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Video Game / King's Quest III: To Heir Is Human

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King's Quest III: To Heir is Human is the third game in the King's Quest series. It is the first game where you play as someone other than King Graham of Daventry. It is famous for its particularly brutal Copy Protection.

In the game, you are Gwydion, the slave of the evil sorcerer Manannan; you cook and clean for him, but long for freedom. One day, Manannan decides to go on a journey, and the race is on— you now have the ability to explore the land of Llewdor and find a way to escape the evil man. But escape is only part of the adventure— you also have a burning desire to find out who you are, where you came from, and how you can get home...

At first, this story seems unconnected to the earlier two King's Quest games and even caused a small bit of controversy when the game first launched, due to Gwydion having no obvious link to the royal family of Daventry. The connection between games is revealed only at the end of the first act, and if you've played the later games, you know what it is already.


This game provides examples of:

  • All There in the Manual: All of the spell formulas. Also, neither Manannan's motivation for kidnapping babies (instead of children who can do actual work), nor for kidnapping Graham's son in particular are mentioned anywhere at all in the game.
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • In the original release and unlike past games, you no longer need to type "swim" to swim. It's done automatically when you walk on water.
    • In the Infamous Adventures remake the magic map actually transports you all the way back up to Mannanan's house instead of just to the bottom of the mountain and making you walk all the way back up every time as in the original, saving you many an instance of falling to your death. Likewise you don't need to type in every line of spell preparation letter-perfect or Have a Nice Death, although you will still die if you attempt a spell without all proper materials.
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    • The AGD remake features several:
      • Includes all the spell formulas in an in-game book in Mannanan's basement, forgoing the Copy Protection aspect, and the gameplay shift from a text parser to a point-and-click interface makes preparing spells a little easier.
      • When Manannan leaves for a journey (or takes a nap), the game will highlight the clock in green, yellow, or red, telling you how much time you have before your master returns to check up on you.
      • Any items that Manannan will kill you for holding are outlined in blue. As long as everything in your possession is not so marked, you're safe.
      • You can rest in your bed to speed up the clock to the next time Manannan leaves or sleeps, provided you have done the one chore he always demands when he returns.
      • Once you've done the book-levers puzzle once successfully, you don't have to do it again: the game just mentions you repeat the trick.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Gwydion transforms Manannan into a harmless housecat... using a spell from the wizard's own grimore against him.
  • Big Damn Reunion: The final scene of the game has Alexander, Rosella being reunited with their parents. Alexander has been missing for 17 years and Rosella was meant to be sacrificed to a three-headed dragon.
  • Bigfoot, Sasquatch and Yeti: You have to evade a ravenous one in the icy mountains surrounding Daventry.
  • Call-Forward: In the AGDI remake the teleport effect from the magic map is the same as in King's Quest VI.
  • Camera Screw: When walking down the mountain, your view is obscured by rocks and you have to guess where the path is.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': The wizard has the nasty habit of punishing you for arbitrary reasons. More importantly, if you happen to carry any magical components, including such innocuous items as a fly's wings or a cat's fur, or have misplaced the magic wand, he will kill you instead. ZAP!
    • The innocuous items punishment is justified, however: Manannan might have raised you from childhood, but he's not been nice about it, and he's absolutely paranoid that you might learn to do something about that before he can find another child to raise (at which point he'll kill you).
  • Cats Are Mean: The black cat in the wizard's house really hates Gwydion and can even kill him if he's not careful! Also, you defeat Manannan by turning him into an obviously mean-tempered cat.
  • Copy Protection: An infamous case—you need the manual to cast the spells, and you have to cast them exactly as they are in the book. The spells are very complex and one typo will have you dying. Oh, and you absolutely have to cast several of the spells to beat the game. As if that wasn't enough, in the original packaging the spells in the manual were written to look like flowy handwriting, which could make them difficult to read. In later collections the spells are printed in a readable font, but at least one of them contains a wrong instruction that makes the game impossible (hint: if your version tells you to "measure a spoon of cactus juice" you've got the one with the mistake).
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Manannan's idea of punishing Gwydion is to force him to do the Y.M.C.A. dance.
  • Darker and Edgier: While maintaining much of the bright and cheery art style of the previous two games, and the often whimsical and cartoony style of deaths/punishments/accidents, etc, and a not-so-serious narrator; King's Quest III was accused of being a much darker game. And not without reason: the first two games are about saving the kingdom through ingenuity and puzzle solving, and finding a girl in a tower to fall in love. The third game starts with slavery and child abuse, and then almost destroys Daventry at the end.
