From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling the dice to bring random obscure games back into the light. This week... with fans like these, who needs enemies?
Quest for Glory is one of my favourite series of all time, a mix of classic adventure and RPG in a world full of dreadful puns, hidden secrets, and gorgeous scenery that stretched from the first game's European forests to the bleak horrors of Transylvanian Mordavia. Quest for Glory 4 in particular is a masterpiece; a game that not only assumes you have the intelligence to simply roll with its Slavic setting and rogues, but which which features one of my favourite villains/not quite villains of all time. The whole series is available on GOG and Steam, and I urge you to check it out with much haste.
And then... and then there's Quest for Glory 4 1/2: So You Thought You Were A Hero, a fan-made interquel that returns to the first game to see what happened after you left. It's long. It's tough. And it's so controversial, at least one fan-forum has banned even mentioning it. Uh. Gulp?
Comes a hero from the East
Free the man within the beast
Bring the child from out the band
Drive the curser from the land
To quickly set the scene, Quest for Glory 1: So You Want To Be A Hero is the story of a fresh graduate from a heroism correspondence course, attempting to make his name in the small town of Spielburg. The Baron's son and daughter have both vanished in mysterious circumstances, evil witch Baba Yaga has moved into the valley, and a small army of brigands and goblins is terrorising the already dangerous forest. Into this you step with little more than dreams of heroism, the cloak on your back, and the ability to sign your name with a flourish. It's a fairly small-scale threat, but you're only a rookie. So far.
There's a ton I could say about Quest for Glory 1, almost all of it positive, especially in its VGA remake. A few 'dead man walking' moments aside, it's a great adventure in a spectacularly rich world—not simply in offering multiple ways to solve many puzzles, but playing with the tools it gives you. Take the lockpick. Use it on yourself. "Click" comes a message, as you successfully pick your nose. Alternatively, if you're a magic user, you end up with a whole sack full of spells that aren't just restricted to combat. They won't necessarily work to solve a specific puzzle, but at least you can try and be told exactly why you failed. And usually get a funny line or death message out of it.
(It's a Sierra adventure. There's a lot of ways to die.)
The only really weird thing is the character choices. Fighter goes without saying, as does Magic User—a full-on Wizard needs to know more spells. Thief on the other hand is a little strange, because you're encouraged to fund your quest by robbing innocent people and fencing their stuff at the Thieves' Guild. I'm just not sure you can call yourself a 'hero' when you raised your starting funds by breaking into an old lady's house and shovelling everything down your hero pants. But, hey. Needs of the many, right?
Unlike later games in the series, there's not a lot of story to spoil in Quest for Glory, so I'll just say what happens. It's important for what's to come, as Quest for Glory 4.5 is a direct sequel that returns to Spielburg specifically to see what's changed since you left. I'll only hit the most important bits though, leaving the details vague and saving as much cool stuff to find in the main game as possible.
In short, having arrived in town and done a few errands, you discover the Baron's son has been morphed into a bear, and his daughter is currently brainwashed and actually commanding the brigands from their secret base. With courage and a handy Dispel Potion, you restore both of them to their old selves and turn your attention to Baba Yaga, besting this far more powerful magic user and booting her and her chicken-footed hut out of town. Everyone goes "Yay!", declares you Hero of Spielburg, and off you head to your next, more epic adventure. That's about it. As I said, not much story.
Quest for Glory 4.5 kicks off later, with the Hero attending the 10-year reunion for his... correspondence school course? I'm not sure if that's meant to be a joke, or just the creator having no idea what those words mean, never mind how to put them into a sentence. Hearing the event speaker describe his heroism as "a shoddy job of heroing that left that poor valley worse off than it was before" though, he slinks back to finish what he started. Cue game! And trying not to think too hard about canon!
To give Quest for Glory 4.5 some credit, it tries surprisingly hard. The graphics are a horrible mish-mash of sources, with most of the backgrounds and characters stolen from other Sierra games, and the code is buggy, broken, and barely held together with spit and sellotape, but it sets out to be a proper QFG-style game. You get to choose a class, and each has unique stuff to do. There's a combat interface that's about as much fun as root canal surgery... but then, the original wasn't great either. The world is huge, and does actually have proper puzzles to solve. It's an actual adventure, not just a joke game, like (sigh) "Quest for Orgy". In another life, it might even have been impressive. So what went wrong?
