Nostalgia is a tricky thing. Sometimes, it makes a person want to dive into the games that evoke their strongest memories of the past over and over again. It’s this type of nostalgia that makes me play through pretty much every version of old Final Fantasy games that gets released. There’s another kind of nostalgia, though: the kind that makes a person want to keep the memory of a thing as the best possible version of that thing that could exist. It’s this kind of nostalgia that ensures that I won’t ever read Dune more than once, or listen to very much music from the 1980’s again, or, I thought, play through Quest for Glory again.
However, I got challenged by a friend to do one of those three things. And it’s the thing that has nothing to do with sandworms or excessively long hair. So, I decided to grab the anthology from Good Old Games and see how my memory of Quest for Glory held up to the real thing. As it turns out, not very well, because I’d forgotten enough of the game to ensure that I was basically playing through it blind again. So, what did I think?
What is Quest for Glory anyway? Does it have anything to do with King’s Quest?: Yes and no. Quest for Glory was released in 1989, about five years after the first King’s Quest game. Plotwise, they don’t have any connection, though there are quite a few similarities. Both games have a point system to let the player know how many events, puzzles, or secrets have been seen through the course of the game, and both feature a fairly large map with a central town location. And both are, primarily, point and click adventure games. However, Quest for Glory has quite a few more subsystems in it than King’s Quest does. It’s less of a puzzle game and more of a RPG adventure, when it comes down to it.
What’s it about?: Quest for Glory starts off with very little buildup. You are a nameless hero who has arrived in the town of Spielburg (yes, really) in search of work. As it turns out, Spielburg and the surrounding area are in desperate need of a hero. The Baron’s heirs have been kidnapped, brigands and monsters surround the area, and the town has been cursed by the witch Baba Yaga. All of which might seem a bit daunting to a hero-in-training, so there are, of course, smaller tasks that must be carried out which lead up to the big jobs.
So how does it play?: Not as poorly as you’d expect, seeing as how it is a DOS game made in 1989. Your nameless hero moves around the map using the arrow keys and interacts using a text parser,in the manner of something like Zork. It was actually a fairly sophisticated text parser for its time. As long as you give it the general gist of what you want to do (and make sure not to misspell it), you’ll probably succeed.
The difference between this game and the aforementioned King’s Quest or Zork is the combat and attribute system. When you create your character, you choose whether you want to make him a warrior, a magic user, or a thief. From there, you have points you can allocate into various stats and abilities, with the ones not natural to your class costing more. In this way, you can control the manner in which you progress through the game (as some paths are only open to players with a certain class or certain abilities).
And you increase your stats by…: Doing a thing over and over again. Probably the memory that stuck in my mind the most about this game from my time with it years ago is typing in the phrases ‘pick up rock’, ‘throw rock’, ‘throw rock’, ‘throw rock’ over and over again. It’s sort of like the kind of thing that Morrowind eventually used, only far, far more basic.
Is there combat?: Yes, and it’s terrible. It’s probably the one thing that doesn’t really hold up at all. When you run into an enemy on the main screen, you’re taken into an over-the-shoulder view of a one-on-one fight against the enemy. For 1989, this is actually really graphically amazing. Mechanically, though, it fails. Maybe it’s because of some DOSBox weirdness, but every part of the combat that is timing-based (read: all of it) is impossible to pull off. You’re supposed to be able to dodge by pressing left and right or parry by pressing back, but none of those really ever prevented me from taking damage in the slightest. On the upside, you can also increase your vitality by taking hits in battle, so I did get a lot of practice in at that.
So the stat system is a lot like Morrowind‘s. Are there any other inspirations other games took from this?: Well, the part where you’re dropped into the middle of the world with very little indication of what to do with yourself is also fairly Elder Scrolls-ish. The world isn’t as big, and the map is a whole lot more Legend of Zelda-ish, but in spirit, anyway, I think that Quest for Glory was a lot of inspiration to Elder Scrolls. There is also a mechanism of exporting your character from one game to the next that has been used in several role playing games since then, most recently in the Mass Effect series.
Does Good Old Games do a good job with making the game compatible with modern systems?: In general, yes. The game, like many of their older offerings, uses DOSBox as its compatibility layer. The game is fully playable in windowed mode with very little configuration necessary by the player. As a note, I am playing the original EGA version and not the VGA remake, though both are included in the anthology that is sold on Good Old Games.
So here’s the question. Does the game actually hold up?: Yes and no. For it’s time, it was actually a pretty advanced game. Even now, the game can stand on its own as an example of a non-linear game that benefits the most from multiple playthroughs. On the other end of things, there is a pretty big learning curve for the system as a whole, because not only are you not told what to do in the game itself, you aren’t really told much about how to play the game either. I guess what I’m saying is, there’s a reason that games used to come with manuals.
Really, it’s just one big exercise in how games aren’t the same now as they used to be. I’m not saying that games are any easier or harder now, I’m just saying that there is a different expectation on accessibility. Back then, part of the joy of learning a new game was actually learning the game. Learning the interface, learning how to make your characters do what you want them to do, and being fascinated when you discover new aspects to the interface itself in addition to new things in the world. Nowadays, the interface is a tool, not an object of wonder in itself.
Does it hold up as well as it did in my memory? Not quite, but the things I remembered with fondness are just as endearing as they were before.
And would you recommend it to people today?: I’d recommend it to anyone who likes Elder Scrolls, as well as anyone who likes any of Telltale’s adventure games. There is a bit of tedium in stat boosting, and combat, as I said, has a lot to be desired, but if a person can get past that, there’s quite a bit to enjoy in Quest for Glory. As long as one isn’t expecting a game to have a lot of modern sensibilities, it’s really worth playing, even if just for a history lesson.