Nothing is more classic than a fairytale love story. Embracing all those ideas and flipping them upside down however makes up the core of King’s Quest’s third chapter. Following strongly in the footsteps of modern satirical takes on fairytales, namely Shrek and Frozen, “Once Upon a Climb” sees King Graham search for the love of his life.
When a magic mirror tells him that his true love, and future wife, is stuck at the top of a tower, Graham wastes no time setting out to rescue her. After climbing to the top however, he finds two princesses, and neither of which has any interest in marrying him. To make matters worse, he becomes just as trapped in the tower as they are.
What ensues is a delightful, fun adventure, introducing a handful of new characters to King’s Quest’s world, while also highlighting more than a few returning faces. The biggest stars of the chapter are Princess Vee, Princess Neese and the witch keeping them captive, Hagatha. While each could have just been hollow, throwaway characters, “Once Upon a Climb” manages the opposite. Hagatha is more than just an evil witch, and Vee and Neese are each their own character. Vee is a pun-loving, practical and clever adventurer. Meanwhile Neese is more the fun-minded, energetic type, fascinated by magic and the world around her.
Both women appeal to different parts of Graham and are likable in their own ways. Instead of ever boiling down to something as arbitrary as an option A or option B choice between the two however, your actions throughout the chapter ultimately dictate which of the women Graham falls for. Playing like a romantic comedy, the love story works against the greater backdrop of Graham, Vee and Neese trying to escape the tower.
Unlike the rather claustrophobic cave setting of chapter 2 however, the wonderful plot device of magic allows escaping the tower to actually involve a lot of time spent outside the tower. Again showing off a range of locations, like chapter 1, “Once Upon a Climb” fills its 2-3 hours with plenty of variety.
Along with the wider selection of environments, we’re also treated to plenty of returning characters. From the royal guards to the knights Graham competed against in chapter 1, all of them are as humorous and joyfully crazy as they were in the previous episodes. This is made that much better as Graham is forced to ask each for advice about love.
Simply put, king or not, Graham is a dork. And that’s exactly what makes him so lovable. Seeing him try his best to save and impress two women who are perfectly capable all on their own adds plenty of humor to the proceedings. It keeps “Once Upon a Climb” from ever feeling like the dating sim it easily could have.
The nice spin on the standard fairytale setup is only enhanced by the continued, and surprisingly poignant, framing of the narrative. Like the episodes before it, King’s Quest’s third entry is told from the point of view of King Graham as an old man. Christopher Lyod is still a joy to listen to. And the handful of scenes between the unwell, old Graham and his worried wife adds a bit of welcome emotion to the story.
Despite the returned strength in storytelling however, chapter 3 of King’s Quest plays things much more straightforward than either of the previous entries. While a few of the puzzles are quite clever, the overall difficulty is dialed back. Only one or two puzzles ever made me really pause to scratch my head. Though a needed change from the overriding complexity of the second chapter, it seems the pendulum swung too far, missing the happy medium of the first.
And regardless of how excellent the writing and voice-work is, its unfortunate to hear the same piece of dialogue multiple times while solving a puzzle. Though a small thing, it resulted in one of the only difficult puzzles being more annoying than challenging.
Overall, “Once Upon a Climb” offers a fun twist on the romantic fairytale. In doing so, it also sets up a growing conflict brewing in the background and moves the story along with new and likeable characters. Even with less complexity in its puzzles, the third episode of King’s Quest seems to be back on the right track, delivering even more in the humor and character it excels at.