Oh, y'know. A few things. Here and there.
Arriving back in the valley of Spielburg, no longer cut off from the rest of the world, the Hero is immediately greeted by the former Baronet, now full-fat Baron Barnard von Spielburg.
"We are no longer in need of your services," he sneers, pretty true to character. "Unlike my father, I can take care of the valley myself. If I see you around again, you will be arrested."
Well, with his voice saying "no", but his eyes saying "no, really", never mind. Still, the town of Spielburg is just down the road, and it would seem a shame not to call in and catch up with some old friends before heading off to leave this perfectly saved valley as saved as it so obviously is.
At first glance, things seem to be OK. Sure, the once homely but comfortable Hero's Tale Inn is now the "Legitimate Businessman's Social Club", but Zara's Magic Shop is much as it used to be, and the Adventurer's Guild is positively bustling. It even has Robin Hood from Conquests of the Longbow as its new resident hero, Sir Richard—and he must be busy, since another version of Robin Hood from Conquests of the Longbow is sitting outside the town selling trinkets, as if the writer of this game didn't have many portraits to draw from. Very much like it at least. Really, what's the problem here?
Yeah. Put simply, Quest for Glory 4 1/2 is a very humourous game. In the sense that in ancient medicine, the four humors were considered to be blood, black and yellow bile, and phlegm.
But never mind. A hero can be a hero in the darkest of situations, so a merely dumb one should be no problem. Like any Quest for Glory game, you start by solving a few small problems to find out what the real problem is, kit up and deal with it as it deserves. In this case, the problems are misogyny, homophobia, toilet humour, and bugs, and the solution is to uninstall the game.
As a Magic User though, the best way to start is to break it. There's an encounter in the woods, somewhat inevitably involving the cast of Conquests of the Longbow, that you can access right at the start. By talking to them for a few minutes, you get a free spell called "Leprechaun's Gold" that creates fake money. It doesn't work in the Magic Shop or bank, but otherwise—economy broken!
Wandering around, there's a distinct lack of major problems to sort out. Going up to the castle gets you thrown into the dungeon from King's Quest 5 for no apparent reason, but everyone in the town is pretty friendly. The biggest problem in the Adventurer's Guild is that one of the members wants to air out his member by becoming a nudist, and even the Definitely Not Mafia Goons in the Legitimate Businessman's Social Club are reasonably amiable. They almost certainly didn't even kill the former Sheriff, because they say they didn't, and why would they lie about something so serious?
So obviously, the first thing to do is try to get a date. There are two options—a barmaid in Coyote Ugly who wants you to pick a fight with the Mafia by rescuing a butcher from the jail, and a bashful centaur apple seller whose business is in trouble after the death of her father, and who urgently needs a strong hero to hoe her lady garden. What? There is absolutely nothing sexual about that at—
Having quite literally made the beast with two backs, in a scene that likely took at least four months of hardcore research to bring to life, and with no obvious leads on the Mafia sub-plot beyond the fact that mooks currently outnumber the rest of the population by about three-to-one and the Baron seems quite happy to hang the butcher in their place, it's time to head out and see what else is going on.
Not much is going on. An ice giant, Brauggi, returns from the first game to offer a similar challenge as last time—barter or fight. The only difference is that whereas the first game he needed food, this time he wishes to "Hasten to free thee of homosexual garments," which makes even less sense than most of the typo-ridden dialogue in this game. "Though twas a gift from a relative, Yon that from whence came they baggy, fruity pants," he continues. "And Fruitiness of pants has overshadowed, With flaming leather mini-vest. Many a foe excite in slander, With flames such as Ice Homosexual."
Good grief. Suddenly I feel nostalgic for The Eye of Argon.
Swapping clothes for a magic ring—specifically, The Ring That Commands Water from Conquests of the Longbow, though in this game it works on ice—heading out reveals a few more familiar, mostly unemployed faces, and a load more the author apparently put in because he had sprites for them. The closest any of them get to a real joke is that an ogre you beat up in the first game has called a lawyer, who demands 200 gold to not press charges. He accepts Leprechaun Gold. Cool quest, bro.
