I've always wanted to write a review of Gabriel Knight 3, but I've been afraid of not being able to convey my love for it in the right way.
This is not going to be a typical review where I split the review into gameplay, graphics, music, etc.
This is going to be more like a rumination. I will simply attempt to explain why this game means so much to me, and why spending my childhood with this game so fundamentally shaped me into the person I am today.
I've already written reviews of Gabriel Knight 1 and 2, which I also love to death, but Gabriel Knight 3 has always been a different thing altogether. It has a very special place in my heart.
This is going to be a doozy, so get ready.
Gabriel Knight 3 is a classic point and click adventure game where the idea is you pick up items, talk to people and try to use whatever information you can gather in order to solve puzzles.
I've gone on record saying Mega Man X is my favorite game of all time - and it is - but Gabriel Knight 3 has quite possibly had the biggest impact on me, both as a gamer and as a human being.
Hell, Gabriel Knight 3 is the reason I studied and learned French and even Latin of all things.
Unlike a game like Mega Man X, Gabriel Knight 3 is not a game you play because of its gameplay.
In fact, the actual gameplay of Gabriel Knight 3 isn't even that good; released in 1999, the team responsible for making it was told that they need to make the game in 3D.
This caused all sorts of issues because no one in the team was familiar with 3D.
The end result was admittedly a rather ugly early 3D game that didn't look all that impressive even upon its release, let alone today. The engine has aged terribly - yet it's one of those games I always revisit. Time and time again.
Because there's that special something about.
Every time I play GK3 it's like visiting an old friend. You don't keep touch that much anymore, but whenever you see each other, it's like you saw each other yesterday. You crack all the same jokes you used to, laugh and have a great time, and remember just why you love each other so much.
That's Gabriel Knight 3 for me.
But why? What on earth makes a damn video game that special to someone? Why does the ending of the game come so close to having me tear up every time I play through the game?
I hope I manage to explain it in the best possible way.
Gabriel Knight 3 is, obviously, the 3rd game in the Gabriel Knight series that follows the story of Gabriel Knight, a failed author and bookstore owner who learns in the first game that he is the last of a long line of "Schattenjägers", or "Shadow Hunters", destined to fight all sorts of forces of evil that no one else could deal with.
The first game, set in New Orleans, covered voodoo; the second game took place in Germany and was centered around werewolves and the mystery of Ludwig II of Bavaria; and Gabriel Knight 3 takes on the mystery and conspiracy of the Holy Grail, which is my favorite story of the three.
The Da Vinci Code from a few years ago used the same source material as Gabriel Knight 3: the book The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail. And Gabriel Knight 3 does it better. It also did it first.
I purchased the book way back when after being inspired to do so by Gabriel Knight 3. Even though the conspiracy itself is all but debunked, the story of the Holy Grail, the unexplained wealth of Bérenger Saunière, and the secret bloodline of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene remains one of my favorite conspiracy stories. And the book is entertaining as all hell, true or not.
For anyone who's interested in the Knights Templar, the history of the Catholic Church, bloodlines, conspiracies, ancient secrets and all that good stuff, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail is a must-read.
But let's focus on Gabriel Knight 3.
Gabriel and his friend/almost-but-not-quite lover Grace Nakimura are invited to Paris by Prince James Stewart of Albany for Schattenjäger duty.
Prince James fears that his son is in danger of being kidnapped by who he refers to as the Night Visitors.
Prince James' son Charlie indeed ends up being kidnapped, Gabriel goes after the kidnappers, the chase ends up in a train where Gabriel is knocked out.
He then ends up in a hotel in the mythical small town of Rennes-le-Château, scrambling to find out what happened to Charlie.
This setting sets the stage for a story that ties in the legend of the Holy Grail and mixes it up with vampires, as well as the sacred bloodline of Jesus.
The beauty of the story is that every guest at the hotel is a potential suspect in the mystery. Every character is fine-tuned, well acted, and intriguing.
I own the novelizations of Gabriel Knights 1 and 2, and the maker of the game, and author of the story, Jane Jensen, is someone I look up to a lot. She puts love and care into each character, each interaction, and each piece of dialogue.
I believe I was in fourth or fifth grade when I did a review of the first Gabriel Knight novel in school. I was pretty fluent in English, but not a master obviously, so I read it with the book in one hand and a dictionary in the other. Of course having completed the game several times helped matters, too.
The way the game works is, the story is spread over three days, with each day being split into timeblocks.
For instance, the first segment is Day 1: 10 am - 12 pm.
