Quest for Glory I: So You Want to Be a Hero - Retroview  

Heroes for Hire
by Michael Baker

Less than 20 Hours
+ Excellent writing, awful puns
+ Looks good in EGA
+ Multiple approaches to problem-solving
- Time management issues
- Combat system needs work
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   Way back in my youth, I was a big fan of Sierra's adventure game series. One of that company's standout titles, at least from an RPGamer's point of view, is Hero's Quest (later retitled Quest for Glory): So You Want to Be a Hero. I can still remember the advertisements for this game in various late-80s, early-90s gaming magazines, especially the second set of box art that was an obvious take on the famous picture of St. George slaying the dragon... only in the box art, the dragon had just melted the Hero's sword while he looked on in shock and dismay. This really encapsulates the mood for the entire series.

   The Hero, recent graduate of a correspondence course for would-be adventurers, has arrived in the unfortunately not-so-quiet Barony of Spielburg. Years ago, Baron Stefan von Spielburg made the mistake of angering the witch Baba Yaga, who placed a curse on the valley. Now, with both his children missing, dire monsters roaming the night, and bandits robbing everyone in sight, the one thing everyone needs is a true hero. Instead, they settle for the player's character because he's the closest thing available.

   At the very start, the player has the choice of three character classes, after which skill points can be added or subtracted as desired. The three classes play quite differently, though they can be taught skills outside their class for a hefty skill point cost. The Fighter takes every challenge head-on, and will see the most combat by far. The Magic-User relies on mystic arts to get by, which can be both draining and creative in application. The Thief has the easiest access to cash via the local fence, but also the least skill in fending off monsters. This generally isn't a problem because it's also easy to run like a rabbit from most fights.

   Due to its roots in the text adventure genre, the Quest for Glory series strongly emphasizes the role-playing side of RPG, to the point where battles aren't necessary at all as an end-game condition. Obviously, the Fighter is more likely to need to do battle in order to succeed, but the Magic-User and Thief will also find that there are ways to play to their individual skills and strengths. Keep in mind that this game first came out in 1989, a time when PC RPGs were still cast from the Wizardry or AD&D molds, more often than not.

No experience necessary. No experience necessary.

   Instead, this original version of the game uses the traditional text parser, often to hilarious effect. Every action outside of combat (and even a few within, like "RUN") must be typed. Occasionally this can get tedious, especially in a situation where an action gets repeated over and over until the desired result occurs, but a tap of the space bar is enough to recall the most recent action taken. This is very useful in the event that the Hero gets accidentally locked out of town at night and needs to climb the wall before the monsters can get him (this is usually the first and best reason to exercise that climbing stat).

   More entertaining is the variety of actions available to the player, including many things that only exist to get a funny reaction — and in this game, "funny" often equates to "fatal". One excellent example is to type "PICK NOSE" while carrying thieves' tools. It is actually possible to "unlock your nose" when doing this, and even gain experience on the lockpicking skill, but a critical failure ends in hilarity and the need to restore from a save file. Yes, there are dozens of deaths to die in this game, and only a few come courtesy of a monster's claws.

   The battle system in this game is probably the least well implemented of its components. Note that the VGA version had revamped and improved combat, but this review is based on the EGA version. In this original version, the player gets an up-close, third person view of the fight, using the cursor keys to hit, dodge, or block attacks. Despite appearances, it's not really an action RPG setup, and sort of lacks hit detection. Because of the way the graphics are animated, it's hard to tell which way the enemy is coming sometimes, though this can also play in the Hero's favor. Later games in the series certainly did it much better, though. If one has too much trouble with it, the battle system is easy to ignore, at least. Experience comes through action — any action — with stat gains to match.

Goblins don't know when to quit. Goblins don't know when to quit.

   One of the few real issues the game has, however, lies in time management. There will be times when there is nothing left to do during the day, but night just won't arrive soon enough. While the Hero can pass the time playing cribbage with 'Enry the 'Ermit (for as long as he can stand the guy's yammering) or drinking in the bar (two drinks max before he gets wasted and robbed), a lot of extra time will be spent just wandering around and either fighting or running away from monsters. A "WAIT UNTIL DARK" command option would have been greatly appreciated.

   As mentioned above, this version of the game was made with EGA graphics, which to those of you too young to remember anything prior to 1995 means it can produce a display of sixteen simultaneous colors from a palette of sixty-four at a resolution of up to 640 by 350 pixels. In other words, by modern standards it was really limited, but that's what you get from mid-80s technology. The first Quest for Glory game does everything it can with that limited palette, and the results (while a bit pixelated) are actually pretty good. Compared to console games of the same era, they're astonishing. The character sprites are fluidly animated, especially the Hero and all the random things he needs to (or is forced to) do in the course of his quest. It takes no small amount of skill to coax that much personality out of a mess of pixels, and this is a game that makes you appreciate the effort put into such a limited display capability.

   All of this helps to support the game's setting. Unlike many of Sierra's other adventure game series, which take place over the course of several slightly disconnected scenes with no ability to backtrack, the Quest for Glory games generally have one unified area to explore. While much of the forest is generic and unremarkable, there are still plenty of spots that are special for one reason or another. The game is also littered with random Easter eggs, such as the submarine in the lake or a cameo appearance by Earl Sinclair, star of the then-current ABC sitcom Dinosaurs.

Oh, how I wish the game gave you that much red mana. I spy with my little eye an Easter egg!

   The graphics aren't the only thing with personality. The game's script is positively dripping with puns, both good and atrocious, and a diverse cast of characters. Even the frequent death reports are humorous, and frequently give advice on how to survive longer the next time around. In general, every little bit of text is worth reading, if only for the laughs. Different characters may have vastly different opinions on the same topic, while a few will simply lie about everything just for the enjoyment of knowing they sent a random schmoe to the haunted graveyard at night.

   The music in the EGA version is pure chiptune, and the songs aren't that bad. They just don't get a lot of air time in the grand scheme of things. Much of the game is spent with no background noise, or maybe a couple of local sound effects. Music only gets pulled out for specific spots or major events. This is another area where the game is generally lacking, because even a little light music or natural sound effects would have helped with the mood immensely. At least the battles have their own theme, and even a sort of victory fanfare as the Hero stands over the corpse of the slain. After a big battle, he may even take a bow.

   Quest for Glory I: So You Want to Be a Hero is a piece of RPGaming history that stands the test of time. Whether it's the older EGA version or the newer VGA version with the point-and-click interface, it is definitely something to check out. There aren't that many games out there with such a good balance of puzzles, gameplay, and writing, and as such it's a worthy legacy to pass on to future gaming generations. Like the heroic eddas of old, let this game serve as testament to the prowess of an earlier generation of gaming, so that our children's children may know that good games are good regardless of graphical capabilities.


(Kudos to anyone who knows what the above line references. No cheating!)

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