With the news a few months back that Telltale Games will be producing a brand-new official King's Quest adventure, it's a good time to play what most adventure gamers would consider the last "real" entry in Roberta Williams' seminal 3-D adventure game series at Sierra Online: King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride. (There was a King's Quest VIII: Mask of Eternity, but it was more of a 3-D action RPG than a traditional adventure game.)
Longtime readers will observe that it's taken me a while to get around to this one, largely because I found myself fervently hoping it would be shorter and less convoluted than the (in my opinion) overblown King's Quest VI. And it is indeed -- there are still some tricky and obscure puzzles, but the design prefigures the modern episodic adventure era by dividing the story into six chapters, each a complete adventure in itself. These chapters can be played independently, so if one gets hopelessly stuck, one can just start at the beginning of the next chapter, giving even novice players a chance to experience most of the story.
I really like this structure -- the episodes are playable in several hours each, and the tighter plotting imposed by the chapter structure lends itself to better storytelling. I like the looser, funnier characters a lot too -- this entry in the venerable series plays it less "straight" than its predecessors, thanks to a solid script by Lorelei Shannon, but the style is still in keeping with the King's Quest universe.
A technical caveat is worth mentioning here: KQ VII's flexible structure came in especially handy during my playthrough, because I foolishly used the version included with Universal Vivendi's King's Quest Collection set, which as packaged runs under Windows XP. I was able to get it running under Windows Vista by invoking backward-compatibility features; even then, the animated intro cannot be watched from inside the game engine, so we have to access an AVI version in a subfolder (and resist the urge to skip ahead to the ending cartoon also stored there.) With these adjustments out of the way, I soldiered along successfully through most of the game, until I ran into a puzzling problem in Chapter 5 (details are in the spoilers section below.)
The issue turned out to be a CPU-sensitive timing bug in the original design, which, unlike Sierra's self-adjusting animation and music technology, caused a specific event countdown to happen way too quickly on a modern PC, allowing no time for the player to react. To solve the problem, I had to download and install a substantial "upgrade" package which allowed the game to run under good old speed-adjustable DOSBox. And as my existing Windows engine saves were not compatible with the DOS engine, I was relieved I could get by with a replay starting at Chapter 5, though I still had to repeat a number of actions I had taken care of earlier than required in my original playthrough attempt.
The story this time around leaves King Graham and Prince Alexander back in Daventry, and focuses on the female members of Roberta Williams' royal family. The animated intro begins with a Disney-esque opening song performed by Princess Rosella, followed by a dialogue scene in which Queen Valanice insists that it time for her daughter to start thinking about getting married. Rosella claims she is not ready, and proves it by allowing a flying seahorse and an intriguing underwater glow to tempt her into a deep pond:
An alarmed Queen Valanice follows her daughter into a massive whirlpool, but fails to rescue her as a beefy, Popeye-like cartoon arm grabs her, and our story is underway.
The style of this game is more modern but less realistic than the VGA-era King's Quests -- the art design has a cartoon look, with lush hi-res backgrounds and detailed character sprites. The look works quite well and is more unified than the early VGA-era Sierra games, although sprite scaling is still noisy and pixelated with no smoothing algorithms. I also ran into a bug at one point where the background "mask" registration slipped, leaving black outlines visible around "layers" of the drawing.
Roberta Williams' storytelling is considerably streamlined in this game, with fewer unnecessary conversations and a lot more humor and hinting. The interface design borrows heavily from Lucasarts' book -- there isn't any traditional narration, and the characters don't comment at length on items either, leaving the series' text adventure roots behind. Our heroines can still die, but the game now has automatic checkpoints to simplify play, allowing us to pick up immediately before each fatal mistake to avoid those frustrating replays.
The game interface is even more simplified than Sierra's earlier point-and-click designs -- there are no longer any action icons to cycle through, just a single wand, except in the inventory screen, where we can look at items by picking them up and dropping them on the eye icon, or combine them by dropping them onto each other. There's also a panning slider available for viewing some of the wider panoramic backgrounds, though in practice it feels less artificial to just walk around and explore that way.
The vocal performances are quite good, and many dialogue sequences feature line-specific animation, so the acting is much more interesting to watch than the stiff, basic lip-synch of KQ V and VI. However, the animation draftsmanship is uneven -- it moves fairly well, but still frames often look weirdly off-model. Here, Rosella's left hand appears to be losing its bone structure:
As always, at this point I will urge interested readers to step away and play King's Quest VII for themselves before proceeding here. Past this point, I will be covering the entire game and giving away a number of plot points and puzzle solutions (though there are alternate solutions to some puzzles, so mine is not the only possible path.) My intent is always to examine an adventure game's innovations, flaws and place in the history of the art form, with details and examples. There's a lot of text ahead, as well, so I'll place it below the fold this week. In other words, there will be plentiful...