During each timeblock, the characters are in different places, doing different things. You advance through a timeblock by completing the puzzles necessary to forward the story.
There are also optional puzzles in the game, which adds to the whole mystery, and it's an awesome concept. You can't miss the mandatory stuff, but if you pay close attention, you can learn more about the characters and their motivations. This fascinated me immensely as a kid because I always wondered, with each playthrough, if there was something, even a little piece of dialogue, that I hadn't come across before. And I would try everything imaginable to find everything in the game.
I've completed Gabriel Knight 3 probably about 200 times by now, honestly. Nowadays, I know the entire game by heart.
The game starts simply enough, but as you progress through the days, it starts to steadily grow, until finally, you're solving the mystery of Jesus' descendants.
In each Gabriel Knight game, Jane Jensen did intensive research into the backstory, and Gabriel Knight 3 in itself is an encyclopedia. You can get lost in all the dialogue and text that has to do with the Grail mystery.
I've always pointed to the Gabriel Knight series when people have said that video games can't be educational. I'd say I learned more from Gabriel Knight than I did most days at school. Heck, make that all days.
Let's find a focus, though, instead of rambling all over the place.
Gabriel Knight. The protagonist.
Easily my favorite protagonist of all time, in all genres of fiction.
On the surface, Gabriel is a stereotype, and may even seem a bit shallow of a character. He's a chauvinistic ladies' man, afraid of commitment and allergic to marriage.
Most of the time, he goes around acting like bumbling baffoon, but what makes Gabriel so great is the fact that he's extremely sly. Despite coming across as a dufus from No'leans, he's actually the smartest guy in the room most of the time.
He just hides it and keeps it to himself.
Gabriel is good at earning people's trust and not coming across as a threat, which is why he's good at interrogating people without them really realizing that they're being interrogated.
What I also like about the whole series is that the events of each game affect Gabriel. He's never the same person twice. He changes as the story goes on, which is a great nod to continuity.
Gabriel is, by all means, a normal dude. His bloodline is that of a Schattenjäger, which means that it's his duty to protect people from supernatural threats like werewolves and vampires, but despite all that, Gabriel is human like you and me. He has no idea what to do most of the time.
He never asked for the responsibility, but all the same, he doesn't run from it, either.
I'm usually a fan of the reluctant hero, but Gabriel is a great example of how to write a character that takes on a great responsibility, but does so in a very human way. It doesn't come off as unrealistic.
Gabriel may be a pig towards women and a shallow jerk, but at his core, he's the kind of guy who wants to do the right thing. He doesn't want to save Prince James' son because of the payday, he wants to do it because it's the right thing to do.
At the same time, despite acting all macho, Gabriel can also be afraid. Especially in Gabriel Knight 2, I loved how Gabriel was terrified of being lost in the dark woods with a werewolf at large.
This makes Gabriel into a true three-dimensional character, instead of a cardboard cutout.
And in adventure games, cardboard cutouts usually work quite well. No one wanted Guybrush Threepwood to be Shakespearean. But all in all, Gabriel is a much more enjoyable character with a mixture of strengths and weaknesses.
He can make you laugh one moment, be annoyed with him the next, and then love him again the moment after.
The fact that Gabriel is voiced by the great Tim Curry helps a lot, too.
Curry received mixed reviews for his performance in Gabriel Knight 3 - even though he was universally loved in Gabriel Knight 1 - because some people felt he went too far with the fake New Orleans accent and hammed it out throughout his performance, but I just love it.
Yes, it's over the top, and a few line deliveries here and there are questionable, but he does Gabriel in such a loveable and charismatic way that it has always made me really care for Gabriel as a character.
To me, Tim Curry is Gabriel Knight. He could half-ass it and still be brilliant. And let's face it: it's freakin' Tim Curry.
I'm a big fan of intelligent protagonists, and the fact that Gabriel is an author and an avid reader is a great way to give him that smart edge.
A big theme throughout all three games is the developing relationship between Gabriel and Grace who works as Gabriel's assistant in his bookstore at the start of the game.
At first, Gabriel continuously tries to hit on Grace to no avail since Grace is a smart chick not into Gabriel's macho nonsense, but as Gabriel matures as the games go on, he and Grace grow closer.
Grace herself is an interesting character, too. She's the archetype of a smart, strong female character, but unlike Hollywood's lead female characters of today, she's not a male character with boobs, but instead is portrayed as an actual female character.
Gabriel and Grace have great chemistry; Gabriel is more hands-on in the investigation, while Grace is the bookworm.
You play as both characters, just like in Gabriel Knight 2, and the gameplay with each character is unique.
