God, how I love the Quest for Glory series of adventure games. It’s one of those rare series that, for me, both occupies a rose-colored, nostalgia-heightened placement on a pedestal of gaming and yet legitimately holds up against the ravages of time. I still, most of the time, enjoy firing up one of the series’ installments and sighing a few deep breaths of contentment.
I say “most of the time” mainly because I’ve played the first four QFG games a ka-billion times (I have issues with QFG 5). The last time I played QFG 2 I was able to get to the moneychanger from memory alone, which let me assure you, is a sign that I need to be doing better things with my life.
Then one day I came across an announcement of Heroine’s Quest by the indie developers Crystal Shard. It’s an homage to the series, a fully realized game, and one that stars a female hero in a new universe. I couldn’t have downloaded it any faster.
I likely can play Quest for Glory games blindfolded and it was clear from the start that the makers of Heroine’s Quest likely can too. It’s a project developed with a lot of love and attention that only people who are fully aware of QFG’s strengths and faults could create. It’s full of inside jokes, guest appearances, and small improvements to Quest for Glory’s format.
Quest for Glory always felt very lonely to play, with sparsely populated worlds and citizens who didn’t have much to say other than bits of gossip to help you on your quest. Heroine’s Quest tackles the loneliness of being a hero in rather simple and mostly effective ways. My favorite “fix” being the addition of small, useless creatures running around the landscape. It’s such a silly, little thing but having the occasional rabbit, weasel, or weird cave creature scurrying about as you explore yet another screen of featureless woodland makes the game world feel a little more complete.
There are many other features and improvements to the Quest for Glory model in Heroine’s Quest that had me nodding in approval or simply solicited a big ‘ole “YUP” from me as I played. I won’t list them out in boring fashion, as they’re likely only appreciated by someone who knows exactly what Keapon Laffin’s secret eyeglasses REALLY do. Again, this game was clearly made by enormous QFG fans, my kind of people.
However as I got deeper into the game my nostalgia-driven optimism for Heroine’s Quest began to falter as problems with the game’s programming and logic began to reveal themselves. One small example is when you look a cat that wanders a town in the game. The game message displayed talks about how the white cat is camouflaged against the white snow-covered ground—even when you look at the cat indoors.
A bigger example is when you’re tasked with finding “a cat’s footfall” (all my examples will be cat-driven it seems). I figured the solution would be to have the cat walk in some ink and then walk on a sheet of paper– and I was kind of right. But the inkwell found in the Adventurer’s Guild cannot be picked up and when you try to do so you’re given a generic message about not being allowed to take the inkwell (making me think I was on the wrong track). To solve the puzzle you actually have to use an empty vial on the inkwell to pour some out. The unspoken rule of adventure games is that you pick up anything that’s not nailed down. If I couldn’t pick up the inkwell in this case and I was to be forced to solve the puzzle exactly how the developers wanted, I really should have been given a message saying that I was at least close to the solution.
Written here, alone my two examples are shaky and make it seem like I’m nitpicking. The problem is that there are a lot of similar examples in Heroine’s Quest and they often created situations where I was incredibly stuck and unsure of what to do next in the game. Usually in such games some character in the game will give you a hint about how to solve a puzzle and it’s surprising how often that wasn’t the case. If randomly using my inventory items on things in the game world didn’t work, I regularly resorted to combing the Heroine’s Quest’s forum for spoilers and there’s nothing that’ll sour my mood faster than surfing, ugh, forums.
Let’s not forget that Heroine’s Quest was made by a small team of independent developers. The game clearly needs more spot-checking, more puzzle testing, and some patching. My wild, unsubstantiated guess is that the same team of testers played the game throughout its development and not enough outside opinions were there to help find holes. I can’t imagine how hard it is to develop a game where there can be multiple solutions to a puzzle but that lack of thorough vetting is where Heroine’s Quest falls short. I played through the game as the warrior but I think I’m going to wait a while before I tackle the game again using the other two character classes since I got a little too frustrated by the end of my play-through.
I mean, Heroine’s Quest is a free game for goodness sakes! (I’m getting angry with my own griping.) It’s beautiful, has fantastic voice acting, and manages to be referential while creating an interesting world of its own. There’s a donation button on Crystal Shard’s webpage and I “paid” for the game—they deserve it. If you like Heroine’s Quest even a little or are a Quest for Glory fan of old, I suggest you do so too. Heroine’s Quest is flawed but its heart is in the right place. And no matter how many times you play those old Quest for Glory games they’re not getting any newer.