You got your sword and z-targeting ready? Well then let’s head out for adventure! No, it’s not that little voiceless guy with the green tunic, but something else. Something very similar, yet still very much its own thing. Well, mostly. When it comes to 3D adventure games there’s always one name that instantly springs to mind for most gamers – and even non-gamers: The Legend of Zelda.
One of Nintendo’s most popular and endearing franchises has been thrilling adventurers for an incredible three decades now. Breath of the Wild, the most recent entry, rewrote the rules by introducing open-world mechanics that revitalized its familiar formula and helping the Switch break sales records along the way. There have been countless clones over the years, some more open about their unbridled love for all-things Zelda and proudly displaying it for all the world to see. That’s exactly what we have with A Knight’s Quest, for better or worse. Mostly better, though.
The titular question starts when Rusty stirs up a bunch of trouble (only apocalyptic in nature) when he inadvertently frees a demon that had been trapped inside a mysterious purple crystal, a familiar catastrophe that leads him on a quest to stop the evil and save Regalia. In the process he’ll conquer dungeons, climb hills, navigate landscapes and even ride rails as he hacks ‘n slashes his way across a multitude of very familiar environments using very familiar gameplay mechanics while unlocking new “Spirit Powers” to keep things interesting. It’s pure progression-style adventure through and through, and I’m not complaining.
It’s a well-trodden story beat to follow, but still presents itself in a way that’s still fun to watch unfold thanks to smart writing which often leads to fun and lighthearted dialogue between our anachronistic headphone-wearing hero and the many NPCs. Much of the game’s charm comes from these whimsical interactions, which are often hilarious and a joy to read through. Games like this often live or die by their attitude and personality, and while Rusty (and much of visual aesthetic can look generic) there’s real life beneath the surface.
A lot of what A Knight’s Quest is in terms of story, progression and everything else in between is very much in line with games from the N64 era – even at the expense of the graphics. They’re not bad, but when seen through a modern lense the game’s smaller-budget development (which began on Kickstarter) clearly shows through. While the scenery can be beautiful, other aspects of level design feel outdated and flat, albeit even when still fun to run through and explore.
A Knight’s Quest is available on just about every platform out there, which is nice for those in need of a Zelda-fix but are without a Nintendo console. However, regardless of which platform you play on the game suffers from some serious framerate stutters and various other technical hiccups from time to time, which not only distract from an otherwise decent adventure but also add to its non-AAA look and feel.
My immediate issue right out of the gate was the floatiness of the controls and lack of proper feedback whenever your weapon interacts with anything, especially during combat. The weight of a weapon is important with games like this and A Knight’s Quest doesn’t make the best first impression. Curiously, this floaty feel seems to be the result of poor sound design around when items clash and swords clank against enemies, a small but a strange disconnect and always made the combat feel mushy and underdeveloped.
It doesn’t help that damage is dealt fairly quickly, even when confronting bigger bosses. Combat can feel brutal at times, almost as if the developers wanted Zelda with a dash of Dark Souls for a change of pace. Rusty’s health bar depletes just as quickly as it fills back up, which makes even smaller battles deadlier than expected. None of the combat feels particularly inspired, however, which can make basic enemy encounters feel repetitive over time. Thankfully, new upgrades and special abilities are introduced to spice things up and keep the game fun and entertaining.
And yet, hidden amongst the weak combat are nuggets of ideas more in line with other games with stronger combat rules. For instance, some damage can knock off health points and you’d only be able to recoup that with bandages. This introduces more tension between battles, but ultimately, it’s fairly forgiving and the mechanic is never quite up to its full potential. Everything else about the exploration and platforming feels perfectly fine in making it feel like like one of those games even when some of the platforms trip you up over and over.
Of course, a proper adventure game wouldn’t be anything without dungeons and puzzles, and A Knight’s Quest is replete with gusts of wind and block pushing puzzles as you journey from one ancient dungeon puzzle to the next in search of the next big thing to fight. If it weren’t for the charm of the world and level design this might have been a more tedious undertaking.
Figuring out where to go next can often be a bit of an annoyance outside of the dungeons and in the world proper. I found myself trying to think of where to go next and ended up stumbling on a new area to explore. The first time I did this, I retraced my steps and found no direction so I decided to just move forward and, turns out, it was the right way despite me never clearly knowing as to why until a bit later.
When you start to factor in the size of the team making A Knight’s Quest, you can start to excuse a lot of the harsh corners that surround the edges. It’s quite an accomplishment to have something so massive in scale with a small team behind the scenes. Of course, this doesn’t quite excuse its shortcomings but when I began to feel disappointment set in the game’s thrilling and emotional score picked up my spirits and provided just the right amount of adventurous whimsy a game like this needs.
I couldn’t help but feel the stir to return to Breath of the Wild (or even Link’s Awakening) while playing through A Knight’s Quest, a reality that’s both a blessing and a curse for this game and others like it. Frankly, nobody should be under any illusions it’s going to offer the same polished experience of a AAA Legend of Zelda game, because you’re going to be disappointed. But those willing to forgive its rougher edges and give the game an honest chance will find a loving tribute to Nintendo’s franchise that’s often quite fun and unique.