Gabriel follows on clues and spies on the suspects, getting his hands dirty. Grace's segments have to do with the overall mystery of the area.
The main puzzle in Grace's timeblocks have to do with a riddle called Le Serpent Rouge that is a masterfully crafted piece of work that you need to dive into the actual history of the Grail mystery in order to solve. This takes several timeblocks of gameplay.
You work with a computer software called SIDNEY and use an in-built Google to search for information, meaning you, as the player, have to actually study to solve the riddle.
It really makes you use your head, and I'm so damn glad this was a part of my childhood. I really learned a lot, and was inspired to learn more on my own.
I was fascinated for years and years about the mystery of Rennes-Le-Château and once The Da Vinci Code came out, I got it immediately and read through it, knowing that it had to do with the Holy Grail. I pretty much knew everything that was going to happen because I was so familiar with the source material, but enjoyed it nonetheless.
Gabriel's best friend Frankin Mosely - who everybody just calls Mosely - makes a comeback after not appearing in the second game.
The friendship between Gabe and Mosely is a pure joy, and the banter between the two is among the best things the game has to offer. They're best friends, but they're polar opposites: Gabriel is the handsome ladies' man, while Mosely is the divorced balding man with abdominal obesity issues.
They constantly make fun of one another with insults and go back and forth, but in the end are always there for each other.
I'm sure the actors had a great time with their scenes since they are among some of the best acted in the entire game.
At first, it seems like a weird way to bring Mosely back for him to randomly be a guest at a remote hotel in France, which just happens to be the same hotel Gabriel ends up in, but it actually ends up making a lot of sense in the end. You just have to be patient.
I never skip dialogue when I play GK3, and it speaks volumes of its quality. I always want to live through and enjoy every piece of content and every single minuscule detail of the story - and I've never gotten sick of any of it.
I laugh at all of the jokes in the dialogue between Gabriel and Mosely especially, and the game indeed came out in 1999.
Other characters include a British lesbian couple of Estelle Stiles and Lady Lily Howard. The introduction of the latter being one that's always stuck with me for some reason.
"Renowned on stage and screen! And now you're thinking, how modest, how petite! And, of course, I am!"
Hilarious in her complete lack of self-awareness, Lily Howard is probably my favorite character among the hotel guests. The loud, obnoxious British actor who is always the only person in the room not realizing how annoying she is. We all know that one person like that.
There's also the Australian meathead John Wilkes; the mysterious muslim Emilio Baza; the fiery French redhead tour group leader Madeleine Buthane; the Italian priest Vittorio Buchelli, as well as the town priest Abbé Arnaud.
I like the fact that other than Gabriel, Mosely, and Grace, none of the other characters in the game are American. They all bring with them a different flavour, complete with the accents, which I was a big fan of as a kid.
None of them are empty stereotypes, though, and are quite deep and well thought-out.
Even if the characters are not part of the kidnapping of little Charlie, you just know they're up to something and can't wait to find out what.
Hand in hand with the characters is the general exploration.
The game takes place in a real location, and even though not everything is 1:1, you still feel like you're exploring this real place in France.
It doesn't even matter that the 3D graphics are ugly, the atmosphere is so strong that you just forget about it. On a rational level, I realize the game is ugly and that I should be bothered by it, but I'm not.
I've actually visited the two locations of the previous two Gabriel Knight titles, New Orleans and Munich, as well as the castle of Neuschwanstein, and it's my goal this summer to make a trip to Rennes-Le-Château.
I can't imagine how it's going to feel like to visit the locale of this game and to go through the area.
Sometimes I boot up the game just for the atmosphere alone since I'm so fascinated with the area.
The Church of Saint Mary Magdalene deserves a special mention since it's a complete recreation, and actually manages to be quite beautiful even with the otherwise questionable 3D engine.
What truly makes the areas come alive, of course, is the breath-taking soundtrack.
The Gabriel Knight series had the luxury of having its creator and writer be married to the music composer, Robert Holmes. Off the top of my head, I can't think of too many similar instances.
I'm sure the two were able to communicate with each other really well regarding what the game and the story should sound like, and it shows. The soundtracks of all three games are amazing, but the third one takes the cake.
A lot of the soundtrack is piano-based, which is simple but fitting. The piano "paints" the story in the background, and there isn't a single instance in the game where the music is anything less than perfect for its setting.
It can be adventurous, mysterious, daring, thrilling and sad - varying from colorful to downright depressing.
Easily among my favorite video game scores, and it challenges any major Hollywood blockbuster out there.