***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****
CHAPTER 1 - "Where in Blazes Am I?"
The game begins with Queen Valanice landing in a desert environment reminiscent of Chuck Jones' Road Runner cartoons, with Princess Rosella nowhere in sight. The animation here is a bit misleading -- it looks like Queen Valanice intentionally tears off part of her gown, before she says "Blast!" We're meant to understand that the cloth has been accidentally torn off on a nearby cactus, but at first one fears for her sanity, or at least her modesty.
There's a fairly complex puzzle in the neighborhood -- Valanice must manipulate jewels on a Buddha-like statue above a salt-water well with something visible at the bottom. We can change the statue's head to two different styles, collect some salt crystals at the well's edge, and pick up a stick lying on the ground. Clearly we will need some more information to figure out what we're supposed to do here.
In an ancient temple, Valanice must use the fragment of cloth from her skirt, and a stick, to make a flag and "toreador" a giant scorpion, which tries to attack and gets its stinger stuck in the wall. This situation eventually expires, freeing the scorpion and forcing Valanice to flee, but it buys her some time to examine a puzzle in the tomb. We must mouse around until we find a clickable switch, and then place colored gems to reflect and focus a light beam. I didn't discover any principle to this puzzle -- trial and error suffices to put the three stones where the game wants them to be. Doing this yields a stone arrow required to open a cave nearby.
Valanice can also explore the wider desert, with music reminiscent of the desert theme from KQ V; here she encounters a strange, eternally thirsty phantom nomad, who resembles a zombie but is apparently a ghost. She can't seem to follow him, and giving him salt water just ticks him off -- but if we click on him in time, before he wanders offscreen, Valanice says "Excuse me, Sir" and can talk to him briefly. There's a hunting horn by a skeleton -- we may presume both belonged to this gentleman in a former life.
A recipe carved on a stone wall seems to indicate that poison water + drops + upside down bowl + empty beaker will yield something of interest. Actually, the drops are stones in the third column from the left on the puzzle statue's collar. Another recipe shows a poison beaker + tears + what looks like a paddle + corn, used to yield drinkable water. We find a small basket and four clay pots in a nearby cave -- unfortunately, most of the pots break when Valanice tries to get them, but the fourth one stays intact (no matter which order she touches them in, so this is just a little gag by the designers.) She can then collect salt water from the well in a pot, and pour it into the statue's bowl.
We must also collect a prickly pear from a cactus near the statue, and make note of some damp sand where water is dripping from a cave. The hunting horn can be used to blow a jackalope out of his hole, so that we can retrieve a rat's glasses. (Roberta's sense of puzzle design remains a bit random and unpredictable.)
The rat won't chat with Valanice at any length, he just wants to trade, offering useless (but rhyming) junk in exchange for most items. Showing him Rosella's golden comb, lost in the chaos, yields another worthless offer of blue mold, but does provide some important information -- we learn that Rosella is rumored to be with the Troll King, "to the west and far below." We can also now snag some jackalope fur from the cactus near his hole, if we didn't notice it hanging there before.
I got stuck here for a bit, unsure of what to do next, because I didn't realize that we actually have to rotate inventory items (in a pre-rendered three-dimensional view) to see some critical details -- in this case, more thoroughly examining the basket reveals that it has a corn kernel in it. We can plant it in the damp spot to grow ears of corn instantly; once we give the statue an ear of corn, it holds onto it and will not let it go. So that must be one of the right things to do. A nearby gourd also opens up with a loose seed that we can trade to the rat for a turquoise bead. See what they did there?
Queen Valanice is an interesting heroine -- and she's not always quite polite, which is refreshing after watching King Graham and Prince Alexander kowtow overmuch to everyone they meet. And it's nice to see her doing more than sitting in a tower or a throne room.
Back to solving the puzzles. The recipe apparently indicates that we need tears -- and we can make Valanice make herself cry with Rosella's comb. Now we can freshen the salt water from the well, and give it to the phantom nomad. He is grateful, and gives Valanice a bottle of bug reducing powder, which can be used to shrink the temple scorpion to normal, non-threatening size, though none of this is really necessary.
