More Like Zel-Don’t

HIGH The opening setpiece is thrilling in a way the rest of the game isn’t.

LOW What if Ocarina of Time‘s Water Temple didn’t have a map?

WTF Now you want me to fast travel? No thanks, I’ll quit instead.

It took a lot for A Knight’s Quest to break me — I put up with sluggish, unresponsive combat, floaty jumping that made the platforming a chore, four hours spent looking for items because there weren’t any quest markers on its map or compass, and more. I suffered through all of it and kept on, increasingly frustrated, right up until AKQ decided to insult me one last time by unlocking a fast travel system.

Why was that the thing that made me quit for good? I’ll get there.

First, though, I should explain — A Knight’s Quest is a third-person action-RPG built in the Zelda mold with a kid hero battling skeletons, unlocking powers and solving block and switch-based puzzles while trying to solve the mystery of a floating power crystal that may have the power to end the world.

…It’s also one of the most poorly playtested games I’ve ever encountered. It’s not particularly buggy, but rarely have I seen a title worse at communicating what it wants the player to do at any given moment. It’s as if A Knight’s Quest got all the way to release without ever being played by someone who hadn’t worked on it — it wrongly assumes the player already knows what to do in every situation.

For example, I made it to a desert town and was told that if I wanted to reach a nearby cave, I’d have to cure four city guards. I located three of them easily, then found myself absolutely stumped by the location of the fourth.

I spent a half an hour winding my way through mazelike alleys looking for any sign of the guard, but could turn up no trace. There were no clues to find, and no one to talk to about the guard — I was on my own, and ready to quit the game. Before that, however, I checked the internet, and discovered that the city guardsman I was looking for wasn’t in the city at all — he was all the way across the map, guarding a black market store hidden behind some rocks.

Was there any way I could have possibly known where he was? None that I can see. The only way to find the guard is to be the kind of person who randomly searches the entire map while there’s something else they’re supposed to be doing.

Worse yet, I took this lesson to heart. When I arrived at the next area, I immediately started searching the map from corner to corner for the challenge I was supposed to overcome and then spent twenty minutes frustrated, because I was unable to find anything I could interact with. The developers, in their infinite wisdom, had made it possible to start exploring the area before getting the item that was needed to progress.

If the core gameplay was satisfying I may have lasted a little longer, but it’s weak. Jumping onto ledges is strangely inconsistent and hard to pull off whenever they’re not laid out at right angles — which they usually aren’t. Every enemy takes too much damage to kill, and they have a nasty habit of swarming the player and stun-locking them. The limited moveset leaves players with no way to deal with crowds other than to hope they’ve got a bomb in their inventory.

Speaking of the inventory, it’s impossible to ignore what a bad idea limiting the player’s inventory in A Knight’s Quest is. The game features two different kinds of damage and nine different types of healing items, not to mention the various bombs and resources that can be collected and sold. Just a few minutes into play and my inventory was full, and I spent a huge amount of time vacillating between throwing away money or healing items every time I opened a chest. It wasn’t until five hours after I started that I finally found a store where I could sell excess items. However, even with this convenience my inventory was full again just a few minutes later.

Adding insult to injury, A Knight’s Quest supposedly offers a way to expand the inventory — find hidden singing slimes throughout the maps, and then trade them to a character named Slymon for new slots! This would have been great if I’d ever met Slymon, or had any idea where to start looking for him.

The weakest point, though, is just how big each individual location is. Every map takes at least a minute to walk from one end to the other, and while that may not sound like a lot, every area is bland and featureless, with precious few monsters to fight or items to find. Players are asked to backtrack through them so often, that soon all travel starts to feel like a chore. This would be mitigated if there were a map and markers to help direct players to points of interest, but their omission makes getting lost an inevitability.

Now, getting back to why I quit A Knight’s Quest for good. By this point I’d spent twenty hours exploring the map, climbed a scary thing to fight the ultimate boss, and then discovered that what seemed to be the ending was just establishing the threat, and I was going to have to revisit all of the previous dungeons.

I initially balked at the idea, but a character handed me a fast-travel power item, and I breathed a sigh of relief — at least I wasn’t going to have to trudge across the map anymore… Except yes, I would. When I arrived at my first fast-travel point, I was told that the rest of them were locked. If I wanted to use them, I’d have to explore the entire world again, finding and activating each one without the benefit of a map to remind me where they were.

Nope. If a game shows that little respect for my time and effort, how can I possibly keep playing?

A Knight’s Quest opens with a masterful sequence as its hero leaps across crumbling pillars, wallruns over pits, and slashes the occasional beast. It’s tight, focused, and incredibly entertaining, and if the rest of the experience had felt anything at all like that, I would have loved it. Instead, the minute players get out of the first dungeon, the developers’ assumptions of intuition and inability to design a playable open world absolutely ruins everything. With a map and markers, A Knight’s Quest would be a little rough, but charming. In its current state? It’s a borderline-unplayable mess.

Rating: 3 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Sky 9 Games and published by Curve Digital. It is currently available on XBO, PS4, Switch, and PC via the Epic Store. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 25 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Crude Humor and Violence. There’s a decent amount of crude humor in the game — quests about finding toilet paper, skeletons that make rude gestures and the like, but nothing particularly offensive. All of the violence is bloodless and kid-friendly, even if one of the bosses is unnerving enough that younger kids should probably be kept away from the game.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played much of the game with no audio and had few issues. The only major one was regarding the singing slimes I mentioned in the review — it’s difficult to find them without being able to use the volume of their singing as a ‘hot/cold’ meter. That said, a symbol does come up onscreen when one is nearby, and I was still able to find plenty even with that handicap. Not that I ever used them…

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

Daniel Weissenberger
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