  • Did Not Think This Through: If Manannan kidnapped Gwydion as a baby, then he would have to deal with a crying infant and changing diapers for a long time. The manual doesn't even handwave this when it states the wizard "could" summon spirits to do that for him (but doesn't, because he prefers his solitude). He kidnaps the boys in the first place because he doesn't like nor does he summon spirits.
    • This is justified, that the manual states the summoned spirits are natural pranksters, which Manannan wants nothing to do with. This is one of the two reasons why he simply doesn't use the spirits as his slaves, instead of a human child. He prefers oppressing children and forcing them into hard work and toil, and possibly he actually enjoys killing his mortal slaves.
    • Not using spirits is justified. But why kidnap a baby that he'll have to look after for years before it can serve him in any way? It would make more sense to wait until a child was at least old enough to walk!
    • Not to mention kidnapping the crown prince of Daventry was not particularly wise, even for revenge purposes. King Graham has a lot of resources to search for his son (to be fair, Graham utterly failed to find anything in 17 years), and the boy probably will have a great deal of his father's valor and ingenuity.
  • Digital Piracy Is Evil: That so many people remember being frustrated by this game is a sign of how widespread piracy was even back then: the game is remarkably easy if you have the actual game manual which contains the spell formulae. Gathering the ingredients and casting the spells covers about two-thirds of the game. There is actually a debate on if the manual was intended as copy protection, but rather a feature, as at least two hintbooks reprinted the manual in complete form including page numbers (with one only leaving out a couple of optional counter spell phrases), and King's Quest III: To Heir is Human had its own software-based copy protection on the disk itself..
  • Despair Event Horizon: The Oracle explains that Graham has passed this due to Rosella being chosen as a Human Sacrifice, which is why he cannot fight the dragon.
  • Distinguishing Mark: Gwydion has one that shows he's Prince Alexander of Daventry. That's on his backside, mind. Which his sister Rosella asks he reveal as proof.
  • Drop-In Nemesis: Manannan will use any excuse he can to appear out of nowhere, and either torment you for not performing your tasks, or just flat out kill you on the spot for doing something that might be a threat to him. Finally getting rid of him feels really good.
  • Early Game Hell: The first half of the game, where the player must manage their time carefully to avoid Manannan, makes it one of the hardest installments in the entire series. The second half, meanwhile, isn't too dissimilar from the series' standards of dickishness.
  • Easter Egg: Look behind the tapestry near Alexander's room for a reference to KQ4. Half-dome can be seen in the mountains, as well as Sierra water.
  • Escort Mission: In one part, Alexander escorts Rosella back into the palace. While she is able to handle the stairs and the crevices, he on the other hand is susceptible to falling to his death.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Manannan.
  • Eye of Newt: The first half of the game is a scavenger hunt for spell components.
  • Fairy Tale: Typical of the franchise
  • Fan Remake/Video Game Remake: Two of them released. Infamous Adventures created one VGA style graphics and stuck mostly to the original plot (some added scenes and puzzles were changed). AGD Interactive released one with better graphics and some tie-ins to their King's Quest II remake.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: The Three Bears, Medusa, pirates and a three-headed dragon.
  • Forced Sleep: One of magical items that can be made from the spellbook is sleeping powder. This can be used by Gwydion to escape the pirate ship.
  • For the Evulz: Manannan's motivation for kidnapping and punishing you.
    • Though the King's Quest Companion, and Sierra's King's Questions state that he was the brother of Hagatha (a minor character from the previous game) and suggests he kidnapped Alexander specifically to get revenge on King Graham. Note that the only thing Graham did to Hagatha was (optionally) steal her songbird, so this is still For The Evulz.
  • From Bad to Worse: Graham paralyzed by grief. His son was kidnapped from his cradle and enslaved by his enemies somewhere, his kingdom has been burnt to cinders by a dragon that his best efforts cannot defeat with innocents suffering and dying on his watch...and then his only remaining child offers herself up as a Human Sacrifice. The canonical game shows this towards the end and is explained by Rumplestiltskin and Rosella, and in the ending.
  • Gainaxing: In the original version, the barmaid's breasts emphatically bounce as she brings the brigands fresh flagons of ale.
    • Rosella was also extremely buxom and bouncy in the original version of the game.
  • Giant Spider: There is one in Llewdor that has crafted a web that blocks the entrance to the Oracle's cave.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: If you enter a tree's stump as a fly, you can dispel the transformation and revert back to human form, even though there isn't a lot of room. The narrator notes that your death is pretty horrible and refuses to show anything on screen.
  • Hand Wave: Manannan kidnapping a male infant to be his isolated servant may make sense... but kidnapping the Prince of Daventry doesn't. Couldn't he have picked someone who wouldn't be missed? This is mentioned in passing yet never truly explained.
