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King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder (PC) artwork

King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder (PC) review

"Once again, it's time to dip into my Hotmail inbox, where once in a while I rummage down far enough past the debt consolidation messages and annoyingly persistent offers to ''enlarge [myself] safely and naturally'' to locate a message worth reading. Ah, here's one! Let us peruse its inner details. Ahem: "

Once again, it's time to dip into my Hotmail inbox, where once in a while I rummage down far enough past the debt consolidation messages and annoyingly persistent offers to ''enlarge [myself] safely and naturally'' to locate a message worth reading. Ah, here's one! Let us peruse its inner details. Ahem:

Dear Snow Dragon,
Hey, what is up homey?!?!11? I used youre FAQ and it r0x0rz! I liked it al ot!

Moving right along....

Their is just one thing I can't understand I can't get past the part with the boat! Can you give me the dokumintayshun (sp?) that gets me out N2 the ocean? Thanx dude peace out word etc etc etc.

Having written a FAQ nearly a year-and-a-half ago for this game, it is the one of the questions I receive most frequently in my inbox to this day, coming in a very close second to ''Would you care to sample our fine array of chewable fruit-flavored hormone treatments, Mr/Mrs Eubanks?'' The question (about the boat), poorly phrased though it is, defines King's Quest V to a tee. Through the anecdote of the average player's need for the game's included documentation, I have expressed the Public Gaming Domain at large's frustration with the inability to achieve true greatness with this game. Likewise, the game itself suffers this ailment. Most of it is cobbled together from standard Brothers Grimm fare and enduring instances of medieval myth. A lot of fairy tale elements are present that should instantly click with familiar readers of this classic fictional lore: the prince pining in vain for his lost sweetheart, the gloomy forest where danger lurks around every turn and behind all the scary foliage, the temple piled with riches beyond any mortal's wildest dreams. Though these things combine to craft a journey that is curiously believable and logical within its own mythical bounds, you feel that it never fully reaches that pinnacle of greatness that it is obviously capable of. Partly to blame are Sierra's justifiable if eagerly dismissed paranoia over pirated copies of the game and some loose ends that could have easily been, but were not, tied up upon the game's 1991 debut.

After chronicling the misadventures of his two children in installments three and four, the series finally centered itself on Graham again in part five, pun-a-rifically entitled Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder. In it, Mordack, brother of the wizard Manannan whom Graham's son turned into a cat in KQ3 (To Heir is Human) appears in Daventry while Graham is out picking flowers and whisks the castle away to his island by means of an extremely powerful magic spell that shrunk the castle and everyone inside and encased them in a large Mason jar. Graham comes back in total shock, at a loss to explain any of it; but lo, here is a talking owl from up in the trees named Cedric who explains the whole fiasco in an exhausting cinema that predates the soap operas of Final Fantasy X by a good decade. With the aid of some pixie dust (another fairy tale standby), Cedric and Graham fly, albeit somewhat clumsily, to the land of Serenia, where Graham meets Cedric's owner Crispin and is given some information in regards to the whereabouts of his family, a spot of tea, an old wand that's seen better days, and a magical rapport with animals - that is, the ability to talk to them in English and hear them reply likewise. With that, Crispin sends Graham out the door with only Cedric the owl as his bitter tour guide.

King's Quest V only ever gets moderately hard at best, and therefore is a great point-and-click for someone just looking to get into the genre. As Graham, you can get yourself into trouble or stay out of sticky situations forever, though you'll never get anything done doing the latter. As with all King's Quest adventures, puzzles are the big thing here. About 30% of them are solved through common sense; feed the bear the fish, throw the stick at the dog, put on a cloak when it's cold out, and so on. Roughly 50% are whimsical or have a tinge of craziness somewhere in their blood, like a fair way into the game in which you must cleverly dispatch of a witch who harasses you at every screen in an eerie mystical forest using one particular item in your inventory. The remaining 20% actually involve a measure of lateral thought, but these should not have your brain in peril of an aneurysm for too long. Commands are straightforward and easy to match with their corresponding icons. The hand is clearly for picking up suspect objects, and the eye will provide a description of whatever it's looking at. There are two kinds of walking to suit your preference of pace, and special bars to control the speed, volume, and graphical detail of the game itself. Basically, you are provided with everything you need to work the game, and there's something wrong with your basic motor skills if you're not handling it correctly. Accessibility makes KQ5 easy to get into, but as you will find, issues soon begin to crop up.