I got stuck again for a bit, and had to resort to a walkthrough to learn that one of the cryptic drawings on the cave wall has to do with draining the well. Experimentation while I was temporarily delayed discovered that if Valanice drinks the fresh water herself to survive longer in the desert, eventually a whirlwind comes along and dries her to dust, rather graphically.
The walkthrough helped me realize I needed to hunt down a tiny active spot on the statue's other wrist to dump out the water, and that bead positioning on the statue's neck has nothing to do with the freshwater conversion. We need to manipulate the statue so it's sporting its sun-god head, and turn its wrist over -- the pool now drains so we can explore it.
At the bottom of the well is an ancient idol holding an offering bowl, and Valanice gets punished by drowning if she steals from it. While it's nice to see that these royals are finally being treated like ordinary citizens, it's better to avoid le deluge by putting the turquoise bead into the bowl first, so we can take one of the puzzle pieces stashed there in exchange.
Now we can fill in the cave tunnel puzzle, enter the tunnel -- and witness a major cliffhanger, as a giant salamander attacks Queen Valanice! And the story segues into...
CHAPTER 2 - "A Troll Is As A Troll Does"
We now rejoin Princess Rosella, who wakes up in the Troll King's chambers and is rather surprised to find she has been turned into a troll herself. In the community cavern, Rosella meets a female troll named Mathilde, whose voice for some reason is not particularly well-acted or recorded. But she tells us that she can turn Rosella back into a human if we bring her five items: baked beetles, a crystal dragon scale, a gold bowl, water of emerald, and a silver spoon. So there's some item collecting ahead.
Some troll men are asleep in a mud-filled hot tub. Listening to them, Rosella learns that the game's villainess, Malicia, is a human woman in the spirit of Cruella deVille, with a small dog and a black fur coat and hat, rumored by the trolls to be from the world above.
In the kitchen, the chef happily prepares a variety of disgusting dishes, until he notices Rosella hiding in the corner and throws her out. But if we use a toy rat to distract him, he chases the tasty morsel into the next room, giving Rosella an opportunity to snag the baked beetles and a gold bowl (avoiding the similar but useless brass bowl.)
There's a lava/mud stream mining operation in the caves, with a shaky chair elevator that's not accessible until later in the chapter. A beefy troll guards the bridge, and demands a thousand pieces of lead and a rat on a stick for passage. There's a wagon parked up the nearby hill that, it appears, could be used to knock him out of the way, but it only has three wheels, so we need to fix this wagon before we can fix his. The shield near the Troll King's throne could work as a wheel, but we need a pin of some kind to attach it to the axle -- close examination reveals that there's a spike on the shield that we can remove and use to lock the shield in place as a wheel. Now Rosella can ride the wagon to knock the troll out of the way.
Past the troll lies a very pretty crystal cavern, home of a large snoring and sighing crystalline dragon. The giant beast cries copious tears, but they don't seem to crystallize. So we must have to make other arrangements on this front.
We can also visit the troll forge, where the fire is VERY hot and the blacksmith won't let Rosella borrow the tongs, asking her for a smooch though she clearly finds him repellent. We find a mallet and a spoon mold here as well, and a polite troll jeweler toiling away in his workshop.
Below the forge is a cavern with some chunks of sulfur on the wall and pools of phosphorescent goo (the water of emerald) we can collect in the gold bowl. There is a lantern on the far side of a field of lava pillars with a remarkable updraft. Rosella can jump across these pillars, but some apparently possible routes are fatal, and the auto-checkpoint system comes in very handy as she finds her way across to claim the lantern.
Revisiting the mud pit, we find some troll women bathing there, and can listen to their gossip to learn that wet sulphur placed in a fire puts trolls to sleep. Now we can put the blacksmith to sleep, borrowing his equipment to pick up, cool and de-mold a silver spoon. That's one item down, and we also note that Rosella is more conscientious than her father and brother -- we can't take the tongs along, but have to return them to the forge.
We can capture a spark from the forge in Rosella's lantern -- this turns out to be the practical kind of spark that the crystal dragon is missing, and can be used to light her fire, literally. There's a nice lyrical interlude here as the revived dragon soars into the air, although the primitive CG animation here is not very good or expressive. The winged serpent promises to give Rosella a scale when she returns, and gives her a big gem now.
We can take the big gem to the troll jeweler, who gives Rosella his old hammer and chisel now that he can buy a new one; while we can't wake the exhausted dragon after she returns, we can use these tools to grab a scale (as long as Rosella avoids the dangers posed by her drowsily thrashing tail.)
