King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder

1990 Sierra On-Line
Designed by Roberta Williams
Reviewed 1996 April 1

Rating -3 Linearity wide
Reasonability silly Connectivity moderate
Difficulty pedestrian Relevance moderate
Interface 3rd paned simple Real-time minor

An evil magician has taken King Graham's castle, with his family inside. Fortunately, a good magician will help Graham. Graham is taken to the land of Serenia. There, with a talking owl -- Cedric -- as a guide, Graham must track down the felon.

The land of Serenia is not very cohesive; it's just an arbitrary collection of locations and weakly defined characters. Cedric the owl could have been an interesting device, but after the opening animation he becomes completely useless -- he's not even used as comedic relief. As usual for this series, there's very little in the way of story or background. The challenges, however, fit nicely into the setting: they are typical adventure puzzles, with several modest real-time challenges, and not arbitrary logic puzzles dressed up to fit the locale.

The lack of story and character shifts attention to the gaming aspect... unfortunately. The game is fraught with poor design. There are several long dead ends, where you discover (if you're lucky) that the game can't be completed because of something you did or didn't long ago. There are a few puzzles that have solutions that are silly, or that require Graham to do silly things. The worst aspect is the frequent unavoidable death. Save often, because unforseeable death lurks around many a corner, and it's the only way to learn what you must to continue. The challenges themselves are not usually hard. A couple might be a bit tough because of silliness, but the trial and error space is kept small.

The structure of the puzzles is fairly good. The first half of the game is fairly open and the puzzles nicely connect to each other. Once you leave Serenia, the game becomes linear, but again there's often a good connection from one challenge to the next.

The game is well presented. It uses the standard 3rd person perspective and has a decent interface. The graphics are well done and effective. There's a narrator that tells you about things, such as when you inspect objects, or when you perform actions. His Disney-like voice reinforces the fairy tale aspect of the game. The other characters have melodramatic voices, like you might find in productions for young children. It might just be bad voice acting, but I thought it further supported the fairy tale atmosphere.

King's Quest 5 is a very glossy production, but it is a poor adventure and a poor game. It continues the weak design of the series, and offers little in the way of story to compensate.

Beware! Here are some spoiler-ridden notes on the game. They're only recommended for people who have played the game and want to see some of my rationale for my evaluations.

Solution by me.

Related reviews:

  • The King's Quest Series
    David Tanguay's Game Reviews
    Here's a description of all the gobbledygook in these reviews. It's also a bit of an essay on the nature of adventure games.