Quest For Glory: A Retrospective
QUEST FOR GLORY,
Or, True Heroes Never Count The Miles
“Let me tell you about the time that first I became a hero.
There was this quaint mountain village besieged by monsters and brigands, haunted by an evil hag and the disappearance of the heirs to the crown. Its ruling Baron had become a recluse in despair and danger was coming from every imaginable corner.
Was I nervous? You bet your exquisitely-cured all-weather adventuring boots I was! There I was, fresh from the Famous Adventurers’ Correspondence School with nothing but a stylish cape and a threepenny sword and —I must admit it, a dashing smile. I thought I was biting off more than I could ever chew, little did I know that I would go on to become the hero of many lands and eventually… but I am getting ahead of myself here! How does this go? Ah, yes…
Once upon a time, there was a little town called Spielburg…”
Quest For Glory is pentalogy created by husband and wife team Corey and Lori Ann Cole for Sierra Entertainment. Both avid roleplayers (they met at a DnD gaming session), they brought a different perspective to the table when it came to designing their first game for Sierra. One that would change the industry and provide fans with years of fantastic storytelling.
The first game, Hero’s Quest: So You Want To Be A Hero? (later changed to “Quest For Glory” due to a trademark issue with Hasbro’s board game) launched in 1989 and was revolutionary for its day: in a market where the pure adventure game was king , it introduced the concept of the RPG/Adventure hybrid for the first time. Players were able to choose between three character classes (Fighter, Magic User and Thief, with the Paladin added in later games) and could allocate points to different skill sets. Depending on the character’s class and the skills at his disposal, the player could find different solutions to the problems posited throughout the game- a novel concept for its time, and one that has always ensured the high re-playability value of the series.
Starting the player in the role of a rookie hero arriving at a land in despair, the game world was rich with backstory and had plenty of challenges for a would-be hero. Adventure games of the day were infamous for off-the wall puzzles with twisted logic solutions and unforgivable death scenes… the puzzles in Hero’s Quest, by comparison, were tied to the storyline and had common sense solutions. Death was possible, but it usually came if you did something extremely stupid (such as trying to cast a spell at the two thugs that are holding you at knifepoint in an alleyway) or if you succumbed to monsters in combat due to not thinking about your combat strategy.
Yes, combat— true to its roleplaying game roots, the franchise included wandering monsters in the wilderness, and our trusty hero could engage them in combat. How he approached combat, again, depended entirely on his class and skillset, providing a different experience each time. Upon finishing the game and earning the title of Hero of Spielburg, the player could save his or her character to disk, so as to import their characters into the sequel. Players were able to see their character start from a complete amateur to a mighty hero by the end of the series, creating an extra level of attachment to their hero. All of this was extremely innovative in 1989, in a marketplace where most computer RPGs were heavy on the mechanics and very light on story, and adventure games were extremely linear in the stories they told, padded with illogical puzzles. The land of Spielburg, by comparison, was a breath of fresh air and felt alive, vibrant… and, of course, dangerous
Story-wise, the series distinguished itself for its unabashed heroism, mixing its epic tone with wistful humor. The first Quest For Glory’s story arc was the traditional “Young hero comes to a land in need” and served as the launching point for the rest of the series’ themes. Set in a standard medieval setting, the creatures and legends are your European high-fantasy standards, though with their own unique twists. However, you get to meet Centaurs and a couple of Katta—anthropomorphic felines—that suggest other lands with their very distinct populations.
The sequel, Quest For Glory II: Trial By Fire took you precisely to the home of your Katta friends Shameen and Shema: the resplendent city of Shapeir. Trial By Fire draws heavily from the Thousand And One Nights, and the world is full of djinni, elementals and dervishes, desert dunes, bazaars and labyrinthine streets. The setting is one that is usually neglected outside of the Prince of Persia franchises, and one that is ripe for storytelling. Traveling with your Katta friends, you find that the beautiful city of Shapeir is in danger of being destroyed by magical elementals, and that its sister city —Raseir— has fallen under tyrannical rule and has become a totalitarian prison.