Now that Rosella has collected all the ingredients, Mathilde prepares the promised spell, and after a few comical misfires, Rosella is human again, creating yet more work for the animators. The evil Malicia shows up, of course, and despite King Otar's protestations, imprisons Rosella in her room. Rosella can stack furniture and move a portrait on the wall to escape through a tunnel -- for some reason she couldn't do that as troll-Rosella earlier -- and when she emerges, she finds a silver pellet and a dragon toad.
Rosella finds Malicia abusing Mathilde, and if we show the dragon toad to the downtrodden troll, we learn that this is the real King Otar, and she gives us a rope to use with the elevator. Malicia manifests briefly, mostly so we can learn that she is scared of bats, rats and vermin. We can thus use the toy rat when she tries to block Rosella's path out of the mine -- using the rope, Rosella rises up the elevator shaft, screams at something unseen by the player, and we're on to...
CHAPTER 3 - "The Sky Is Falling!"
We rejoin Queen Valanice in dire straits -- but if she feeds the giant salamander the prickly pear from Chapter 1, the threatening amphibian goes away. (If she didn't pick it up earlier, we can still return to the desert area and track it down. No unforeseeable deathtraps this time around!)
Exploring the lush forest nearby, we encounter the majestic stag Attis, who advises the Queen that these woods are cursed. We also learn that he was once human, but now he is a stag and his wife, Ceres, a.k.a. Mother Nature, has been transformed into a tree. He is surprised that a noble of Etheria has the power to reach this land, and warns Valanice of the dangerous werefolk lurking in the woods to the west; he informs her that she can buy a salve in the village of Falderal that will allow her to pass through safely.
Valanice has to jump across some rocks to reach a huge spiderweb, with potentially fatal missteps that make the game's instant-recovery feature very handy indeed. A creepy spider who sounds like Peter Lorre (or Ren Hoek, depending on one's frame of pop-culture reference) has trapped a hummingbird in its web. Roberta Williams' ethics always ask us to favor the cute over the creepy, regardless of the actual workings of nature, so if we catch the arachnid in a box we can free the bird and clear Valanice's path past the web.
Valanice approaches the huge door of the Village of Falderal, where a Pythonesque exchange ensues as the door's guardian demands she deliver the Holy One-Ton Tomato of Antioch to gain entry; Valanice calls him on it, declaring that there's no such thing and displaying considerably more backbone than King Graham ever did. She can enter a smaller door to the side to visit the cartoon town of Falderal, where the local authority is a French poodle named Archduke Yip-Yap, a bull named Ferdinand runs the china shop, and Chicken Little runs around in a constant panic while everybody ignores her.
Valanice (once again employing her daughter's comb as a conversation piece) gives the Archduke her sob story, quite literally in this case as he bursts into tears and allows her to explore the village. Yip-Yap's birthday masquerade ball is in the offing, and Ferdinand has a mask for sale at the price of eighty gold pieces; Valanice has no money, but if she recovers his beloved china bird, recently stolen from its cage, perhaps something can be worked out. Valanice mentions that she is afraid to breathe in the china shop, as everything looks so fragile, but blowing the big hunting horn here does nothing interesting.
An odd, fishy con man pushes various kinds of merchandise from a ramshackle kiosk, and has the china bird concealed in a cage nearby; Valanice can talk to the bird to confirm that she wants to go home to Fernando. Valanice can now spirit the bird away, get the mask, enter the Archduke's party, and sneak into the back castle area, designed with an M.C. Escher vibe including crazy staircases and upside-down rooms. We can read parts of a tarnished poem, open a drawer only to see the bag within fall up to the ceiling, and go through a funhouse mirror to re-enter the room properly oriented and pick it up. There's a magic statuette in the Archduke's office -- Valanice can use Rosella's comb on it to see a cutscene of Rosella riding the elevator up from the land of the trolls.
Valanice also needs to snag a wooden nickel from the mockingbird's nest in the town square, and visit the Faux Shop, a novelty store which is sometimes open for business and sometimes not even there; it can be made to appear by eating some salt outside its door. She can purchase a book entitled The Wit and Wisdom of Falderal using the wooden nickel, and trade her masquerade mask for a rubber chicken (without a pulley in the middle, adventure game fans will note.) Longtime Sierra fans will also spot the chic Two Guys from Andromeda sunglasses and nosewear on display, which are unfortunately not for sale:
Valanice will also witness Chicken Little's prophecy fulfilled, in a manner of speaking, as a chunk of green cheese falls from the sky and lands in the town square's reflecting pool. Valanice can't quite reach it from the edge of the pool, setting up another puzzle for later.
