What’s in a name? In the case of Quest for Glory, an unfortunate story. The series originally began as Hero’s Quest, before Milton Bradley pointed at the board game and gave a meaningful cough. It’s a shame, because while Quest For Glory is arguably a better title, it’s really not what the series has ever been about.
For creators Lori and Corey Cole, heroism is a thing to aspire towards for its own sake – the importance of being the light in the darkness, of saving the world through simple human compassion as much as beating up whatever threatens it, and of doing the right thing not because you’re thinking of the reward, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Quest for Glory started its hero’s journey like many others – a young man approaching a small town, hoping to make his name. (Originally there were plans for other character options, including races, but space was at a premium.) It offered a mix of classic graphic adventure gaming and RPG elements, though unsurprisingly for a Sierra game with ‘Quest’ in the title, it leaned heavier to the adventure side.
In particular, it didn’t matter how good your stats were, the game was full of instant death if you annoyed characters or got caught breaking the rules. Pick a fight with a thief, for instance, and there’s not even a battle. Just click, boom, comedy death message.
The RPG side breathed a lot of life into the world though, with your choice of character class allowing three paths through the game – Fighter, Magic User and Thief. Later games would add Paladin to this, either by importing the hero from the previous game or as a title that had to be earned through good deeds.
In the first game, that meant a Magic User could challenge local wizard Erasmus and his pet rat, Fenrus, (or local rat Fenrus and his pet wizard, Erasmus, depending on who you ask) to a magical mini-game duel, while the Thief could join the local guild and break into houses to somewhat unheroically liberate them of their loot.
They also have one of the best deaths in Sierra’s murderous history – using the Lock-pick on yourself with low skill would lead to you stabbing yourself in the brain and dying instantly. With high skills? Congratulations! You successfully picked your nose. Warning: Avoid Quest for Glory if you don’t like puns.
The adventure side of the game mostly came through in puzzles, in dialogue, and the general feel of the game, though never to the crazy lengths of most dedicated adventures. It was more about using tools at your disposal, with the games playing fair.
If you need to retrieve an item and you have a spell to do that, then said spell will either work or at least give a reason why it doesn’t. If it looks like a surface can be climbed to get an item, it probably can be. It might take some stat grinding to get good enough, and there might be an easier way like casting Levitate, but it’ll usually work.
The downside of this is that the RPG elements are limited. Combat especially is mini-game hell from the very start to the very end of the series, only the details changing. There’s very little in the way of gear too, with usually only a couple of upgrades per game.
It’s best to think of these elements as seasoning rather than a major part of the meal, manifest more in elements like side-quests that you can take on, the ability to wander more or less freely around the world, day-and-night cycles where the worst monsters usually come out at night, and the need to eat and sleep.
Being based on adventures did however allow for much stronger narrative than most RPGs had back in 1989. The series made great use of this, with each game set in a different location with its own rules.
For Quest for Glory I, it’s the European village of Spielburg, where everything is familiar. Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire (1991) took the hero to Arabia, with most of the action taking place in one big city where events happened on set days and had to be dealt with before it was too late – before then leaving on a caravan to sort out the mastermind behind it all.
Quest for Glory III: Wages of War (1992) remains one of the few games to explore Africa, focusing on war and the hunt for a lost city.
Collectively, these become more than just a travelogue, with the hero constantly being exposed to both what people want, and what they really need – facing evil enemies who have to be stopped, but also learning that appearances can be deceptive.
In QFG1 for instance, there’s a group of bandits terrorising the valley. The big reveal is that their leader is the local baron’s enchanted daughter, but the route to learning that makes a point of showing her to be more than just a snarling villain. She has honour. She makes a point of personally intervening when her men attack one of the villagers and getting him medical treatment. She has nuance, and while not all of the baddies are similarly redeemable, that nuance runs through every plot point and every decision made in the series.
Heroism, it repeatedly emphases, relies just as much on seeing the good in people as the bad. There are worse lessons for a game to teach, whether you want to be a hero or not. Richard Cobbet