Through your heroic meddling, you’ll be put right in the middle of an Individual vs. Society arc, save the city from destruction, and you’ll also learn of the heartbreaking story of Julanar, the woman-tree of the desert— but to speak of it further would be to spoil it.
Should your deportment be appropriately heroic and honorable throughout the game, going above and beyond even the hero’s normal duty, you will be allowed to become a Paladin and receive the sword called Soulforge (which erputs into blue flame when in combat!). This will allow you to start the third game as the Paladin class. Harun al-Rashid, the Sultan of Shapeir, adopts you as his son and heir in recognition of your great deeds, effectively giving you the title of Prince of Shapeir on top of your honorific from Spielburg. History buffs might recognize in Harun the name of the Caliph who started the golden age of the Abbasid Caliphates in our own history— a nice nod from the Coles, who named an important wizard in the first name “Erasmus” after Renaissance humanist Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam. The world of Gloriana, while being a mostly fantastical construct, does have its interesting little intersections with our own.
The third game, Wages of War (also known as Seekers of the Lost City) takes place in a uniquely African setting. Summoned to Fricana and traveling with your friends Rakeesh the Liontaur and the woman warrior Uhura, you come into a world that is completely alien to you- and you must soon learn the customs and ways of this new world and its people if you want to get to the bottom of things. The Simbani —humans— are at the brink of war with the Leopardmen —exactly what they sound like— over the issue of stolen relics. The hero of Shapeir and Spielburg must get to the bottom of this, and discover that much darker forces are at work than simply tribal warfare. This being the first game that allowed you to play as the Paladin, you will find yourself in some interesting (if all too few) situations where the concept of Paladin-hood is tested. Unlike the Dungeons And Dragons Paladin, who is obligated to follow the law of the land or else lose his honor, the Quest for Glory Paladin must follow what he knows to be right, even if it means breaking law and defying custom.
After his adventures in Fricana, the hero is mysteriously taken to the lugubrious world of Mordavia in Shadows of Darkness. By far the darkest of the series, this game also has some of the strongest writing and characterization- providing one of the most compelling games in the series. The atmosphere is high horror: Vampires, ghosts, werewolves and dark beings, with the return of old foes from previous games. The interactions are a step beyond previous games, with the attitude of the townsfolk changing towards you as you acquire more prestige and perform great deeds. The game loves to play with the horror and supernatural mythos of Slavic stories—in no other game in my memory can you befriend a Rusalka, a water sprite known for seducing men to the water and subsequently drowning them. You can learn of her heartbreaking story, but only a Paladin proper may set her free.
The Wizardress Erana, who had been an off-screen presence in all previous games (mainly through the establishment of enchanted areas of safety throughout each land), plays a pivotal part in the story and the hero will finally learn what was her ultimate fate. The themes of Shadows of Darkness are pretty heavy indeed, lightened with humor that pokes playfully at B-movie tropes, complete with Boris Karloff references, mad scientists and vorpal bunnies. Hanging over this tapestry of light and dark is the eventual awakening of Avoozl, a Lovecraftian figure who seeks to engulf the world in everlasting darkness. With Shadows of Darkness, the series comes into full maturity as a storytelling venue. The villain of the story is one of the best-written, and you will be surprised about how you come to feel about them. The Coles said of this game that “It’s about deceit, betrayal, and death. It’s about superstition and prejudice. But most of all, Shadows of Darkness is about Love – The love of Power and the power of Love.”
Unfortunately, Sierra shipped the game early in the QA process and as a result it suffered from many crippling bugs- many of which were game-ending. The CD release (with superb voice acting including John Rhys-Davies, Jennifer Hale and Jeff Bennett), which his the one currently at gog.com, corrected this issue. Another innovation was the combat system, which allows the player to advance or retreat out of an attacker’s reach.
The final installment of the series, Dragonfire, was released in 1998- nine years after the first Quest for Glory and five years after its most recent installment at the time. By that time the Coles were no longer working at Sierra, but they were brought on board to bring about a suitable conclusion to the series— something that very few of the other Sierra adventure franchises were lucky enough to have.