I got hung up here for a while, and had to consult a walkthrough to discover that I'd missed another area to explore to east of the spiderweb. There's a giant snoring face here, built out of moss-covered boulders -- we can make it sneeze by hitting it twice with the feather, but that just blows Valanice back to the bridge area the first time, and all the way back to the nomad's skeleton in the desert if she persists in annoying the rock spirit. The walkthrough indicates that we need to talk to Attis the stag some more, so that we can properly introduce ourselves -- now the stone spirit tells Valanice she needs to put sacred nectar into the statues' cornucopiae near the riverbed to get the river flowing again, and bring sacred food to restore the river's healing powers.
If Queen Valanice talks to the hummingbirds, they pour a huge amount of nectar out of one flower, which Valanice can collect in the clay pot found earlier.
Once the sacred river flows again, Attis is freed and becomes human, but Ceres is revived in severely damaged form, and in danger. Attis must try to save her before he can further assist Valanice, so we need to help him out.
The green cheese from the "moon" incident counts as the sacred food, but we have to return to Chapter 1 territory and visit the kangaroo rat again to trade the book bought at the Faux Shop for a crook so we can retrieve it from the reflecting pool. Once Valanice retrieves the green cheese, she is promptly arrested by the Archduke's troops for stealing the moon and other crimes unspecified.
CHAPTER 4 - "Will the Real Troll King Please Stand Up?"
Our focus turns back to Rosella, as she arrives above ground to find herself in a cemetery, in the creepy world of Ooga-Booga. The gravedigger helps her out of a hole in the ground with his shovel, then gets back to work, complaining about his primary tool's quality.
The cemetery has its comical elements, in the King's Quest tradition; Rosella can fall into an open grave, causing the tombstone to change to read, "Rosella - Rest In Peace." A crypt displays a skull, bat, and spider on its door; similar symbols are spraypainted on the ruined chapel to the west. A shadow dog appears, barks, and vanishes on the wall; at first he seems to be there for atmosphere, but there's a related puzzle to solve later on.
The lower cemetery section features a weeping female phantom, a flying horseman, and a dangerous toothy monster. If Rosella tries to talk to the weeping lady, she reveals her face and scares the princess to death. Rosella will also see a bratty kid monster spraying graffiti, and meet the semi-collapsed Dr. Mort Cadaver. The good Doctor has given away his spine to a needy patient, and he can't (literally) stand up to these ruffians. In a nod to 90's pop culture, a rather creepy mouse, in the Doctor's office for "attitude adjustment," asks Rosella if she has any fava beans.
The bratty urchins live in a nifty Jack-o'-lantern treehouse. Rosella can try to climb up the "ropes" that drape its lower reaches, but will discover that these are actually web strands, fatally guarded by a giant spider. There's a rope/bucket elevator that can be used as long as the occupants are out; in the treehouse, Rosella must work quickly to find a foot in a bag and Dr. Cadaver's backbone, while avoiding a fatal jack-in-the-box.
Revisiting the gravedigger establishes that he needs an animal to drive his rat-powered grave digging machine; the Doctor gives Rosella a strange pet after she gives him the backbone (and he's much taller now too.) Rosella can offer the odd animal to the Ooga Booga treehouse kids, but if she goes up there herself, she is attacked. Instead, she can send the critter in, and the gravekeeper's loving pet rat is allowed to escape from his erstwhile kidnappers.
When Rosella returns the rat to the gravedigger, he gives her a horn -- she must blow it wherever she wants him to come and dig a grave. She can take his old shovel too, and free a poor cat from the brats' torments by opening a sealed mini-coffin with the chisel -- the grateful, freed animal gives her one of its lives, and advises Rosella to seek advice from the creature buried beneath the deadfall. We can get the gravedigger to dig a hole there, and we land in front of a large padlocked coffin which we can't open with the chisel.
We can, however, use the symbols engraved on its surface to open the combination lock, using the bat/skull/spider combination seen earlier. Inside, Rosella discovers the REAL Troll King Otar, secreted away by Malicia with an impostor in his place underground. Unfortunately, Malicia shows up immediately and locks BOTH Rosella and the King in the coffin. Rosella can use the dragon toad to dig out, and travel in disguise with the King magically transformed into a scarab beetle.