  • Genre Savvy: In the AGD remake, Gwydion finds the journal of his predecessor. The boy knows what fate awaits all Gwydions on their 18th birthday, and tries to escape. He doesn't make it.
  • Heroic BSoD: See Despair Event Horizon
  • History Repeats: The documentation says this is exactly why Mannanan got into the habit of killing his slaves when they grow up; they almost always got brave enough to start poking around in his stuff and discovering his magic. It's certainly explained by how he can instantly recognize it when you're carrying around spell components and will kill you right away for it.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The only way to defeat Manannan is to make him have a taste of his own remedy.
    • In the Expanded Universe material, the cat he keeps was a rival of his, and he's done this more than once.
  • Human Sacrifice: Rosella. It's up to you to get her out.
  • Instant Sedation: The Sleeping Powder you can make works almost instantly, but can only be used in cold and damp places - which means there's precisely one location in the game where it can work.
  • In-Universe Game Clock: You only have about 20 minutes to explore the land before Manannan returns. If he catches you outside (or if you forgot to re-hide the secret chamber), then he punishes you. Fortunately, he leaves after a while and you can explore some more. You also have to time yourself so you reach the pirate ship in time, and once on the ship, you have to wait until they spot land. In the later part of the game, the clock is much less important.
    • You also have to complete the wizard's tasks within (entirely reasonable) time limits, or he punishes you non-fatally. Events are very specific. When he assigns a task there is always three minutes to complete it. He usually assigns it after five minutes of hanging around the house. He normally only hangs around the house for five minutes, unless he has a task to assign which he adds another three minutes to his time spent in the house.
    • When Manannan leaves, he is gone for 25 minutes. He sleeps the same length of time.
  • Involuntary Dance: One of the punishments Manannan can inflict on Gwydion, as listed in Cool and Unusual Punishment above.
  • Jump Scare: Depending on how desensitized you are to the format. Manannan will appear the hell out of nowhere. He appears very slowly and his leitmotif plays to announce his arrival.
    • The brigands also count, as they randomly appear suddenly with a loud tune.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: Gwydion is Prince Alexander. It is referenced many times in all of the later games. This reveal is very easy to miss in this game itself. In fact, the very first scene of King's Quest IV summarizes pretty much the entire plot of this game.
  • Magic Map: When Gwydion first finds it, the map is completely blank. As he explores Llewdor, though, the map lights up and he can quick travel to that location. Even more than that, when he is both on the pirate ship and the coast of Daventry, the map updates so that it reflects the new region.
  • Magic Wand: You need to "borrow" Mannanan's wand to progress. Just be sure to return it before he comes back, or it's Game Over for you. You actually use the wand to cast spells, as each spell ends with "wave the magic wand".
  • Moses in the Bulrushes: Gwydion is actually Prince Alexander, Graham's son, who was stolen from the family when he was an infant.
  • Muggle in Mage Custody: A negative version. The young protagonist Gwydion lives with an evil sorcerer Manannan who treats him like a slave, forces him to do house chores, and puts Cool And Unusual Punishments on him like transforming him into a snail or making him dance involuntarily.
  • Nintendo Hard: Even compared to the other games in the series with the overabundance of Moon Logic Puzzles and stupid deaths, the addition of a time limit in the first half of the game forces the player to keep a very strict schedule in gathering everything they need to thwart Manannan, not to mention the Copy Protection puzzle listed above.
  • Oh, Crap!: Manannan's reaction when he realize what he just ate.
  • Pet the Dog: Literally. And it gives you a magic reagent, to boot.
  • Pixel Hunt: One of the ingredients you have to collect for a spell is a snake skin. It is a brown squiggle in the desert—where, incidentally, there are hundreds of other brown squiggles. Happy hunting!
  • Point-and-Click Map: Well, move-cursor-with-arrow-keys-and-press-enter map, anyway. Unique in that the map is an (optional) actual item that must be found, rather than just a feature of the interface like most other examples of this trope.
  • Point of No Return: Once you're on the ship, that's it. Hope you got everything you needed back in Llewdor.
    • And again, once you're off the ship, and at various points in the mountains. These are less crucial, though.
  • Properly Paranoid: Manannan affords you very little margin for defiance, including several death-on-the-spot penalties. Due to a few of previous servants trying to turn against him, teenage boys are notoriously defiant, and there are many things in the old wizard's house that could be used against him, this isn't surprising.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Or at least sleep in a big fluffy pink canopy bed.
  • Save the Princess: The oracle has just dropped a few bombshells. Massive three headed dragon attacking the faraway land of Daventry, the princess is being sent as a Human Sacrifice. Even better, kid, she's your twin sister. The ship at the dock is headed that direction. What are you waiting for?!
