Thayer's Quest






Genre:   Arcade Adventure

Developer:   RDI Video Systems

Publisher:    Digital Leisure

Released:  1984, 11-2005

PC Requirements:   Windows 95/98/Me/2000/XP, 200 Mhz or faster processor, 4x CD-ROM or greater





by Becky


Here’s a puzzle. In 1984, RDI Video Systems released a laserdisc adventure game for arcade consoles called Thayer’s Quest (the first part of a planned two-part series). Part two of Thayer’s Quest was never completed because the company went into bankruptcy.

Then, in 1997, an updated Windows version of the game was published. This version was called Kingdom: The Far Reaches, and in it the names of the characters were changed, puzzles and a map were added and for the first time you could save the game. A sequel was released at about the same time – Kingdom 2: Shadoan, which completed the quest left unfinished at the end of Kingdom: The Far Reaches.*

Digital Leisure recently decided to re-release the game on PC for those among us who love to play the adventure classics. And which version of the game did they choose to re-release? The updated Kingdom: The Far Reaches? No, instead they released the older, more restricted Thayer’s Quest. Why? We may never know the answer to that question.

The Hero Apprentice

Thayer’s Quest is a fantasy cartoon adventure featuring third person perspective and a point-and-click interface. It takes place in three ancient, medieval-style kingdoms. Our hero is an apprentice magician sent on a seemingly impossible quest to reunite five relics to form a magical amulet. Once the amulet is whole, Thayer will attempt to defeat the evil wizard Sorsabal, who threatens to hold the land in thrall. And along the way Thayer will discover the truth about his heritage. It’s familiar fantasy story territory, and it works. It doesn’t take long before you are eager to help guide this young hero to the culmination of his quest.

1984 – A Good Year for Adventure?

The first surprise about this game is that it doesn’t look like a game developed in 1984. The graphics are light-years ahead of those in King’s Quest 1: Quest for the Crown, which was released in the same year.

Unfortunately, the graphical resolution in Thayer’s Quest is sharpest when played in a window that’s only four inches by six inches, which makes searching for inventory items painfully difficult. Expanding the window to about seven by twelve inches makes the gameplay easier, though this does muddy the graphics a bit. In this larger window, the game world (though slightly blurry and more pastel hued) is still appealing, with lots of fantastical details to observe – gold leafed forests, spectral swamp creatures, statues that come to life.

Atypically for an adventure game, in Thayer’s Quest you don’t roam around and explore the game environment. Each screen opens with an animation involving the inhabitants, whether townspeople, members of a royal court, dryads, fairies, or dread guardians. The animation is impressive. When the animation ends, you make a choice – you can search the screen for items, open up Thayer’s pouch to use an inventory item, or travel to a different location. Angles are cinematic, and cleverly chosen to reduce the need for lip sync during dialogs. Dialogs do not have subtitles. Background music varies in each location and consists of a pleasant wash of sound that plays during each animation. Sometimes the music has medieval elements. Other times it is ominous and generally epic in character -- similar to other music from the ‘80s created on a synthesizer for fantasy style cartoons.

Thayer seldom holds a sustained conversation with anyone. He may ask a question or say hello, but the other person simply announces a bit of information, issues a threat or articulates a warning.

Typical dialog:

Thayer:  “Can you help me?”

Dryads:  “In the castle of crystal, behind bronze is knowledge, behind crystal is magic, and blackness leads to death.”

(End of conversation.)

Voiceovers are quaint – you’ll hear rough accents with quirky intonation from the peasants and fairy folk. These contrast with aristocratic accents from the royals. In addition to the living creatures, you’ll encounter a couple of ghosts who materialize to give advice. And at random moments a black magician pops in to try and kill you.

Oh Death, I Feel Thy Sting, Sting, Sting, Sting…

Speaking of death – you will experience it a lot in Thayer’s Quest. In fact, I died and dead-ended repeatedly. There is no way to save the game. So when you realize that you have reached a dead end, you must start again from the beginning and play all the way through to the point where you left off. (Playing this game provides an eye-opening lesson in the improvements in gameplay since the early days of PC gaming. Again the question arises – why re-release the non-updated version in which the player cannot save the game to reduce the risk of repeated dead ends?)

Challenges consist of wisely managing your inventory. First you have to find the items. The cursor doesn’t highlight to show hotspots, so you click on the screens randomly to search them. You can only carry a small number of items, and the time will come when you have to discard something you are carrying in order to pick up a new item. Through experimentation, you’ll figure out which items can be picked up again and which can’t (discarding the wrong item leads to a dead end). Also, you must learn to avoid traveling to the locations that are nothing more than death traps.