The Doc advises Rosella to get out of Ooga-Booga as fast as she can. Malicia's gargoyle is on the hunt, and if we turn the King back to himself prematurely we are caught. The area south of the treehouse contains a moss monster -- the Doc gives Rosella a defoliant to dispel this foe. A carnivorous plant a la Audrey II presents the next obstacle -- it's prone to eating Rosella, ending up with a crown on its head like in the old margarine TV commercials.
We must enter Malicia's abode to find the secret of defeating her. The gargoyle out front tends to sound the alarm, so we can't stick around the front of the house too long. Exploration in back of the house establishes that we're on the other side of the Werewood, though we can't pass through it either and it seems Valanice will have to come this way.
I had to consult a walkthrough to learn that we can throw the foot-in-a-bag to distract the plant; it's a very Little Shop of Horrors puzzle in retrospect, and I really should have thought of that on my own. We can pluck a fragrant flower, which doesn't seem to distract the gargoyle's sensitive nose successfully; the death commentary once again hints that we should just avoid this stone guardian.
We can go around to the back of Malicia's house, move some vines, and dig to enlarge the hole thus discovered. Rosella emerges in Malicia's bedroom, and we overhear the villainess talking to her dog Cuddles about her "miserable, dreary house." But Rosella gets zapped if she tries to climb out of the floor too soon, yet Cuddles sniffs her out if she hides. The fragrant flower doesn't help here, either, but Rosella can shoot some defoliant up the pooch's nose to get rid of both Cuddles and his mistress. Searching the room, we find a mysterious magic device (as mentioned earlier by King Otar) in Malicia's drawer, and can keep one of her woolen stockings, too, after spending entirely too much time going through her lingerie.
Rosella can use the stocking with the silver pellet she minted in the Troll Kingdom as a sling against the werewolf in the werewood. The other eyes in the woods vanish and flee, but one last claw steals the black robe as Rosella emerges on the other side of the forest, where we have been with Valanice earlier.
Arriving in Falderal, Rosella learns that her mother has been arrested. She can enter the Archduke's house, where the mirror Valanice used to get around is now boarded up. Rosella uses the stocking (occasionally adventure game items do serve multiple purposes) to clean the tarnished plaque Valanice saw earlier. The revealed text indicates that the Cherub statue wants fruit; we can chisel a golden grape off the decor, revealing a gateway that Rosella cannot open herself.
But if she transforms Otar back into himself, he opens the gate, and our heroes escape underground back to the Troll kingdom in Vulcanix. A fight between the once and future King Otar and the impostor King begins... as the story shifts focus into...
CHAPTER 5 - "Nightmare in Etheria"
Valanice is sentenced (after much over-the-top debate) to make good on her presumed crimes by putting the moon back into the sky. The fast-talking fish salesman is back, and wants Archduke Yip-Yap's nymph statuette, suggesting that it may have belonged to Titania, Queen of the Fairies, and setting up a theme for this chapter. In exchange for the statuette, he gives Valanice the werebeast salve, which she must mix with animal fur to transform so she can sneak through the werewood. The rabbit fur from the jackalope back in Chapter 1 will suffice.
But before Queen Valanice can continue her quest, she still has to replace the moon. The Faux Shop dealer Ersatz wants something fake; Fernando has nothing to add; and the door to the Archduke's home is now locked. So this is the puzzle most deserving of our immediate attention. She can throw the cheese up into the air, but it always falls back down. A branch on a tree in the town square catches her attention, and she can use the rubber chicken to make a slingshot suitable of returning the cheese to from whence it came (or at least sending it out of Falderal, which seems to satisfy the local authorities.)
With nature apparently thrown out of balance, the local volcano starts smoking, and there's no time to waste. Valanice transforms into a jackalope, races through the wereforest (which is only one screen as it turns out!) and ends up by Malicia's house where Rosella ventured earlier. The restored Attis pops in to destroy another swamp monster for the queen, allowing her to safely reach Doc Cadaver's house.
The Doc has no new information for her, but a black cat tells us that Rosella is trapped in the Volcano, and Valanice needs to get to Etheria, hinting that the headless horseman should be able to help. We can't seem to intercept him -- he races through from time to time, generally either missing Valanice by a hair's-breadth or trampling her to death in his haste.