Especially the main theme is something I can barely describe. I've had people tell me that it's nothing special, though, so it's obviously not for everybody, but I can't think of many things like it.
It's a great mixture of beautiful and tragic; it really sounds like the theme of a great adventure with a tragic ending, which is exactly what Gabriel Knight 3 is. It has a sense of closure, which seems strange for an opening credits theme, but somehow it just makes sense. Perhaps this is because we knew Gabriel Knight 3 was going to be the last of the series, and it was among the last of its genre. The point and click adventure game genre that had meant so much to so many of us.
It was like "Okay, here it is. One more time, guys."
I can listen to it anytime, for the umpteenth time, and it still gives me chills, and I'm not exaggerating for the sake of being dramatic. I really do love it so damn much.
The same can be said about the ending credits theme, but more on that later.
To me, a big theme throughout the series was always the humanity of Gabriel and Grace. They faced these supernatural threats, but remained human. Making mistakes.
It's the balance between the supernatural and the mundane that really makes the series.
The relationship between Gabriel and Grace is just as interesting and captivating as the hunt for werewolves and vampires and voodoo priests.
Gabriel is not a superhero, he doesn't have supernatural powers. He's just a guy who, in a lot of ways, is way over his head, but tries to make the best of it. And it's easy to mess up a character like that, but Jensen makes Gabriel work.
But I have to talk about some of the negatives, too.
I already mentioned the engine and the awkward 3D, so let's not repeat that. There are also storyline flaws here, I must admit.
These are not flaws that take away from the good aspects, but things that need to be mentioned in an analysis like this.
For one, the main antagonist doesn't get enough screen time, in my opinion. A lot of the story focuses on the hotel guests who, albeit interesting and fascinating, are not behind the kidnapping. The main antagonist is met twice before the climax of the story, and that does feel like a step down from the two previous titles where Dr. John and Malia/Tetelo, and Von Glower/The Black Wolf were present from start to finish. You just needed to discover them being the antagonists.
Excelsior Montreaux is introduced half-way through the second day, met once during the third day, and then at the very end of the game.
I like him as a villain and as a character and his monologues about the Philosopher's Stone, genialities, bloodlines, etc. are very intriguing, but I would have wanted to get more of him.
It's not a big deal during the first playthrough, but once you've finished the game once and replay it, you do notice how he is lacking from most of the story and it's a shame.
Montreaux is the owner of a local vineyard who is later revealed to be the head of an ancient vampire cult, obsessed with the Grail legend.
I like the way the vampires are portrayed in Gabriel Knight 3. Oftentimes in modern fiction vampires are deformed creatures with frowny foreheads that try to go above and beyond in order to look scary, but all Montreaux needs are his blood red eyes in vampire mode.
It's an effective and scary contrast where the feeble-looking old man suddenly turns into something terrifying simply by turning his eyes red.
Once the story finally comes to a head, Montreaux being revealed the Big Bad, and Gabriel confronts him at the Temple of Solomon, it leads to possibly my favorite scene in the entire series, as well as quite possibly my favorite scene in fiction, period.
Montreaux is about to sacrifice the infant Charlie in an unholy ritual, protected by a magical force field.
Gabriel makes his way to him, not knowing what to expect. Montreaux is shocked to see him, but insults him for having "no idea who I am".
Knowing full well he's in a damn near no-win situation, Gabriel never backs down, but instead tells Montreaux to *"come out of there and give it your best shot, old man" and for whatever reason, that has always been so, so powerful to me.
Yes, in a different setting, that would be your typical Hollywood badass line by the protagonist, but it all comes down to Gabriel being a different hero. He's scared, he knows damn well there's a really good chance he might die. He has no idea what to expect. He's facing an ancient vampire with demonic powers.
But he's also too reckless for his own good and that makes all the difference. His boldness is the result of his stupid pride moreso than bravery, if that makes any sense.
Montreaux then summons the giant demon Asmodeus to kill Gabriel, and the defiant Gabriel is returned to back to earth and he gives out a great and humanizing "Oh, shit" moment.
But still, he never backs down. And it still remains believable; you believe Gabriel to be the sort of man who would try his best in this situation in order to save the innocent infant.
This is all accentuated, again, by the awesome soundtrack with heavy and fast-paced strings that make the scene timeless.
The confrontation between Gabriel and Montreaux was a big part of my childhood, somehow. I guess just found such admiration in the fact that Gabriel never backed down, even when faced with impossible odds. Yes, it's fiction. Yes, it's a story. But it had an impact on me, and it developed a lot of my attitude.
Never back down and always stand your ground because it's the right thing to do.
