Uneven. That's the best word to describe the 7th instalment of the legendary King's Quest series. The daughter/mother adventure of Princess Rosella, who had a previous leading role in my favourite entry to the series, King's Quest 4, and Queen Valanice, on her first and only playable role, takes the duo to a far away land, whisked there by a magical vortex. They get separated and find themselves not only looking for each other but saving the distant realms from the hands of an evil sorceress Malicia.
The story and the game are divided into 6 chapters, each having either Rosella or Valenice as the playable character. Valenice begins her trials from a desert, whereas Rosella finds herself from the kingdom of trolls, where the troll king is keen on marrying the young princess, which is something she isn't very keen to see happening. This all happens, because Rosella doesn't want to get hitched on any of the suitors' mommy dearest has in mind for her. Like her father, there's an adventure in Rosella's mind, not marriage and when she sees an image of a distant castle in a lake, she does the only sensible thing you can do by jumping in. Valenice, like a mother lion she is, follows in order to save her daughter.
KQ7 was released in 1994, two years after King's Quest 6 and a lot changed during that time. Not only is KQ7 in higher resolution than its predecessor, it also was drastically changed in both art style as well as gameplay.
Graphically KQ7 draws inspiration from both, Disney's and Don Bluth's works. The background art mimics the styles of classic animations. In fact, the character animation is so vast, that Sierra had to outsource some of it to Russian and Croatian animation houses in order to get it all done in time. The animation really is something of a hit and miss here, as while the resolution is higher, the animation itself isn't very smooth and is at times sparsely framed, turning it less than fluent. Sierra did use a similar style with a better success later on in the final instalment of Leisure Suit Larry, which had far smoother and nicer animation. The character design isn't very strong either, as many of the characters have an air of being something Disney rejected and Sierra just gobbled up the pieces. If only Sierra would have been able to actually utilise Disney or Don Bluth in the animation process, then, I'm sure, the results would have been much, much better. But alas, this is what it is.
The background art is mostly okay. There are some scenes and places which look very nice, but again, there's no escaping the feeling, that all you see is mostly recycled cliches from other sources. At times the art style goes almost to Looney Tunes and Tex Avery in style with warped out buildings and all. At times it looks like something from Disney's Aladdin, at times from your standard fairy tale illustration. Just like the story, the art is just very uneven in style.
The previous King's Quest games had more realistic, and consistent, art style. The people were always depicted in a realistic manner as well as were any possible speaking animals. This new style was quite a departure from what the series had offered previously, but considering the nature of the games themselves, it's not really that surprising direction either. Had this kind of a style been more feasible on previous titles, I'm sure Sierra could have jumped in earlier. But it took the dawn of CD-ROM to make delivering something on this scale to the bigger audiences.
The gameplay and the user interface had a big change as well. The first four games in the series used parser interface, where you had to type in each command. From the fifth onward the series was a mouse driven point and click adventure, with multiple command icons, like Look, Take and Walk. On KQ7, there's only a mouse cursor and one mouse action, which depends on what you click. If you click a door and it's openable, it is opened. If not, it's looked at. All with a single mouse press.
In order to use things, you just choose them from the inventory and click another item in the inventory or an object on the screen. You can also examine the items closer in order to manipulate them further, like opening a basket and looking inside it. But this latter function is used only a couple of times during the game, thus making it easy to forget that the feature even exists.
As this is a King's Quest game, you can die. And you die a lot, as there's still a lot of trial and error puzzles. But unlike in the previous games, you don't need to save the game constantly, as there's only one autosave slot in use. Instead, every time you die, you get a retry option, which lets you try again. It's actually a pretty decent system and lessens the frustration this type of gameplay would otherwise cause.
If the art style feels uneven, so do the puzzles as well. At times, the puzzles the game offers are more like non-puzzles. You just ferry items to one spot to an another, at times they are purely trial and error kind of an affair. The worst offender really happens in the Ooga-Booga land, where you need to find a spot for a gravedigger to dig a grave. But despite you'd know where the spot is, you can solve the puzzle only when a branch on a nearby tree happens to point down on the ground. And it's not even an obvious branch. The puzzle is purely based on dumb luck, as you can solve it on the first try and not even know there's a condition there waiting to be fulfilled.
To the fifth chapter, the puzzle structure really looses all its coherence, as what you do most of that chapter is walk between characters to ask different things. You need to converse with three faiths, who always point you to an another character, who again points you back to faiths. On this chapter, you also need to pick up a crystal shard, from a certain house so you can fill it with sunlight, so you can use it to defrost another character.
The way the puzzles work make the game structure feel off and it is, very often, a tad hard to decide for whom the game was actually aimed at. At times the game feels like something a kid could play, but at times it has so obscure puzzles, that not even an adult could always solve them.
This similar feeling continues with the voice acting as well. Despite the voice acting is, at times even very good, it is very often more juvenile than necessary. There's a lot of characters with unnecessarily high-pitched, whacky characterisation on their voices, and the "Disney-rejects" feeling lingers heavily above them. It's not helped by the writing and the jokes which miss more often than they hit.
As I stated in the beginning, what really describes King's Quest VII the best is the word uneven. Just like with King's Quest VI, King's Quest VII seems to have a hard time deciding what kind of a game it wants to be and for whom it is aimed towards to. At places, it's a very nicely done, even modern feeling adventure game. Then it succumbs into a more typical adventure fare with a nonsensical puzzle or an annoying pixel hunt scenario. At times the animation works wonderfully, but at times you just hope for a skip button, or a possibility to speed up the game, so that you could walk across a screen a bit faster. There are moments when the game manages to be cute and amusing, but then it falls flat on its face by being annoying and juvenile to a point of irritation.
King's Quest VII: the Princeless Bride is not the best entry to the series. It is vastly better than the dreadfully broken Mask of Eternity, but the uneven nature of its design and writing just make it too hard to recommend.
if you fancy giving KQVII a spin, you can get it from GOG or from Steam as a part of King's Quest Collection. If you don't own any of the KQ games, the Steam deal might be better one, if there's no sale at the moment, as it has all the titles on one pack, whereas on GOG you need to buy them in three separate packs. The GOG pack contains King's Quest VIII as well so that in mind, it's not really that good value for the buck.