Anyway, next comes one of the quests that most annoyed fans—a second encounter with a dryad, who tested your devotion to nature in the original game and now wants you to prove yourself again... by murdering some filthy hippies and stealing their filthy bong. Heroic, no?
Quest for Conservatism continues with the discovery that the old Brigand fortress is now a redneck-themed bar and grill and and laundry for some reason, which you can only get into by wearing a Confederate flag for a cape.
Needless to say, it has no relation to anything whatsoever, unless you want to play the crashiest poker game ever added to a game, save the hilarity of... whatever the joke is. I spent some time examining it carefully, and came to the conclusion that it's funny because a redneck bar isn't the kind of thing you'd expect to see in a fantasy kingdom. That fact alone makes it hilarious because this is how comedy works. Picture a bowling ball in a refrigerator. Genius!
With the game more than half over and still no idea of just what the hell the point of it is, it's time to head out of the familiar Quest for Glory territory and down the pass that was closed off in the first game (played here by random screens from King's Quest 5, though the style roughly fits Quest for Glory 1) in search of answers outside the valley.
Spoiler: There aren't any, unless you count stumbling on the reason I think we can assume is the main reason this fan-game was made in the first place.
Cue a spectacularly un-sexy dialogue mini-game where you get to give orders to one of two sex workders, pictures no doubt pinched from some random website. "You tell me what you want me to do, and I do it, okay?" says either "Red" or "Betty" (the most erotic of all the names!), with options including things like "Take Off Dress" and "Feel Breasts", but oddly not "Discuss Aristotle", "Debate the sociopolitical implications of the sex industry in the context of a feudal society based on an inherently patriarchal system offering little in the way of social mobility," or "Poop on this glass table."
"Comes a hero from the East" indeed...
Other than being the reason this game was made, this is a fairly pointless location—in practical terms, offering nothing but an advert for male ballerinas that you give to a literal giant fairy. You see the joke there? In a vague attempt to balance that with something slightly less dumb, it's worth noting that it's around now that you also bump into a would-be evil overlord type who is fairly generic as a character, but is at least vaguely funny. An easy gag, sure, but credit where it's due and all that.
Returning to town, the plot of the game finally gets started when the lovely Bella appears to warn that the gangsters are... wait, who's Bella? (checks) Oh. A girl who appeared in the Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club, but whom you never had so much as a conversation with. This guarantees that you're really, really sad when she immediately turns up dead. Oh, Bella. We hardly knew ye. No, really.
Luckily, you conveniently have a potion capable of resurrecting the dead from helping someone else out, with the only side-effect being that it turns her evil. Helpfully evil though, telling you where to find evidence that the Baron is working with the Mafia. More evidence than the word "Duuuuuuh...." at least, especially as she adds that everyone is already well aware of this fact. A quick bit of infiltration later though and you at least have solid evidence, and it's time to bring justice once again, to march up to the castle gates, demand an audience, insist the Baron renounce his dastardly ways, and—
Escaping from the dungeon from King's Quest 5 with the help of some furry critters, it's the work of a quick jaunt to the Baron's chambers to find some hard evidence against him. For some reason he writes down all of his evil plans in his diary, and signs each entry just to make absolutely sure everyone knows it was him confessing to having kidnapped his sister Elsa and locked her far away in some ice caves so that he gets to... uh... run the valley, like he would anyway, because that's kinda how patriarchal feudalism works, even if Elsa is infinitely more capable than her arrogant shit of a brother.
At least, normally she's infinitely more capable. This being Quest For Glory 4.5, it acknowledges the fact that she's a former brigand leader and terror of the valley, but still has her decide that the best way of taking back her father's castle is... hiding until the Hero sorts everything out on her behalf.
Yeah. This is not Elsa.
The plot continues to "whatever" its way towards the climax with one of the dumbest scenes ever. The Baron's enforcer, Lord Richard, appears to trap the hero on the other side of a mighty ravine by removing the lasso he used to cross it. "I have your rope!" he chortles. "You have two options at this point. One, you can freeze to death over there... or two you can freeze to death! Hahahaha!"
