King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow - Review

King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow
Review

Storyline and Gameplay

For the first time in the series, Roberta has shared the writing of the plot with another author. Jane Jensen, designer of Eco Quest and later on the creator of the Gabriel Knight series, worked together with Roberta Williams on the plot. She was also the writer of the text and dialogue in the game. In addition, Sierra veteran William D. Skirvin co-directed the game in addition to being producer and art designer. The result is sensational, and Roberta and Jane has created a rich plot that is both touching, funny and exciting, and it is full of memorable characters. Based on the old-fashioned story of a prince trying to rescue a captured princess (not too distant from the basic plot of King's Quest II: Romancing the Throne) the plot thickens and divides into several sub-plots as the player goes further into it. The puzzles are logical and range from very easy to very hard. But the most interesting with the plot and the puzzles is that nearly half of the gameplay is optional. The inexperienced player can finish the game without solving most of the sub-quests while the more experienced one can try to solve all of the sub-quests and finish the game with the maximum possible score. The most important feature of this layout is that at a particular point in the game, the story breaks up into two different paths where the player can only choose one. They both lead to slightly different endings, where the longer and harder path results in the most rewarding one, and there are many possible variations of the ending depending on how many of the optional puzzles were solved. Nevertheless, whatever path the player has chosen, there is a great replay value as the other path is filled with completely different puzzles and challenges. This results in a non-linear gameplay that works out great. The interface in the game is basically the same as the one seen in King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder, as the same interpreter is used, but a few new options has been added. One of the key inventory objects that Alexander obtains in the game is a magic map that enables him to travel between the different islands that make up the Land of the Green Isles. However, this map doesn't have the features of the criticized magic map seen in King's Quest III: To Heir is Human and only works as Alexander's way of travel between the islands. The final conclusion can only be that the plot and gameplay is the best one ever in the King's Quest series.

Graphics

The graphics seen in King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow was created in the same way as in the previous game, but the visual quality has many improvements. Not only is the quality of the background paintings extremely good, but there are many subtle effects applied to it that makes it look even better. Leaves moving in the wind, waves splashing at the shores and torches that casts a flickering light on walls are examples of this. The character animations has also become more realistic, with the introduction of a scaling technique that makes characters look smaller from a distance without actually using different character graphics there. The extensive use of video-captured actors as a base for character animations in the game gives the characters a very life-like look even though they are animated. The game also features a lot of cinematic cutscenes with close-ups of characters that looks very good. Close-ups of characters as they speak are beautifully drawn and looks very realistic, especially in the multimedia version where their lips move in synch with what they are saying. This was the first of Sierra's adventure games to feature lip-synched characters and was the result of Sierra's purchase of Bright Star Technologies, a company that had developed a technique to do this. For the Windows Multimedia version of the game, the character faces, inventory objects and menu graphics were enhanced even more by being redrawn in SVGA versions with double the resolution of the rest of the graphics in the game.
A hand-painted kiss scene between Alexander and Cassima
But the thing that really makes the graphics in this game to stand out is the 3D-animated introduction to the game, created by Kronos. This game was released at the time when 3D-rendered animation had just found its way into the movie industry where it was used to create a new generation of special effects that resulted in many blockbuster hits. An animated introduction scene of this graphical quality had never been seen before in a computer game and was truly one of the most impressive features of the game. Although the quality of 3D-rendered animation has improved greatly since the early nineties, it still looks very good. The multimedia version of the game features a much longer and better-looking introduction than the disk version. Conclusion: King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow not only follows the tradition of improving graphics quality with each new game in the series, it takes a major leap ahead and creates graphics that can only be described as incredible.

Music and Sound Effects

A rich, exciting storyline and great graphics is not all it takes to make a great adventure game. Music and sound effects are important as well. And this game has great music and sound effects! Chris Braymen has created a score full of memorable music that really captures the atmosphere of the many different locations in the game. From the oriental themes of the Isle of the Crown to the haunting ghost music heard in the Land of the Dead, the music fits the game like a glove. Ambient sounds fills the game in areas without music and convincing sound effects are heard whenever expected. The multimedia version of the game features a cast of professional voice actors that makes the amateur voices of King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder sound almost embarrassing in comparison. Robby Benson, the voice of Alexander, was also the voice of the Beast in Disney's animated movie Beauty and the Beast, and he received great acclaim for his performances on both productions. Using professional voice actors was a successful move for Sierra and increases the joy of playing this game even further. One thing that also has to be mentioned is Girl in the Tower, the song played at the end of the game. This song was recorded in full digital audio as a musical CD track on the multimedia version of the game and it rivals famous theme songs heard in the big Disney blockbusters and similar movies. Quite a reward for finishing the game!

Technical Issues

King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow, as all SCI 1 games, suffers from a lot of compatibility issues with modern computers, and actually with a lot of older computers as well. This game works better than King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder, but there may still be problems. The main issue is the music and sound. The game supports multiple music cards and sound cards, but even a card supposed to be compatible with one of these may not be able to work properly with the game due to many factors. The game may assume a different setting of the card than you have on your computer.
Another common problem in SCI games, something that can also be responsible for music and/or sound problems, is that it's not designed to work properly at the CPU speeds of modern computers. This may result in unsuccessful card detections, lockups in various parts of the game and time-based actions in the gameplay that goes way too fast. These problems can often be solved by running a program to reduce the speed of the computer at the same time.
Memory is another common problem with SCI 1 games. The game is very hungry for memory, so unloading certain TSR programs (such as device drivers) may be necessary. With modern versions of Windows, emulation of old DOS memory layouts may fix these problems nicely, or make it impossible to play the game at all, depending on the specific system used.
The Windows multimedia version of the game is the one most likely to work on a modern system, but it's necessary to set the number of colors displayed on the screen down to 256 in order to get the game to work. The game looks best with a screen resolution of 640x480, but 800x600 and 1024x768 are also supported even though they make the graphics looks pretty small.
Getting this game to work on a modern computer is part lottery, part engineering and part pure luck. It's unfortunate that this has to be the case, but there's nothing to do about it. The best option is actually to play the game on an old computer with the hardware and software that was the most common in the early 90's.

Final Verdict

King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow is one of only three games in the series not to introduce a new version of the interpreter. Instead, it takes the technology to its limits and the result is one of the best Sierra adventure games of all time. From the impressive 3D-animated introduction to the digitally recorded ending song, the game sets new standards in every field. The non-linear storyline and the game graphics, sound and interface are all of excellent quality and blends together perfectly. This is an adventure game that even people that are not fans of the series should take care not to miss. It is King's Quest at its best.

Golden Moment

Getting in contact with Cassima and learning that she still loves Alexander.

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