King's Quest V Review

Screenshot of King Graham's family from King's Quest V
King Graham's family and Princess Cassima

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Sierra On-Line
  • Publisher: Sierra On-Line
  • Release Date: 9 November 1990 (CD-ROM version 1992)
  • Time played: 4 hours

What is it

Every adventure gamer or gamer that played games in the 80s and 90s, would've heard of the King's Quest series and with good reason; without the series, Sierra wouldn't have become as prominent as it did and the King's Quest games pioneered many concepts with respect to graphic adventure games.

The King's Quest series consists of several adventures involving King Graham and his family. King Graham starts off as a knight in the first King's Quest and is crowned King of Daventry at the game's conclusion. He rescues a damsel in distress called Valanice in King's Quest II who he eventually marries and in King's Quest III you get to play as Graham's son Alexander as he attempts to flee from the evil wizard Manannan. King's Quest IV sees you playing the role of Princess Rosella who seeks to find a cure for her dying father and this was the last King's Quest adventure to be released on Sierra's older in-house engine called the Adventure Game Interpreter (AGI). King's Quest IV would also be released on an early version of the Sierra Creative Interpreter (SCI) which is the engine used for all Sierra adventures in the 1990s.

King's Quest V was the first King's Quest to use SCI1 and it came with a whole bunch of improvements including higher quality Video Graphics Array (VGA) graphics in 256 colours (in later releases of the game) and the replacement of the text parser entirely instead relying on a fully mouse-driven point 'n' click interface. The CD-ROM version of the game (the version I played in my youth) which was released in 1992 even featured voice acting, and these early games with voice acting included were known as "talkies". The game had a budget of $1 million and used rotoscoping techniques for the animations. The backgrounds in the game were hand drawn, painted and scanned which is different to how they used to create the scenes in older Sierra adventures.

King's Quest V has you playing the role of King Graham again after discovering his family and castle are taken away from him by an evil wizard named Mordack. With the assistance of a friendly wizard named Crispin and his assistant, Cedric the Owl, Graham embarks on a quest to rescue his family and recover his home.

King's Quest V sold more than 500,000 copies by February 1993 and the game won several awards. Critics praised the game for its VGA graphics, audio and user interface, but criticised the voice acting and the desert map segment of the game.

How I got it

As I played quite a few Sierra adventure games back in the day it only made sense for me to acquire the entire King's Quest collection when it became available on GOG.

As part of my Pile of Shame initiative, Choona wanted me to revisit all the Sierra adventure games that I haven't reviewed on this blog, so it made sense for me to continue exploring the King's Quest series. Unlike the other King's Quest titles I've reviewed to date, I actually remember playing King's Quest V before and finishing it, so I was curious to see how the game held up today, compared to my opinion of the game when I originally played it (the game was state-of-the-art back then).

Screenshot of Graham receiving shoes from the elves in King's Quest V
Much of the art in the game was hand drawn, painted and scanned

What I like:

Slightly more modern

This was the first King's Quest game I've ever played, so I never experienced the older titles on the AGI engines and with EGA graphics until much later. I had the CD-ROM version of King's Quest V and I was blown away by the 256 colour VGA graphics, the voice overs, the live instrumental music, a point 'n' click interface, just the high production values in general. Sure, it looks and sounds very dated now, but it was pretty amazing back in the early 90s, and that's mainly what this iteration of King's Quest has going for it: it's the first of the King's Quest games to make the big leap to SCI1.

Screenshot of Mordack's Island in King's Quest V
A great number of the game's most frustrating puzzles are to be found on Mordack's island

What I dislike:

King's Quest V seems to have fairer and more logical puzzles than its predecessors but I guess it wouldn't be a proper King's Quest title if it didn't still suffer from some familiar pitfalls.

Save scumming to make progress

It seems a lot of earlier Sierra adventures employed the need for save scumming and King's Quest V recycles this "feature" by having the player navigate a desert where traversing too far in the wrong direction will cause you to die of thirst. The only solution is to create a map of the desert using good ol' pen and paper which usually means a lot of dying and reloading from previous save games. The whole desert segment adds an extra hour to the game but it's debatable on whether it's any fun.

Waiting in real-time for actions to occur

There is a part in this game where you have to wait in real-time for a certain event to occur so you're able to steal a certain item and while I'm not usually a fan of this in adventure games, at least it's nowhere near as painful as previous King's Quest games.

Pixel hunting

Before the point 'n' click era of Sierra adventures, you would often be looking for objects despite not knowing they actually existed in the game world (unless you happened to type the correct sequence of words into the text parser). Once point 'n' click adventures came along though, pixel hunting, where you had to search for the correct pixel to click on in order to progress, became a thing. A very annoying thing I might add, but a thing. King's Quest V has an instance of one of these types of puzzles where you have to scour the screen for a silver coin. Thankfully the coin sparkles otherwise it'd be nigh on impossible even noticing it.

Nonsensical puzzles

King's Quest V isn't as bad as previous King's Quest games when it comes to nonsensical puzzles but they're still in there. For example, at one point in the game you're required to search a haystack just because there happens to be a needle in it which you can give to the tailor (there's no indication it's in there in the first place - you just have to assume every haystack has a needle sitting in it).

Dead Ends

King's Quest V wouldn't be a proper Sierra adventure unless it had multiple ways of you reaching dead ends. For example, one of the potential dead-ends you can reach is if you decide to use the wrong inventory item to sate your hunger. If you decide to consume the wrong inventory item you will be missing a critical item that has to be used later on and you'll unknowingly reach a dead-end.

One of the worst dead-ends occurs in the final minutes of the game while you're exploring Mordack's castle. There is a creature that can be avoided altogether (its appearance occurs at random intervals) but you're actually meant to let it capture you in order to gain a critical quest item and only after it tries to get you a second time are you meant to cause it to trip over a pile of dried peas. If you don't do these things in the sequence described you'll probably unknowingly find yourself at a dead-end and you won't be able to complete the game (yay).

Low quality audio

It's not a gameplay issue per se, but unfortunately due to the age of the game, all the voice acting is recorded at a very low bitrate, so it's extremely hard sometimes to make out what people are saying and unfortunately there's no ability to turn on subtitles.

Score – 7/10 (Good)

King's Quest V suffers from many of the pitfalls from previous Sierra adventures such as dead-ends, nonsensical puzzles, waiting in real-time for events to occur and the need to save scum. To top it all off there's even pixel hunting required too. However, the game had high production values back in the day and was a huge leap forward in terms of its higher resolution, 256 colour VGA graphics (based on actual paintings), voice overs, live instrumental music and a point 'n' click interface that says farewell to the text parser altogether. So it's still very much a King's Quest game, but looks and sounds better, at least for a game that came out in the early 90s.

(I've placed the following disclaimer when reviewing Sierra games before and I'll say it again: before I get burned at the stake by the Sierra fans, I'm trying to judge this game on its own merits, playing it today in 2021. No doubt the game was highly regarded by fans in the 1990s, but nowadays, things have evolved and, in my humble opinion, generally for the better).

Is the game worth $13.59 AUD?:

No. Although it really depends if you're an old fan (so you've probably already got a copy anyway) and what price you would put on retro games in general. The $13.59 is not only for King's Quest V though; it also gets you King's Quest IV and King's Quest VI, so when you think of it as about $4-5 per adventure, it's actually pretty good value overall.

If you like this game, you might like… [ LINK: King's Quest 4+5+6 @ GOG ]