You may even get your ass kicked in glorious fashion, but backing down is a sin.
Gabriel Knight taught me what it means to be a man.
Gabriel prevails against Montreaux and Asmodeus, rescues Charlie, and saves the day.
This then leads to the backstory of how Gabriel's family got involved in the demon hunting business in the first place.
What I love about the ending is, once again, the contrast.
After defeating ancient supernatural forces, Gabriel returns to the hotel.
During the story, Gabriel has been making passes at Madeleine, and acts very immaturely against Grace, even though they have started to grow closer. Madeleine represents the old side of Gabriel, which Grace wants nothing to do with romantically.
But at the very end, after Madeleine finally warms up to Gabriel, Gabriel realizes that it's Grace he wants, and symbolically dumps both Madeleine, as well as his old self, but it's too late as when he arrives at the hotel room, all he finds is a letter from Grace who has decided to go her own way.
Gabriel reads the letter, sighs, throws it away and walks away, ending the game.
I like that fact that Gabriel defeats the all-powerful and supernatural Montreaux, but what brings him down is something so down to earth and human as love.
The ending tends to get a manly tear out of me, honestly.
It's also a nice callback - albeit probably unintentional - to what Montreaux says to Gabriel earlier in the game.
"Don't you think it's ironic that a grape, or even a dog or a cat should be so carefully bred, but most humans depend on a such a silly thing as love?"
It could even be intentional for all I know, now that I think about it.
It's not only a goodbye to the game, but it's a goodbye to the characters. I used to dislike the fact that we never got a fourth game, because I wanted the fourth game to have Gabriel and Grace live happily ever after and all that, but as I've grown older, I've learned to appreciate the ending a lot.
Gabriel matured, but it was five minutes too late.
It's a great culmination of a three-game-long story between the two. The end credits roll and the music is equal to the opening credits. It's sad and powerful, really saying goodbye to not only Gabriel Knight, but the point and click adventure genre.
Gaming moved on. There was simply no room for games like these anymore. People wanted first-person shooters. They wanted Grand Theft Auto.
I've always seen the ending of GK3 as Gabriel saving the day one more time before riding off into the sunset, never getting the credit he deserved. He wasn't even that welcomed anymore, but saved the day anyway because that's the kind of man he was.
The bitter fact of it, though, is that it was all his own fault. He had his chance, and he blew it.
It's so human, it's beautiful.
There were a couple of adventure games released after Gabriel Knight 3, but I've always viewed the ending of GK3 to be the definitive goodbye of the adventure game genre - the last shot being Gabriel walking away with his back to the camera.
The reason the ending hits so strongly is because of the genre of the game: in an adventure game, you invest so much of yourself into the gameplay and the story. You need to solve the puzzles, you need to talk to the other characters. You, through the character, need to live the experience and save the day.
And then the character you invested so much into gets slapped in the face in the worst possible way; it's so brutal and bittersweet.
Would I play a Gabriel Knight 4? Of course, you bet.
But would I still probably hate the fact that such a game existed? Most definitely.
It's the perfect ending. Gabriel finished his responsibilities as the Schattenjäger, but not without sacrifice.
The hero doesn't always get the girl, and one of the things that makes a hero a hero is that he loses a part of himself along the way. There has to be a tragedy in the hero's journey.
I've been talking for ages now, it seems.
And I feel like I still have so much to say.
Is Gabriel Knight 3 a perfect game? No. It has its issues. From the clunky gameplay to the ugly graphics to a few absolutely nonsensical puzzles.
But it still has the most powerful story and atmosphere of any game I've ever played in my whole life. I like it more than any book I've read or any movie I've seen.
The enjoyment does require playing through the first two games, it's not as strong as a stand-alone experience, but once you really invest into Gabriel's character in the first two games, and then live through the third game, there's nothing quite like it.
Not to me, anyway.
It's special to me that despite knowing the story front to back and back to front, I can still enjoy it as much today as I did when I first played at ten years old.
It just doesn't get old. On the contrary, I want to visit these characters every now again, still.
At least once a year I go into a Gabriel Knight kick and play through all three of the games, and every time I make it to the end of the third one, it hits me hard.
If you made it through all this, I don't know how, but cool. Gabriel Knight 3 means a lot to me, it is one of my favorite games. I hope I was able to do it justice, I'm not sure if I was.
I definitely recommend the entire Gabriel Knight series to anyone interested in good and fascinating storytelling.
You need to be able to look past the outdated graphical performance of each game, you're in for a treat that still holds up today.
I would now like to take this opportunity to thank Jane Jensen for the memories.