At this point, you'd think it'd be time to go raid the castle, stop the Baron, kick some arse and all that. This being Quest for Glory 4.5 though, you first have to go on a long sea voyage to recover an amulet you have no way of knowing you need and won't even be mentioned until you find it.
Still, to give it credit, at least the last few scenes of Quest for Glory 4.5 haven't been too bad. It's attempted drama with things like Bella's death and rebirth, and is ready to move the plot along by letting you clear out the mafia by showing the right person in town the evidence that will get them beaten and kicked out of town. You could even say that things are finally coming together in some form of 'quest'.
Yes. From humble beginnings doing already outdated Coyote Ugly jokes, it's as if the game has actually grown and matured in front of our eyes, developing into something that—while unquestionably buggy, flawed and poorly written—could totally be seen as a proper, respectable fan-game instead of—
Escaping the dreaded Homosexual Pirates (no relation to the Arse Bandits, and yes, I apologise), you get to return to Spielburg with the amulet, which lets you open up a secret passage into the castle for the final reckoning with the Baron. It starts... poorly. Apparently he's well aware of that secret passage, and has been waiting there for the last few days in the hope that you'll use it.
"Well, this is it for you, brave hero," he sneers. "Now, the question is, should I give you a quick death? Or make it last for all to enjoy. Do you have anything that might tempt me to kill you quickly?"
Well... you are carrying a seductive looking treasure map...
Badoom-tssh. With Barnard now officially out of the way, Elsa finally gets off her arse and shows up to help, having assembled the entire game's population to... stand outside and do nothing. "You served my father, and earned yourself the title of Hero of Spielburg," she announces. "And again you have helped my family, but this time you served me. And for that I bestow upon you the title of my friend."
Bit of a shame that doesn't really apply as of Quest for Glory 5, really.
So, that's Quest for Glory 4 1/2, one of the most controversial, despised fan-games of all time. Is it really as bad as people say it is; an adventure whose mere existence is a blight on the world?
It's not a good game. Puzzles are poorly explained, most of the game is vague, it's incredibly buggy, and the graphics not simply stolen from other Sierra adventures are hideous beyond words. At the same time though, it actually does feel like a Quest for Glory. It may not hold a candle to the actual series, but that shouldn't be a surprise for a one-person fan project. For what it is, and the primitive version of Adventure Game Studio it was built with, it actually gets reasonably close, from bothering with the different classes (to at least some extent, like giving the Thief places to break into and the Fighter a sub-quest involving a murder victim that only he is likely to be able to handle) to implementing the magic system and QFG1 combat engine. It may be a technical mess, but it's more successful than you'd think.
Unfortunately, everything it does well is stabbed right through the face by the dreadful, dreadful humour. It's not simply that it does sex, gay, toilet and other vaguely-controversial-but-mostly-just-sad jokes, but that it does them so spectacularly poorly. Individual scenes like the gratuitous sex bits or the Coyote Ugly joke absolutely overshadow and destroy any goodwill towards the main game, and aren't helped by the general attitude. Far too much of it is mean-spirited or just plain insulting, with the hero ending up a con-artist murderer rather than a hero in a game that doesn't play things loose enough for laughs.
The thing is that the basic idea—returning to Spielburg to find the job not yet done—isn't a bad one. At times, it almost feels like the writer regretted doing it as a parody and kept moving towards just doing a plain fan-sequel. That would have been worth seeing, and much more warmly remembered even if it was still technically broken and riddled with basic adventure design mistakes.
As for the originals, as said, I highly recommend them. The third is a bit of a filler game, the fifth stumbles with its 3D world and more arcade style action, but all of them have their charms—and it's worth playing just to enjoy the absolutely wonderful Quest For Glory 4: Shadows of Darkness. Play them in order, and you can even take the same character through the whole series—exporting and importing your character for each new adventure. Rarely have RPGs had such warmth to them, so much character, or so many hidden things to discover even years later. It's a series that oddly never got the fame of many of Sierra's classic franchises, but was absolutely one of the best.
This one though? Yeah. Skip this one. Even if it's not as bad as people say.