How Prince Quisborne the Feckless Shook His Title

by John Ziegler profile

Light pseudo-medieval fantasy
2023

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
I am definitely shook, January 4, 2024
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2023

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2023's IFComp. I beta tested this game).

I always find it hard to review games Iíve tested, because even when I replay the final, finished version, my first impression is inescapably of a no-longer-extant game still in the process of reaching its ultimate form; I sometimes attempt some mental gymnastics to try to figure out how my sense of a game might differ from that of someone coming to it fresh, but thatís especially challenging here, because Prince Quisborne is a massive game that I havenít had the opportunity to revisit in any depth, and I first started testing it in February. So my memories are more distant than Iíd like, I havenít refreshed them recently, and I suspect the addition of some new features, like the NUDGE command that points you to areas where youíre able to make progress, or the DESTINATIONS-based fast travel system to minimize the challenge of navigating the large, diagonal-direction-happy map, radically smooth out the gameplay. Nevertheless I feel obliged to write something by way of comment on the most Brobdingnagian game of this, or, perhaps, any Comp, but you might want to take it with even more salt than usual.

Right, with that distressingly on-point intro out of the way, letís talk about tarof, which is the Persian practice of hospitality. So far as Iíve experienced it (I have an Iranian-American wife and in-laws), the thing thatís distinctive about tarof is its extravagant generosity. The quintessential example is that youíll be invited over for lunch, and on your way in youíll maybe mutter some compliment about the nice rug they have in their living room, at which point your host will beam at you and say ďoh, itís a terrible old thing, I hate it, but Iím so glad you like it, let me give it to you!Ē At which point you might protest a) you werenít dropping a hint or anything like that; and b) actually youíre no expert on rugs but now that you look at it it sure seems very nice and actually probably quite expensive. But theyíll say itís kind of you but no need to be polite, actually youíd be doing me a favor if you take it. And as you try to think of what to say, your host will gently shove you out of the way, get down on their hands and knees, and start rolling the thing up for you. The thing is, this is obviously incredibly nice. But itís also super overbearing Ė itís too much, and even leaving that aside, how the hell are you supposed to get that giant rug home?

And so we come again to Prince Quisborne, which combines the vast scope of a mainframe game with the intricate depth of implementation of a short one-room one, and presents its epic story in a prose style thatís prolix to a fault. In some ways this is the dream that animated the early amateur IF scene: a whole world rendered in jewel-like detail, where you could equally well traipse from one side of a kingdom to the other, and pause anywhere along the way to take in a pagelong random event tied to your exact progression through the plot, or stop off at a blacksmithís shop to futz around with a fully functional forge, or visit a mini area with fiendishly complex logic and word puzzles that could be a whole game in its own right.

Iím not sure Iíve come across anything else that incarnates this vision nearly as well Ė Cragne Manor is the only plausible contender, and as a game with 84 authors and all the incoherence that implies, itís not really a close comparison Ė and the thing is, having experienced it, itís not obvious that this was such a good idea. Prince Quisborne is a lot; the prologue is manageable, though already shows off the authorís facility with jokey high-fantasy-ish language and love of multiple puzzle solutions, but once past that lagniappe, the full game unfolds and I can only imagine that most players will issue a gulp, much like I did, once they realize exactly what theyíre in for: sure, an incredible voyage of discovery where your eponymous protťgť will learn to be a grown-up under your tutelage as you unlock ancient secrets, but also puzzles that rely on having searched an unobtrusive bit of scenery halfway around the world, or remembering an incidental detail from a lore dump ten hours ago; or finding the thingabob you suddenly realize you need means remembering whether you first saw it in Chelkwibble or Chedderwicket; and when you hit the big plot-progressing cutscenes to hand, I sure hope you have a drink and snack handy.

As with tarof, itís easy to look at all of this and just think ďitís too muchĒ, especially in the press of the Comp. But unlike with tarof, which is embedded in complex systems of power, class, and reciprocity that need to be navigated to maintain politeness, thereís really no downside or ulterior motive here: Prince Quisborne is precisely as generous as it appears to be. If a player tries to rush through it in one go, I suspect theyíll resent it, but if instead itís played over weeks or months, I suspect itíd deservedly be one of the greatest IF experiences youíve ever had. Itís extraordinarily rich, and the more I played it, the more I appreciated touches like Prince Quisborneís facility for having a limerick for every situation, or the way his character subtly changes over the course of the journey as experience leads him from callow youth to surprisingly-touching heroism. In fact, Iím not ashamed to admit that the ending sequence made me tear up Ė while PQ starts out as a comedy character, he achieves real depth by the finish, and the way the game acknowledges his growth is at once a total blindsiding and completely, necessarily obvious. Itís one of the most impressive climaxes to a piece of IF Iíve ever experienced, so if youíre wondering whether pressing through to the end is worth it, I can say that it emphatically is.

PQ also goes out of its way to be friendly to the player, without watering itself down in the slightest: there are all those convenient commands I mentioned at the beginning, as well as an always-on inventory window, exhaustive hints, and a lovely, inviting presentation (for the love of god, play this in QTADS to get the full experience). One doesnít need to meet PQ halfway, only a quarter of the way at most.

This is still a commitment, let me reiterate! Iíd guess this is at least a 20 hour game. But each of those hours will show you something worthwhile, and the accumulation of them accomplishes things very few other games have done. Now that the Comp is over, itís the perfect time to approach PQ as it deserves to be approached: dedicate some time. Let go of the idea that you need to race through it (or that you should have any shame about consulting hints or the walkthrough!) And get ready to experience something extraordinary.

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