Dragonfire takes place in the land of Silmaria- a paralell to our ancient Greece. Summoned by the eccentric wizard Erasmus and his familiar rat, Fenris, the hero is told that the rightful ruler of Silmaria has been assassinated and left no hair, so the Rites of Rulership are about to take place, in order to determine who the next ruler of the island will be. The hero is brought in to investigate the murder and also to participate in the Rites of Rulership. Halfway throughout the rites, the competitors start dropping like flies to a mysterious assassin, and foul play is only the beginning of the story—there is a great evil about to be awakened, and it is up to the hero to stop it!
Story-wise, Dragonfire is a satisfying conclusion and very rewarding to those who have followed the adventures of the Hero. Many characters from the series reappear in this last installment: your old friends Erasmus and Rakeesh, but also Baroness Elsa Von Spielburg—now turned into a veritable warrior princess (albeit with a thick German accent). The storyline is epic in scope, with the hero interacting with creatures of ancient Greek myth such as the hydra and the Pegasus, and descending to Hades as Orpheus himself did. There he encounters two very important women to him who he has met in previous games (with the option of bringing one of them back from the halls of the dead). The hero’s friendships and loyalties tie together at the end, and he can even marry one of the women from the past games, once he claims the crown of Silmaria.
In the technical aspect, this game abandoned the pixel and hand-drawn art of its predecessors in favor of 3D characters over pre-rendered environments. The game has aged gracefully and its environments are still quite beautiful, though some of the models don’t look as good. The game also underwent a genre change: whereas its predecessors had been adventure games with roleplaying mechanics introduced, Dragonfire had heavy roleplaying elements: varieties of armor and weapons, and most of the trials are combat-oriented. Combat now takes place in the environment itself instead of a separate screen, giving you greater freedom of maneuverability and tactical opportunities. The voice acting remains superb and the characters continue to be engaging, and closing the deal on an extremely-polished product is a soundtrack by Emmy-winning composer Chance Thomas, which was released on CD.
The Quest For Glory series remains an important work in the annals of computer games: it is fun and entertaining, but it is also well-written and carries a very honest outlook at its core: the philosophy of heroism. Even within the fantastical environment in which they took place, the adventures of the hero have always an inspiring quality, because of the hero’s steadfast refusal to give up the fight. Philosopher Andrew Bernstein in his essay ‘Philosophical Foundations of Heroism’ said that “A hero’s life is an unbroken and inviolable series of actions taken in accordance with his own principles in the teeth of any obstacle with which nature or other men confront him.” This could very well be said of the Hero of Spielburg, who would eventually become the King of Silmaria many years later. Because of his (or her) unbreached devotion to the good— Bernstein argues— no matter the opposition, a hero attains spiritual grandeur, even in he fails to achieve practical victory.
It is not uncommon to hear fans of the series, who played the games during their teenage years, to claim that Quest For Glory had inspired them and made them think about the concept of heroism in a different light. “I was raised to believe in heroism thanks to you, and to this day I haven’t changed a bit,” writes an admirer of the series on the Coles’ Facebook wall, and the internet is full of thriving websites and communities dedicated to the series—a strong testimonial for a series whose last game came out fourteen years ago.
Ultimately, Quest for Glory delivers something only very few games ever deliver: an epic adventure that makes you care about the characters involved, and which moves you towards heroism precisely because you come to care about the world around your character. By the last game, the memories and experiences of different lands and different allies are uniquely yours, part of your hero’s tapestry. Philosopher Leonard Peikoff, when talking about heroes, brings out the point that heroes wish to save the world not because they have no stake in it, but precisely because they wish to live in the world. It is clear through their work that the Coles enjoy the idea of living in a heroic world, and the result of their passion is one of the most unforgettable game series in the history of gaming.
The entire Quest for Glory pack, games one through five, is for sale at Gog.com for $10- roughly $2 a game. That’s definitely an incredible deal, and one no serious gamer should pass up…
After all… who doesn’t want to be a hero? The challenge awaits you!
The Coles have also been working on a spiritual successor to the Quest for Glory series: Hero-U. You can learn more about the game here.