Initially the graphics will impress you, but once you start settling into them, you start to see the grainy quality of everything and the lack of detail that didn't show up before. The sprites are small and faceless, and the animation is not frame-for-frame perfect. This is only a quibble, and the low detail work done on the tinier characters becomes inconsequential when you see the vastness of the landscapes. The sub-zero mountain range lends itself to the definition of a desert as much as, well, the desert, a place with so little around you that you are asphyxiated by a dire feeling of loneliness in spite of who may be present while you play the game. The happier, jauntier areas are disappointing in their color scheme - bright, yes, but a little too far on this side of dark. That shroud is where this game ultimately resides and performs best. Ironically, the game's darkest tones shine the most, and every moment spent without light will cause you to take a short pause and soak up what you're seeing. Hand-painted backdrops like the elves' hideaway and the mounds of riches inside the bandits' temple really make you stop and think for a minute about what it takes to make something, game or not, of this scope and breadth. Once you start to notice the more sketchy details Sierra couldn't hide, you'll start taking the grandiose landscapes for granted, but either way, you'll be spending time on a lot of screens seeing what the eye has to say about every little hint of architecture. The cinemas of course contain the most artful pictures, but the movements are jerky and have standard mouth movements that only produce empty talking heads; plus, they're a drag to sit through.

Control is mastered easily by pointing at what you want to walk to and clicking on it, but there are issues present that novices or the younger set might have cause to complain about. No boundaries are set up to prevent you from wandering off land and into rivers or off cliffs, meaning instant death and getting booted back a fair way if you haven't saved recently. Accidentally wandering near an objectionable area might cause you to get tangled up in something you didn't mean to get tangled up in. For the most part, however, the mouse is good about taking you where you intended to go. On the plus side for the control, small items that barely show up on the screen, like coins, are easy to pick up so long as the cursor is in the general area of the item. You also get to use some of the icons in conjunction with a few unorthodox purposes, such as accessing the hand from inside the inventory to open containers. You also get to do a number of nifty things with other items, and fortunately the smooth workings of the game aid and abet you in your quest to save your shrunken family. A few small touches that aren't otherwise located in many point-and-clicks help boost this aspect of King Graham's escapades through Serenia.

Composition in this game is a work of beauty in that each song, when played, fits the mood of its arena like a leather glove. Piano sonatas and harp solos grace many sections of the game, and when something beneficial to the continuance of your quest occurs, bouncy music plays. And at some other points, the music takes a back seat as if to let you soak in the natural beauty of the backgrounds, which lends itself to a serenity that really puts you off and gives you the best kind of chills. While the sound effects aren't exactly blasting in your face, they can still be adequately heard. One has actually found some kind of usage: when you hear a ''gling''-type sound, it means you've scored points that help you toward your end-of-game goal of 260 (the game isn't truly complete unless you reach that maximum). Using the sounds as help toward the final goal and immersing you in musical bliss along the way is pure genius. It even works its way into some of the puzzles you have to solve! Sound the drum and strum the harp, King Graham's gonna do some rockin' out, y'all.

King's Quest V gets high ratings for its technical achievements, but the facets of the game that have nothing to do with how it runs or sounds start to tarnish the experience. Sierra was a stickler for making sure no illegal copies of their game went out, and therefore you need a code that comes with all legal copies of the game to pass certain parts. Without it, there's no getting farther than the beach. This can really destroy someone's opinion of the game who maybe threw it away when they got the game or happened to download it somewhere, as can the frequent deaths coupled with forgetting to save. Also, if you save in the wrong place at the wrong time, you may find the game unbeatable after something bad happens. It's the little things, like not being able to get to Mordack's island to save your family once you can't push that rickety old boat out into the sea. They're going to start wondering where you are. You can't disappoint them. If you want to save them, don't break the law! I guess that was Sierra's reasoning, however apprehensive it may seem in this golden age of person-to-person file-sharing. With documentation in hand, KQ5 can puzzle you for a while and provide a fun diversion, but you don't have to have lifetime Mensa membership and a Nobel Prize to figure it out.

They milked some replay value out of the game via the points system - if you don't get all 260 upon the game's completion, you feel obliged to go back and do it over to try things a little different the second time around. Enough twists inhabit the game along the way to keep the dullness of scraping for items and getting out of really bad jams from taking over. It has been a struggle for me not to reveal some of the more climactic moments that occur near the end of the game. You will have to play them for yourself to truly appreciate the moments near the close when the game finally starts to shine, though a bit too late. Cedric gets in trouble at several points along the adventure, and once you show your propensity for saving his neck time after time, some well-placed character development starts to snowball into dialogue that displays true caring between the two compadres. The ride is replete with boisterous characters who make you feel at home and make you want to be at home. Serious tones are dominant, but an amusing incident is usually visible or extricable in most places (try walking toward the ant castle sometime). With this title in the saga, the King's Quest games started becoming a little too derivative of mainstay fairy tales and dependent on them for story advancement, but it remains a decent play to this day. If you haven't, I recommend devoting a few hours to this last great of the KQ eight. Cedric the owl might even tell you that it's a hoot.

Reigns King
-- The whole thing is just flat-out gorgeous
-- Control is responsive and can determine what you intend to do most of the time
-- Music is especially good because it expands on the mood the sceneries set
-- Characters are diverse and develop well
-- 260-point system encourages replay

The Quest for Something Better
-- Disappointing and a waste of time to those who didn't obtain it legally
-- Kind of grainy with little sprite detail
-- As with all adventure games, it becomes a drag if you don't know what you're doing
-- Made from too many other sources to be truly original

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Community review by snowdragon (December 09, 2003)

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