen yells, though she has no arms and hence no way to gesture, so the insult isn't terribly effective.  Alexander can give the lump of coal to the White Queen, receiving a rotten egg in exchange, and now the Queens have something new to fight over.

Alexander won't take the glowing embers from the Druids' firepit by hand, but will scoop them up using the skull from the labyrinth.  He also needs a long black hair, available from Cassima's hair ribbon.  With the Charm spell, Alexander can summon a Night Mare (get it?) and travel on horseback to a strange world with pyramids in the background and zombies wandering around.  Here he meets Cassima's parents, posthumously, and obtains a ticket to the underworld, so he can try to talk the Lord of the Dead into sending them back to the land of the living.

On the way to see the Lord of the Dead, Alexander encounters a restless, wailing, oddly buxom spirit who is missing her son.  He is also dead, but his spirit is stuck in the land of the living, and she asks Alexander to help show him the way, presumably because the Prince famously dies often himself.  She gives him a handkerchief to help the boy find his way here.

Alexander soon finds himself back at the "tickets please" scene we always see when he dies, but this time he is alive and can explore and inspect a little bit.  He can play the xylophone at the right side of the screen for laughs, and thereafter obtain a key that falls from the dancing skeleton guard's keyring.

Past the gateway to the underworld, Alexander finds a Knight's skeleton in full armor, with a ribbon and a gauntlet.  Alexander, in Daventry tradition, is happy to rob the dead -- the ribbon is too old to take, but the gauntlet bears a poem about challenging Death, Seventh Seal-style, that hints about future events.  Down the path, Alexander encounters another classic mythology-inspired adventure trope -- the River Styx, piloted by Charon the boatman.  We don't have a lot of time to dawdle here -- Alexander needs to grab some Styx water in the teacup for another spell needed later, then get onboard before an impatient Charon zaps Alexander.  To buy safe passage, we must give him the gold coins taken from the skeleton's eyes in the Minotaur's catacombs.

An evil door sounds like The Secret of Monkey Island's Ghost Pirate LeChuck, though voiced by a different actor.  The door speaks, poseing an old-fashioned riddle:  "My first is foremost legally.  My second circles outwardly.  My third leads all in victory.  My fourth twice ends a nominee.  My whole is this gate's only key."  Erm... I had to turn on the text to make sure I heard that right, as I really didn't want to mess with any demon's... anyway,  L-O-V-E answers the riddle successfully.

H.R. Giger's artwork appears to be an influence on the art style here, as Alexander confronts the Lord of the Dead to seek a favor.  The encounter with this powerful but pathetic figure was my favorite part of the game -- he has heard untold sorrows but has never shed a tear, intoning, "Make me cry, thou man of flesh.  That is my challenge."  A peanut gallery of the spirits comments in the background, sure Alexander will never win the boon he requests.  The Lord of the Dead is not the least bit impressed by mama ghost's handkerchief, or most other items Alexander might be carrying.  But showing him the mirror reawakens his humanity, forcing the Lord of the Dead to face his own eternal enslavement to the throne of Death.  There's some very nice writing here, as the mirror cracks, Death sheds a single tear, and King Calaphim and Queen Alaria are freed, restored to life and returned to the Isle of the Crown along with Alexander.  (Now if only they would do something useful back home, instead of wandering off and waiting for Alexander to take care of everything.)

Alexander can now continue his pursuit of Cassima's hand in marriage.  We need a flower to give the nightingale, but the bird is not interested in the stinky one found on the Isle of the Sacred Mountain.  So we have to obtain another white rose from the Isle of the Beast, and give that to the nightingale.  We can take an optional but informative side excursion here by drinking the "Drink Me" pseudo-poison found on the Isle of Wonder in the Pawn Shoppe, committing apparent suicide.  After Alexander collapses, the old man browsing the shelves reveals himself as the genie in disguise, kicks up his feet, and goes to the Vizier to report.  How Alexander witnesses their conversation remains unclear, but a blue glass genie bottle is visible in the background, a la I Dream of Jeannie.  We can get a matching lamp from the lamp dealer in town, though I never figured out why we would want to; I later learned that because I had earlier failed to befriend Jollo, one possible sub-plot involving the lamp was not available in my playthrough.

The side of the castle is described as "one big blank wall," so this seems like the perfect place for Alexander to use the Magic Paint spell to make a door.  He can't paint using the rabbit's foot, though that seems like it should work, but the Pawn Shoppe's paintbrush works just fine.  We paint the door outline, then cast the spell to create a real door, and Alexander is finally inside the castle, entering on the basement level in this mode.

