Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Game Review: Quest For Glory II VGA

The wait is over: it's finally here.

I was a big fan of Sierra's Adventure/Quest line in the early '90s: "Space Quest", "King's Quest" and "Quest For Glory" still rank among my favorites, despite the outdated pop culture references and the poor (well, by today's standards) graphics. To be totally honest, I'm more impressed that creators like Ken and Roberta Williams, Scott Murphy and Al Lowe managed to craft such engaging games with relatively little tech to back them up. Sure, none of the "Quest For Glory" games look like "World of Warcraft", but I get a kick out of hearing John-Rhys Davies mock the Hero for some boneheaded move anyway.

Anyway... as the A/Q sub-genre was dying out, Sierra started releasing "remakes" of their oldest games, doing away with the text parser and the (admittedly rough, even by the most forgiving standards) EGA graphics in favor of a mouse interface and VGA. My guess is that, at the time, updating the classics seemed like a sure way to reach a new audience while maintaining their current fanbase... but reception was cool, to say the least. In all honesty, I'm not sure why: okay, QFG1 was ugly as hell, but SQ1 had its moments. Still, the results were poor enough that Sierra never got past the first game of any Quest series.

Fast-forward about a decade later, and enter AGD Interactive: a group of hardcore Sierra fans who've decided to do the one thing that transcends fanhood into something more - they decide to update the classics themselves, recreating Sierra's finest games in mouse-based VGA. Their first two releases were "King's Quest I" and "King's Quest II", now with more plot, voice-work and graphics at least on par with anything Sierra put out at its peak. And now they've remade "Quest For Glory II: Trial By Fire".

"Trial by Fire" is my second-favorite game in the "Quest For Glory" series (the first being "Shadows of Darkness", because it retroactively made its predecessors pieces in one large puzzle rather than isolated stories) - loosely based on an "Arabian Nights" environment, the player must choose the role of Fighter, Thief or Magic User and journey through the land of Shapeir, fighting monsters and solving puzzles.

The work AGDI has put into this remake astonishes me: on the one hand, locations are virtually identical to the original game, but the artwork is beautiful, from the scenery to the dialogue portraits: it looks more like a contemporary to "Shadows of Darkness" than anything before or after it. Understandably, there's no voice pack this time (seriously, the amount of dialogue in this game goes beyond massive and into the realm of Lovecraftian in its enormity) but that doesn't detract in the least. The nightmarish alleys of Shapeir can also be simplified so you don't spend two hours running around in circles looking for the South Plaza.

And, in the interest of keeping things fresh, the AGDI team has also added some innovations that weren't in the original (but probably should have been) - Magic Users can challenge other Shapeir sorcerers to friendly competitions with prompt rewards, Fighters now have the potential to score Critical Hits on their enemies, etc. So beyond re-experiencing the old game, there's a bit of the new to seek out. By normal standards, QFG2 isn't a very long game - I estimate about six hours tops - but it's certainly fun while it lasts.

AGDI's slogan is "The Spirit of Classic Adventure Gaming". Thanks, guys, for keeping that spirit alive!