Valanice can sneak into the bratty kids' treehouse, and steal a femur bone from the mummy resting against a wall. I ran into a game-ending hangup at this point, as the kids return and Valanice must escape, but I had no issues on a second try. In Valanice's presence, the creepy silhouetted dog phantom emerges from the shadow; if she gives him the mummy's femur bone, he reveals himself as the headless horseman's dog, and gives us a medal that used to belong to the mad cavalier. Now Valanice can give the medal to the weeping lady at the horseman's tomb; she vanishes, but the horseman's crypt is still locked up tight.
Here's where a major King's Quest VII timing bug came home to roost. Valanice can take a lit firecracker left behind by the bratty kids; it's apparently powerful enough to blast open the horseman's crypt, but once we've taken it, it explodes in very short order, killing our heroine. And the otherwise friendly You Have Expired resumption of gameplay just prior to this fatal mishap consistently comes too late to be of much help; Valanice can barely take a pixel's step before blowing up again. And if we choose NOT to try again, returning to the previous auto-save, Valanice still starts with the firecracker fatally in hand, so we cannot avoid this situation.
As I mentioned above, the problem turns out to be that, unlike the music and animation code in Sierra' games, this timer is tied directly to the system's CPU. On a modern machine, it counts down so quickly that Valanice can only take a fraction of a step before she's blown up again. At first I assumed I had stumbled across some other sort of defect, and began replaying the adventure starting at Chapter 5; due to the game's episodic but loosely overlapping structure, I also had to restore the river of life and retrieve the jackalope fur all over again.
But when I got to the critical moment, I STILL couldn't survive the firecracker bug. So I had to download a substantial patch from Universal Vivendi allowing me to run the game in a more natural-speed emulated DOSBox shell. I was back in business, but lost a couple of hours dealing with this!
NOW Valanice can take the firecracker, blow the Count's crypt open, and find his skull inside. What to do with it now? She can give it to him when he first comes onscreen during one his hell-for-leather passes (trying to do it later is too late, as she gets run down by him almost immediately.) Reunited with his wife, the weeping phantom, he gives Valanice his fife and sends her to the fabled land of Etheria on his trusty (and much calmed) horse.
Etheria looks like the land of Rainbow Brite, but it wouldn't be a King's Quest game if we weren't up in the clouds at some point, I guess. Valanice picks some ambrosia, and can get eaten by a nightmare beast in a cave. There are some fairies flitting about -- if we give them ambrosia, some music plays, and one fairy appears to leave, but the group seems to reform at full strength with no other visible result.
I had to resort to assistance to learn that there's another accessible area north of the fairies room; it's hard to spot with the room's dense cloud cover. If we play the first four notes of the fairies' song (that's what that was all about!) on a magical harp here, a gazing ball warps Valanice to the plane of the Fates. Time for a little classical faerie lore here, as Valanice learns that Oberon and Titania are off in search of their lost child, and we must visit Mab, Queen of the Fairies, for assistance.
To reach Mab in Dreamland, Valanice must sleep, which she can only do in Dr. Cadaver's office. Exiting Etheria presents a bit of a challenge; Valanice finds herself in a room with four different rainbow exits, each going to a different place. I went all the way back to the desert, and got killed by a werebeast in the forest, but continuation after death puts us closer to the other edge so Valanice can get through to Ooga Booga instead of being forced back toward Falderal. Valanice can't just use the Doc's coffin, we have to ask him to help her with a bad case of insomnia first.
Valanice soon wakes up in a Dali-esque Dreamland, and finds Mab frozen in ice. What now? We can't look in the gazing ball again, apparently... oh, right, we have to play the appropriate tune to unlock it each time. This time, the Fates tell Valanice to visit the Lady of Spring, Flowers and Forest, a.k.a. Lady Ceres! Ambrosia, per classical convention, is the food of the gods; if Valanice puts some in the cornucopia by the River of Life, she gets a pomegranate in exchange.
For some reason, Attis appears to be relaxing, but Ceres (in her tree form) is still bleeding. Valanice can use the pomegranate to restore her quickly (and a large, suspiciously overlaid-looking branch kicks into animation as she transforms back into her human self.)
Ceres tells Valanice she needs to fill a crystal shaft with sunlight to unfreeze Mab, but she cannot take anything physical with her into the dream realm while she is asleep. Then she starts restoring life to the forest, and becomes too busy to tell us how to get there while awake -- she suggests we talk to the Three Fates again. So we traipse back there (another King's Quest tradition that unfortunately persists seven games in) and learn we should seek the Fates' nephew, the Weaver of Dreams. They give Valanice a traditional dreamcatcher, and inform her that he surrounds himself with the terrors of night.