Then there are the places where you die if you have not yet found the right inventory item to use against a foe -- or if you are foolish enough to select the wrong item when the time comes to choose. These obstacles can eventually be overcome by trial and error. Sometimes you receive hints as to what item will work and where, and this cuts down a trifle on the dying. Although Thayer engages in a couple of brief combat sequences, you do not have to guide these sequences or involve yourself in the fighting. You just watch the animation as Thayer vanquishes his foe using the correct inventory item (or, if you haven’t chosen the right item, you will find yourself at the “You have Died” screen).

Then there are the places where you can wrongly use an inventory item -- and this misuse makes the item disappear. Such places are far worse than the death traps, because the missing item then can’t be used in the appropriate place later in the game. When, for instance, you realize that you have foolishly used a spell scroll in the wrong place, you must start the game over again. Occasionally the speed with which you access the inventory is timed – if you are slow to click on Thayer’s inventory pouch you will die, which may or may not result in having to start the game from scratch.

Why You’ll Need to Leave Home

At the beginning of the game, you are allowed to select either the “Home” version of the game or the “Arcade” version. Home mode gives you unlimited lives and allows you to scroll through the inventory at your leisure. Arcade mode gives you only five lives – after the fifth death you have to start the game again. Arcade mode also makes scrolling through the inventory a timed challenge – you must not only be quick to click on Thayer’s pouch, but often you must also scroll through the inventory at lightning speed. Distraction or hesitation results in death or a dead end.

You can use Home mode to become conversant with the game before taking on the Arcade challenge. But why bother with the Arcade challenge?

Well, while playing innocently along in Home mode, and after restarting the game about thirty times to reach the conclusion, I finally came to the final bridge with the correct toll to pay the guardian. Heart beating wildly, I attempted to cross, but then learned that the bridge wasn’t crossable in Home mode. Crossing the bridge could only be accomplished by a gamer playing in Arcade mode. I concluded that the game designers are, shall we say, mischievous.

Then I replayed repeatedly in Arcade mode, managed to finally cross the bridge, and … concluded that the game designers are, shall we say, cruel.

The End Game (Such as it Is)

The ending sequence is immensely frustrating, perplexing, and downright odd.

Spoiler:  Crossing the final bridge in Arcade mode means you have completed the game. But you haven’t completed the quest. You have only three of the five items needed for the amulet, and you haven’t had your final showdown with the evil Sorsabal. Your only reward for finishing Thayer’s Quest is an advertisement for Kingdom 2: Shadoan.

This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Kingdom 2: Shadoan hasn’t been on store shelves for years. It appears to only be available on eBay or through the Digital Leisure online store. Not to mention that Shadoan is a sequel to Kingdom: The Far Reaches – not a sequel to Thayer’s Quest.

End Spoiler

Thayer can’t complete his quest. And neither can you.

Quick List for Thayer’s Quest

Point-and-click interface, third person perspective – a PC version of a classic console game. Nice medieval cartoon fantasy graphics; locations are a single screen only. The game window uses approximately half of the screen. Lots of animations, which are professionally crafted (amazing for a game that is more than twenty years old). Story is familiar fantasy stuff, but provides an effective hook. Reasonably good voiceovers, brief dialogs full of symbolic descriptions with a quasi-medieval tone. No subtitles.

One of the worst endings in gaming.

Inventory challenges and constant dying. You’ll watch a bit of combat, but don’t have to guide it. Some of the challenges are timed, especially when in Arcade mode. No sliders, no real mazes, no tone-matching, no color discrimination puzzles. The hardest part of the game is managing the inventory, remembering what to do in each location and performing the action quickly enough. One difficult pixel hunt.

Occasional dead ends – you will probably repeat the game over and over in order to find your way to the end. Two playing modes. You can only “finish” the game in the more difficult (Arcade) mode. 

No glitches, no ability to save the game. Appropriate for ages ten and up. If you don’t mind having to start the game over again and again, it can be fun to play as a family.

Thayer’s Quest is aimed at gamers who enjoy playing classic adventures and can forgive the dying and restarting. Buy it if you suffer from Collect All Adventure Games Syndrome. But be aware that this game comes to an end when Thayer is only halfway through his quest. 

Final Grade:  C

My Computer Specs:


Windows XP Professional

Pentium 2.80 GHz

2046 MB RAM

Direct X 9.0c

512 MB NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX

SB X-Fi Audio

*Source for the history of Thayer’s Quest: Wikipedia, and

March 2007

design copyright © 2007 GameBoomers Group

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