The lost little boy's spirit is trapped (really, just hanging out) in a dungeon cell here; giving him his mother's handkerchief allows Alexander to learn about a hidden door behind the suit of armor in the hallway.  The boy's final "Farewell!" line is very creepy.  Jollo also lives on this level, but as I had not befriended him, he called the guards, so it proved best not to visit him.

In this area, we have to notice the suit of armor's beckoning right hand, and click carefully on it to open a secret passage.  We can spy on the guards' conversation, as they talk about Princess Cassima trying to escape, and learn the first part of a magic phrase -- ALI, observed by one of the dogs as uttered by the Vizier to the locked door of the Treasure Room.

Further along the secret passage, Alexander can spy on Princess Cassima in her room through a hole in the wall, and the narration informs us that Alexander's palms begin to sweat.  Stay cool, man!  Good grief.  I did this too early on my first attempt -- we need to have this conversation with Cassima a bit later, as after they talk, a scuffle ensues and she is dragged out of sight.

Alexander can also spy on the Vizier's room, where "Alexander hears the sound of scratching" as Al-Hazred -- whew! -- is seen writing a letter.  Conveniently, he speaks aloud as he is writing, which made me wonder if he was actually writing out, "the lovely -- Ha ha ha ha! - Cassima."

The Vizier also mentions that he plans to stage "another accident," killing the Princess following the wedding to consolidate his power, and then... ack!  In my playthrough, the old KQV "Out of handles!" error strikes again!

We can enter the Vizier's room through a wardrobe closet accessible from the secret passage, and again find the word ZEBU written on a paper in a box on the table; this was not useful along the easy path, but is handy this time around.  Alexander can use the skeleton key from the Land of the Dead to open the Vizier's trunk and get the incriminating letter, giving it and the dagger to Cassima before she is dragged out of sight.  This is another case where the point-and-click interface is much less flexible than a type-in parser -- fortunately, clicking on Cassima with the dagger gives it to her as intended, instead of stabbing her as might have been the case.

Alexander doesn't bother himself about Cassima's struggle for the moment, instead using the magic phrase ALI ZEBU to open the Treasure Room door.  Here, he finds all the missing royal treasures stolen from the other Isles -- the Beast's coat of arms, the singing stone, the golden fleece, and the sacred miniature oaks.  Despite the lack of any credible chain-of-evidence data, the narration presumes the Vizier and his genie are responsible; this seems likely, and would explain why the islands' rulers are irrationally feuding.

Alexander has to be careful here, again, as he can be thrown into the dungeon to rot if he runs into any guard dogs before the wedding music starts from upstairs.  Once the ceremony begins, he must avoid one last guard, make his way upstairs, and show the letter to Saladin as in the easy path. 

From here on, the hard and easy routes are fairly similar.  This time, Cassima's parents are present and reveal the Vizier's plot -- why they waited until the wedding was underway instead of doing something immediately after returning from the dead remains a mystery.  It seems that King Calaphim could simply have retaken his crown and given Al-Hazred the boot.

But that's not a very exciting climax, so we get to go through the same revelations and battle sequence -- and dang it, I discovered that I had once again forgotten the mint leaves from the Isle of the Sacred Mountain, so I had to restore and obtain them before entering the castle.  As before, the genie zaps himself, Cassima stabs Al-Hazred, Alexander finishes him off in non-fatal fashion, and the lovers celebrate their new union.

So the long route takes us to the same ending, generally, but it's a happier and more satisfying conclusion -- Alexander appears to slip Cassima a little tongue during a more intense kiss, and King Calaphim formally passes the crown on to Cassima and Alexander.  Alexander's family still doesn't show up, and he states that he will miss them, but he loves Cassima and is anxious to fulfill his duties as ruler of the Green Isles.  (He doesn't seem very put out; he also probably remembers that they didn't come looking for him for YEARS, back when he was imprisoned by the wizard Manannan in King's Quest III.)

Whew!  That was a lot of territory to cover, and working through it felt more like work than I would have liked.  King's Quest VI is a lengthy game, and it's probably best sampled in smaller doses.  But I will press on, taking a look (someday) at King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride, the final 2-D King's Quest and the penultimate entry in Roberta Williams' popular series.


  1. So, if you do befriend Jollo, and get him to switch the lamps, you can befriend/take ownership of the genie instead of killing him, and then I believe he teleports Graham and Valanice to the wedding...

  2. That makes sense -- now that you mention it, I could have sworn I saw an ending with the whole family present when I played this game originally on the easy path. Thanks!