Right from the first episode of The Odd Gentlemen’s retelling of King Graham’s adventures in its King’s Quest remake, I’ve been in love. The long wait between episodes and the somewhat plodding nature of the second episode reduced my affection. Once Upon a Climb, the third of the five of the episodic game’s acts is rekindling the romance.
That, in fact, is what it’s all about. Tackling – and then delightfully subverting – the classic fairy-tale love story, Once upon a Climb sees King Graham set out on a quest to find his one true love.
Set “several years” after the second episode, Once Upon Climb begins on a sombre note. As King, Graham has done all he can to make Daventry a lovely place to live, but at the expense, in some ways, of his own happiness. As he’s grown as a person and a king, Graham’s friends have drifted further away from him.
When his adventure-dispensing magic mirror tells the lonely King that his true love is locked atop a magical tower, he naturally (though, foolishly, without adventuring rope) sets off to rescue her. When he gets there though, he finds not one, but two princesses trapped in the building. Held hostage by the repugnant witch Hagatha, neither princess seems particularly intent on being his queen. And to make it all worse, he becomes just as trapped as they are; bound by a spell that can only be broken by true love.
Gameplay here is a little simpler and straightforward with none of the superfluous, stressful mechanics introduced in the second episode in play. You don’t have to babysit anyone, and you don’t have player meters to watch over – instead, you’ve just got a handful of relatively simple puzzles to get through a mostly linear adventure. You may shoot some arrows or pluck on the lute and there’s very little of the obtuse “try every item on every other item” adventure gaming standard in play. What it lacks in complexity, it more than makes up for in character.
The two Princesses, Vee and Neese are both delightful, appealing to different sides of Graham’s personality. Vee is the more stoic, clever-witted and pun-loving, practical adventurer – while the high-energy Neese is more prone to flights of fancy and silliness. Instead of a binary choice, it’s your choices throughout the whole chapter that dictate which of the princesses Graham ultimately falls for.
While it could have ended up feeling like cheap dating sim, it’s filled with heart-warming, poignant moments that actually have you connecting with other characters. Some of whom, it’s worth noting, make a return from past chapters and divulging exactly who you’ll encounter would spoil the surprise.
It’s once again told in framed narrative; an unreliably recounted tale by the elder Graham (still played to perfection by Christopher Lloyd) to his granddaughter Gwendolyn – and their relationship here is also expanded upon in beautiful ways.
Perhaps it’s the hopeless romantic hidden deep, deep inside my gruff exterior or perhaps it’s just the wonderful, heartfelt writing, but this third episode has me once again waiting (ever so patiently) and wanting more.
Last Updated: April 29, 2016