by Benjamin Fitzgerald
The saying goes that the best things in life are free, but I don’t know if I believe that. Video games, Diet Dr. Pepper and road trips to Idaho all cost money. I volunteered to take care of Shadow when my friends couldn’t keep him. Doggy affection is free, but I still have to pay for his food, his grooming, flea treatment (thanks a lot, Arkansas) and of course his precious tennis balls.
There’s not much you can get for free these days: you have the occasional fast food coupon, water fountains at the supermarket, a bunch of crap on Craigslist…and kittens. Lots and lots and lots of free kittens. If something is free, it’s pretty much either broken or it purrs. Someone in Fayetteville, North Carolina is giving away a broken blender. Book your plane flight today, and we’ll throw in half a dozen kittens free of charge!
Once in a while though, something really good comes along and you don’t have to pay for it. Heroine’s Quest is one of those things. Heroine’s Quest is a point-and-click adventure/role-playing game hybrid inspired by the classic Quest for Glory series. I’m a pretty big QfG fan, so the tribute was a must-play for me, and I have to say, this game is amazing. It has three different paths to choose from, a diverse cast of characters, a great story, plenty of (usually funny) humor, a ton of optional side quests, and a typically ultimate quest to change the fate of the world and save humanity from destruction.
Three Branching Paths
One of the things I really liked about the original Quest for Glory was how the experience genuinely changed based on your class. For a lot of RPGs, your class is really just for flavoring and doesn’t affect how you progress through the game. The Elder Scrolls is a good example. In Oblivion you had set classes, but they only determined how you leveled up. They had no effect on what skills you could or couldn’t use. Everyone can be a brawling swordsman, cunning assassin or wily sorcerer. The original 1996 Diablo is probably the worst offender in this category. While you had three classes to choose from, the only effect they had, other than your starting stats, is a single bonus power and a different sprite.
Heroine’s Quest really recaptures what its inspiration did so well. Like QfG, you can choose between a fighter, a rogue or a magic user, and the game will play out differently each time. Each class comes with a specific set of skills, and these will be used to determine your success during the game. For example, fighters know how to parry blows while sorceresses possess a basic knowledge of alchemy. Your skills level up as you complete different actions, such as fighting, sneaking, climbing or even engaging in dialogue. While leveling your skills can be a bit grindy at times, it is still an effective system that offers a variety of unique paths.
The three different classes all feature a different approach to solving the puzzles. While the plot remains unchanged, the manner in which you approach it changes substantially. For example, one of the early problems involves rescuing a young boy from imprisonment by a svartalf. As a fighter, you draw your sword and take him head on. Thieves solve the problem by getting herself captured and tricking the svartalf into leaving the prisoners unattended. The sorceress sends a shadow of herself to confuse the svartalf, allowing her to cast a spell on the gem that controls the gate.
Another thing I really liked was that many of the quests have several solutions no matter which path you choose. Other quests are class-specific, and there are certain things that are only available for one particular class. Rogues, for example can earn points by breaking into people’s houses and stealing their belongings. Magic users have access to a wizard’s game with Aurvandel (in keeping with Quest for Glory tradition), and fighters can use a variety of weapons with which to brain trolls, gut bandits and hack draug apart.
Most of the quests aren’t class-specific, although the individual approach will always change based on your class. One thing I liked is that there are a lot of optional side quests, including quite a few that I have not figured out, even after two playthroughs. Some of the puzzles are pretty complicated. There aren’t a lot of puzzles to solve in the main story branch, especially if you’re a fighter, but the secondary quests are much less forgiving. There’s nothing unfair, like some point-and-clicks in the past, but you will have to do some thinking. Although the world(s) may seem small at first exploration, the game packs a lot of content, and I was still discovering new quests and things to do even on a third playthrough.
I’ve talked about the gameplay, but not the plot. You play as a young blonde heroine who has arrived in the forests of Jarnvidr in answer to the summons for a hero. Jarnvidr is plagued by the Fimbulwinter, and this can mean only one thing: Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods. The inspiration for Heroine’s Quest is taken straight out of the Poetic Edda, and a lot of care has been taken to ensure that most of the names, characters and events are fairly accurate. The game naturally introduces some new characters and takes a degree of artistic license, but after doing some research I was impressed at the level of authenticity. At least two of the subplots are taken straight out of Viking lore: the stories of Fafnir and Regan and of Sigurd and Brynhild.
What surprised me was that even bizarre characters like Ratatosk (the Doom Squirrel) were actually adapted from the Edda. Granted, a certain comedic license was given in the scenes with the demon-eyed rodent, but I was still amazed that they spent so much time familiarizing themselves with the lore.
Without explaining too much of Norse mythology, Ragnarok was heralded to be the end of the world, when the frost giants would rise up against the gods and crush each other in a desperate battle. The plot of the game hinges on finding some way to stop the Jotun Egther and his two-headed lieutenant, the troll Thrivaldi, from seizing the eyes of Thiassi, unleashing Loki Lie-Smith from his torture, and unleashing the wrath of Jotunheim upon Midgard – the world of men.
Balancing gravity with levity is always a delicate balancing act, and nowhere is this more challenging than in a video game. While a clever joke is often a great way to diffuse tension or to remind gamers not to take everything so seriously, a poorly-crafted joke can kill the mood faster than a Miley Cyrus song. While I can’t say that every single joke is a winner here, they did a good job inserting a playful amount of humor without distracting from the rather ominous end-of-the-world story. Like I said, though, the kicker is how much care they spent in researching Norse mythology here; it really helps to give the game an authentic feeling, both in story and character.
As far as characters go, I enjoyed most of my interactions with the NPCs. Even Ratatosk (the doom squirrel) was amusing. But Aurvandel…. Oh my goodness. He is the most annoying character to speak with in the entire game. I always try to let the voice actors read the lines, rather than simply skipping through dialogue after reading it, because it allows me to immerse myself in the game. But Aurvandel repeats himself over and over and over until I just want to brain him with an axe. There’s just no excuse for being that obnoxious. Not even Fremont the bridge troll was so annoying, and he charges you a troll toll every time you want to cross the bridge to Munarvagir.
What really stands out with this game is its price. Crystal Shard could easily have taken to Kickstarter to get this game made, and they could have easily charged $10 for the finished product. Infamous Quests did that with Quest for Infamy and charged $20. But Crystal Shard released Heroine’s Quest for free. I plan on donating $10 when I can because I honestly feel like the game is worth it. I clocked 16 hours on my Steam account, but that doesn’t take into account all the hours I spent playing offline or the first playthrough of the game several years ago before it was on Steam at all.
If you’re a fan of adventure games a la King’s Quest, this is an easy title to recommend. Its retro graphics are gorgeous and the production values are very high. But if you prefer modern adventures like Daedalic and Telltale produce, this probably isn’t the game for you. The pacing can be very slow, and while the story is good, I wouldn’t call it dark in any way. At least with this game, if you try it and don’t like it, the only thing you lose is your time. And that isn’t a bad thing at all.
About Benjamin Fitzgerald
Benjamin Fitzgerald has been playing video games his entire life. An avid Star Trek fan, the first game he ever played was Interplay's "Star Trek: 25th Anniversary." He has many other interests as well, including writing music, cooking and spending time with his friends, including his best friend, Shadow.