Versailles II: Testament of the King

Developer:  Reunion des Musees Nationaux
Publisher:  Cryo
Year Released:  1997

Review by Rosemary Young (February, 2002)
Set in 1699 some 14 years after Versailles 1, this game showcases a slightly different face of Versailles. Instead of being played out inside the sumptuous galleries and function rooms, on this occasion you are permitted only a peep into these areas with the stables, the gardens, and nearby hostelleries playing the major role.

But this isn't to say that Versailles II: Testament of the King is vastly different from the previous game. Really, they are very much alike, with similar interfaces, similar educational components and both feasting on courtly intrigue and etiquette. This game opens against the background of the imminent death of Charles II of Spain and the attendant intrigue concerning his succession that is played out with a passion in the French Court of Versailles.

Amidst this turmoil Charles-Louis de Faverolles, a young Nobleman, arrives at court. He is a fictional character and his background is briefly sketched out. Though born in France his heart is in Spain where he and his family lived for a number of years and where his true love, Elvira, is waiting impatiently for him. It is Faverolles' sole purpose to be with Elvira, so he yearns to join the foreign affairs office so he can return to Spain. In the game you'll be helping him out as he strives to improve himself by doing strategic favours, making the right connections and, of course, keeping his nose clean all the while!

Interacting with the game
Versailles II: Testament of the King is a mouse driven game like other Cryo edutainment titles with 360 turning as well as vertical movement. The view moves with the cursor but only when it is pushed to the edges of the screen. This means that you can freely move it in the middle focus area and inspect and manipulate objects without the world spinning.

The mouse is used for navigation with a pointing finger to move to the next 'node' and a small map if you can 'jump' to a distant location. The cursor changes to a mouth for talking and a hand when there is an object to interact with. The inventory pops up in a task bar at the bottom of the screen where items are labelled and where you can get a close up of specific items such as letters. All conversations are subtitled and the one aural puzzle is represented as a graphic to aid deaf or hard of hearing players.

The task bar also contains an icon to exit the game to a menu for saving and loading and from here you can also reach another screen to change a few game options. There is also an icon to access the journal that keeps track of your progress and another to access a small encyclopaedia or 'Documentation' that accompanies the game. This Documentation is divided into 5 subject groups including general information on Versailles, the gardens, the Royal personages, courtly rituals and customs and, finally, a concise article on the state of Europe circa 1700. The various entries have hyperlinks to related topics and are illustrated by graphics that can be enlarged when selected. The Documentation is brief and you will have to refer to it to complete some puzzles in the game.

Playing the game
Versailles II: Testament of the King is not a difficult game. The puzzles are not difficult and it is very easy to work your way through the story even though it's not fleshed out much and not always crystal clear. In fact it's not necessary to be totally in touch with the story, or to think too much and continually consider your options to determine your next course of action, because most of the time there are no real options. If there isn't a clear indication of 'what next' in your diary then Faverolles will give you a good tip. If this is not enough then there is more guidance on hand as you are forced ever onward because the next stop in your travels is the only location open to you. Maybe on a couple of occasions you might have to visit two or three locations to find a particular character but more often than not your itinerary is clearly mapped out, your next stop is accessible, everywhere else is 'closed'.

"Pedestrian' is the word that comes to my mind when thinking of this kind of progression in an adventure game. But Versailles II: Testament of the King isn't technically an adventure; it's heavily weighted towards being an interactive book as you simply follow along where you are led learning about Versailles and French customs along the way. Even the puzzles and a lot of the dialogue are geared towards this end. Now I will concede that the dialogue may have lost something in the translation, but I often felt that rather than having a conversation, I was being given a history lesson by some of the characters.

The sense of being 'tutored' is very much carried over into the puzzles as well. Although there are some easy adventuring problems such as negotiating a small maze, recognising a number sequence and interpreting a simple set of signals, this kind of neutral challenge is well and truly rivalled by the 'learning' kind. Two or three of the latter, in fact, are straight out question and answer tests, as characters you converse with delight in testing your knowledge. Some of these challenges require reference to the 'Documentation' to complete and others, such as sequencing of tasks for decorating a room or for saddling a horse, can be worked out by trial and error. Although life isn't made easy by the fact that you can't exit a puzzle until it's solved. The only way out is to 'control-alt-delete' to exit the game! Very lax game design! Also, although you can fail in your endeavours and be returned to the load save menu with an explanation for your failure, on a couple of occasions this transition is abrupt, with no explanation. The first time this happened I thought I'd struck a bug.

Comparisons and recommendations
As I said Versailles II is very much like the previous game yet I enjoyed the previous game much more, mostly because it had a much more enticing gameworld. Really the story doesn't 'shine' in either game but the exploration, the music and the atmosphere in Versailles I were so fascinating that it didn't matter that it wasn't a spellbinding tale. In Versailles II: Testament of the King the gameworld and the music aren't nearly so inspiring, there isn't that much to wonder at (exploration in the gardens is quite restricted) so the pedestrian nature of the story and gameplay stand out more. Because of the emphasis on 'education' or on delivering lessons on Versailles pleasantries and history, the story felt contrived and strained and Faverolles never develops into a well-rounded character that you could care about.

In summary, Versailles II isn't a good adventure game, although it is marketed as one. I wouldn't recommend it for adventure game players; experienced or novice, because I wouldn't want novice players to think that this was 'it' (adventuring). In essence Versailles II: Testament of the King is an interactive educational storybook. It delivers a 'taste' of the times but the educational content is by no means in-depth. rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 2002. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 95 / 98 
Pentium II 350 MHz (Pentium III 450 MHz recommended)
32 MB RAM (64 MB recommended)
16 bit graphic card 
8 x CD-ROM drive (24x recommended)