  • Schedule Fanatic: The wizard always does things at specific times and takes the same amount of time to do things, which allows Gwydion to know how long he has to carry out certain necessary tasks.
  • Secret Room: Manannan's study has a Secret Underground Passage that serves as the only way to access his laboratory beneath his manor which contains his spellbook and various magical ingredients. The lever that reveals the stairs beneath the study's floor is hidden in the bookshelf.
  • Shock and Awe: How Alexander killed the three-headed dragon? With thunder and lightning from his storm spell.
  • Shout-Out: The last part of the game takes place in several areas from King's Quest I: Quest For The Crown.
    • The Jaws theme plays when the shark appears.
    • Ifnkovhgroghprm the gnome appears. He has a theme that did not exist in the first game.
    • If you die by falling in the AGDI remake, the music played over the Have a Nice Death screen is the last portion of the Inspector Gadget theme song.
  • Smooch of Victory: From your sister. Ew, not like that, you pervert.
    • It's a kiss on the cheek. Still, the embarrassing "proof of identification" (a birthmark on his bum) more than makes up for it. Yes, you end up mooning your sister...
  • Spiders Are Scary: There's a very large Poisonous spider guarding the entrance to the Oracle's cave, which you have to defeat by turning into an eagle.
  • Staircase Tumble: Careful on those stairs leading down to the wizard's secret workshop in the basement. Sometimes the wizard's cat will sit on the steps, causing you to trip over it and go flying.
    • To twist the wound further, there is a chance you could trip over the cat, while Manannan appears right in time to watch you die.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: In the AGD version, Gwydion's responses to Manannan smack of this. Ultimately subverted, as we know this is a ruse and Gwydion very much detests and resents the wizard.
  • Talking Animal: Justified, as one of the spell recipes gives Gwydion the ability to understand the language of the animals. He can't talk to them, however.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: You can hide the cat cookie in a bowl of porridge, turning any unsuspecting person who eats it into a cat. This is how you dispose of Manannan.
  • Thou Shall Not Kill: In the original, if you try to stab Manannan in his sleep, Gwydion refuses, as he refuses to kill anybody, even Manannan.
    • Interestingly enough, in the AGD remake, Gwydion is just fine with the idea, but he doesn't think it will kill Manannan and Gwydion most certainly will not survive the resulting fight.
  • Threatening Shark: A shark appears at the beach. Annoy the pirates, and you're thrown overboard as shark food. Jump overboard at Daventry's coast, and you'll have to dodge one.
  • Timed Mission: Manannan will assign you tasks to complete, and you have a short but reasonable amount of time to do them. This can include cleaning the kitchen, dusting his office, and feeding the chickens, for example. If you fail to do what he commands in 3 minutes, he'll make you do something against your will, but it won't be fatal. However, the real timer starts when Manannan announces that he's going on a trip (or going to sleep): unsupervised, you now have 25 minutes to do everything you can to find a way to get Manannan out of the way using his own magic. If you run out of time, you'll need to hide all your evidence of rebellion so that when he returns home (or wakes up), he's none the wiser.
    • After you find a way to take care of Manannan, a new timer starts: a ship will show up at the port, and you have a limited amount of time before it leaves permanently: if you're not on it when it leaves, you're stuck in Llewdor, unable to progress. Once you actually get on the ship, you have a limited amount of time before it reaches its destination: when it does, you had better figure out a way to get off the boat quick or it'll be game over for you ( the pirates get rid of you).
    • The final timed mission in the game is at the very end: when you face off against the three-headed dragon, the only thing that will let you get close enough to do anything is the invisibility ointment, which only lasts for so long: you need to put it on, get on the same screen as the dragon, and figure out how to defeat it before the ointment wears off.
  • Unwinnable: Many, this being a Sierra game, but of note is the fact that you will never progress to the second half of the game if you don't have the manual with all the spells in it.
  • Videogame Cruelty Potential: You can kick Manannan's cat. Gwydion even gets a chuckle out of it.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Little is said of what happens to Manannan's cat after the events of the game, though The King's Quest Companion suggests that nothing was alive and that there was no evidence of Manannan to be found when Derek Karlavagen moved into the house. Presumably it was dealt with one way or another when Mordack checked in on his brother and found out what happened.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Daventry is cursed, a dragon plagues the land, and Princess Rosella is demanded as sacrifice. This sure sounds like the kind of quest Graham would take in a moment, even in his middle-aged years. Yet, the King simply surrenders his daughter and falls into despair. The implication is that the loss of his son Alexander, and the decline of the kingdom have all but broken him, and when Rosella is chosen as the sacrifice to the three-headed dragon that no one has been able to stop, and she bravely goes to meet her fate against his wishes, he breaks down completely.

Alternative Title(s): Kings Quest III