We can use the dreamcatcher to clear the nasty beast from the cave in Etheria, and meet the fabled Weaver of Dreams inside. He's a bit of a slacker; he gives Valanice a magic carpet, another KQ staple, which allows her to travel to the land of dreams, and use the captured nightmare (the cave beast) to counteract another. She has to visit Malicia's house to get a crystal shaft from her lamp, return to the temple in Chapter 1's desert to charge it in a bright beam of light, and then unfreeze Mab, who it develops was enchanted by Malicia; our villainess' evil apparently really gets around.
Mab gives Valanice yet more cryptic advice, urging her to "Send the winds to find the King and Queen." This turns out to mean that Valanice can mount Etheria's wild wind steed Sirocco, and ride it to the top of the mountain of wind with a magic bridle provided by Mab. At least in theory; this is a point-and-click precision challenge, as Valanice must hide a bit out of sight, and it's rather difficult to actually harness the fast-moving wind horse with the bridle.
Valanice now travels to realm of the wind; the local authority, Lord Levander, sends the four winds to find the Lord and Lady of Etheria, and we learn that an urgent volcano meeting is going on in the Town Hall of Falderal. And events are reaching a boiling point along with the volcano, as we embark upon...
CHAPTER 6 - "Ready, Set... BOOM!"
Finally we approach the home stretch -- all of the settings and characters have been introduced, most of the puzzles have been solved, and everything wraps up in fairly short order, compared to the preceding five chapters.
As the curtain rises, Rosella has to transform the impostor Troll King back into his natural form. I thought this was a timing puzzle, but it's not just a matter of spotting and casting a spell on the right Otar -- I needed a hint to learn that we have to manipulate the wand, rotating its pre-rendered 3-D image in the inventory screen to get the F end operational. Ta-da! The impostor turns out to be Rosella's old friend Edgar, from KQ IV! Presumably he has been kidnapped and forced into service by Malicia, conveniently turning up just in time to provide an otherwise unforeseeable romantic happy ending here.
Her scheme revealed, Malicia sends Rosella to the interior of the volcano in a fit of magical pique (why she didn't just drop her straight into the lava remains a mystery of villainous inefficiency) and knocks the genuine Troll King unconscious The Night Mare picks up Valanice, though the Queen won't really do much in this chapter beyond arriving in time for the happy ending. Rosella digs out through a weak spot in the Volcano wall and escapes through a tunnel. There's a face puzzle on a door here, which can be unlocked with the same combination used in Chapter 4 by King Otar. Past the door, Rosella pries a boulder out of the way, and uses it as a ramp to obtain a pungent flower.
Next, Rosella uses the flower like smelling salts on the unconscious Troll King, who wakes up and conveniently stops the volcano from erupting by flipping a switch apparently designed for just such emergencies. Then Valanice arrives, and Rosella can use the mysterious device snagged from Malicia's house in Chapter 4 on the villainess herself when she comes in. At first I thought we couldn't seem to use it in time -- but we just have to plug it in and charge it first.
With the device engaged at full power, Malicia is transformed into a helpless infant by Rosella's attack; we must then use the black cat's extra life on the unconscious Edgar to restore him to health (there is the possibility of a less-happy ending here.) Edgar, of course, turns out to be the son of the Lord and Lady of Etheria, Oberon and Titania, which seems to be the case primarily so the artists can make him royal and handsome, instead of the more interesting sensitive hunchback he was back in King's Quest IV.
With heroes blessed and villains cursed, the game is over -- we watch another Disney-esque animated video clip as Edgar and Rosella get romantic over a reprise of the opening's corny song. As the end credits roll, we note that there aren't as many name actors in the voice cast this time around -- Denny Delk is one of the few I recognized, based on his other videogame work. When the credits finish rolling, the game shuts down completely and we are back at the blinking DOS prompt, pregnant with possibility.
I did enjoy playing King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride, but it's still a pretty plot-heavy game compared to the lighter Lucasarts fare it clearly means to mimic, and it becomes a bit much of a muchness at times. It took me a couple of weeks to play through the game in short sessions, and writing this blog post has been spread out across several months. I will likely play King's Quest VIII at some point, but as this wraps up the King's Quest Collection and is the last true KQ adventure until the recent fan efforts and the upcoming Telltale Games revival, I think I will shift focus to another Sierra series next. Perhaps the adventures of Roger Wilco deserve a closer look...