Final Thoughts 10

The Longest Journey

Note: This is not a review, but merely my musings after having recently completed a game as part of my Rogue's Adventures playthrough of my backlog. Follow @RoguesAdventure to keep up with my playthroughs.

Also Note: This was originally written (and game was completed) in April 2013.


Developer: Funcom

Release Date: Nov. 19, 1999 (original) Nov. 16, 2000 (US)

I mentioned way back in my Final Thoughts for the first Broken Sword game that it was widely considered to be one of the greatest Adventure games of all time, and came out right at the apex of the golden age of Point and Click, 2D Adventure games. But in the late 90s the genre began to struggle as 3D gaming was slowly taking off and we began to see the rise of the First Person Shooter, the epic Role Playing game, and the exciting Action Adventure games that eschewed most intellectual and inventory puzzle solving for platforming and combat. Even my beloved King's Quest series took a mighty stumble as they introduced a 3D world and a combat system into what was once the venerable 2D adventure series with King's Quest: Mask of Eternity.

Thus it was a pretty dark time for the genre when out of the light strode a little known Norwegian developer named Funcom and a game designer with the coolest name I've ever heard - Ragnar Tornquist. The Longest Journey reached US shores in the Fall of 2000 and instantly became a beloved classic for everyone longing for the days of story and puzzles over action. I paid it no mind at the time, having all but given up on the genre for years, but thankfully the game has aged decently well. Despite heavy pressure to make everything three dimensional at the time, with all the camera problems that entails (see Broken Sword 3's Final Thoughts for a horrible reminder), Funcom graciously used beautiful two-dimensional backgrounds and kept the scene-to-scene transitions that had become a staple in the Point and Click genre. The game world (Worlds!) still looks great, but the 3D character models now look strikingly bad - full of big polygons and awkward, often times unintentionally hilarious animations. The game boasts a ridiculous amount of cutscenes which are all pretty short and vary in quality, and it's a shame they can't age along with the supremely awesome story and interesting world creation.

The Longest Journey tells the story of April Ryan, a young art student living in the futuristic world of Stark. Her city of Newport is built like many SF dystopian cities with the rich living on the upper levels and the poor eking out an existence underneath. Although it's set over 200 years in the future, April's local neighborhood and life style isn't all that different from our own which makes her easily relatable while making the world a bit more boring, in my opinion. I found the opening segments to drag on far too long, with too many lame McGyver puzzles and too much teasing of the promising story to come.

April has been plagued by incredibly life like dreams of a fantasy world, and she soon meets her personal Obi-Wan, an eccentric old man named Cortez who tells her that the world is real, and she has the rare power to open a portal and Shift into it. The land of Arcadia is the parallel magic world to Stark's science, and it's supremely more interesting. All of the middle third of the game is spent gloriously exploring this fantasy world: meeting fantastical races, battling evil wizards, and even surviving a shipwreck. The puzzles are a delightful mix of inventory, logic, and dialogue and April's task of collecting the four stone pieces of a magical disc from the various races keeps her on track.

Once the final chapters of the game are underway, however, the story really takes over as April races to get to the Guardian's Realm to prevent the destruction of both worlds at the hands of the evil Vanguard. Plot twists are suitably shocking, multiple threads are wrapped up, and April manages to save both worlds without even actually being the Chosen One. Unfortunately the puzzles become almost non-existent but at least Stark gets slightly more interesting at the end when you actually blast off into space to rescue the former Guardian from a space station, and enter the Guardian's Realm through a wormhole via space suits.

The storyline is simply too massive to do a proper recap, and the game clocks in at a solid twenty hours. I estimate that nearly every traditional Point and Click adventure game I've ever played has averaged ten hours, so The Longest Journey really lives up to its name. While I enjoyed the staggering amount of content, numerous cutscenes, chapter breaks and gripping story, I feel like the game would've ultimately worked much better if it hit closer to the fifteen hour mark. The introductory chapters seem especially superfluous, and a big chunk of Chapter 2 is solving multiple puzzles to simply get into an old movie theatre and talk to Cortez.

As long as the game is, it's impressive that it's fully voiced, and I never noticed any obvious repeats. April is perfectly written and voiced as a young woman with a troubled past and abusive childhood but nonetheless with a positive and practical outlook on life. Her attitude as a playfully sarcastic, strong and brave modern woman is instantly endearing and she's definitely considered one of the greatest female protagonists in video games to this day (which sadly isn't saying much...). Her allies include the aforementioned Cortez, an actual Dragon (or ancient race known as Draic Kin) in disguise and Crow, a hilariously womanizing wise-cracking talking bird who serves as the brilliant summonable comedy relief. Crow is used throughout the game as a solution to many puzzles, and the banter between him and April were some of my favorite parts of the game. Many of the unique creatures and characters in Arcadia were memorable as well, from the bat-like Alatiens well versed in story-telling to the gigantic sentient dragon/space ship that slumbers at the bottom of the ocean, awaiting the Day of Ascension. In contrast, the world and characters of Stark were not nearly as interesting, with the major exception of probably my favorite character, the foul mouthed hacker Burns Flipper. Handicapped but using a floating hoverchair (because it's THE FUTURE), spouting sexist remarks to April's face and dropping F bombs, he nonetheless warmed my heart every time I paid him a visit, and he totally goes out a hero in the end.

It's always difficult to go back and play an older game that's so highly regarded. Every once in awhile the new-to-you classic clicks completely and you join in with the chorus of praise while hating yourself for missing it in the first place. Oftentimes, though, the game fails to live up to the cacophony of acclaim. Genre preferences aside, games released during the early 3D era are especially prone to difficulty to return to and experience for the first time. The Longest Journey alleviates this by utilizing mostly two-dimensional artwork, and everything but the character models still looks fantastic. Having equally amazing hand drawn or even pixilated characters would cement it as a timeless classic, but that is of course the privilege of hindsight.

Ultimately I really enjoyed The Longest Journey, but would've loved it and moved it up to one of my favorite Adventure games had it been paced a little better and trimmed in all the right places. The puzzle to story ratio could easily be charted by a diagonal line graph with some really aggravating inventory puzzles in the beginning and only the most obvious "use this item here" puzzles at the end. The middle chapters hit that ratio just perfectly, and also totally immerses you in the interesting fantasy world of Arcadia. If only Stark's near future world could keep up. If you like Adventure games, you need to play The Longest Journey, period. If you love it, I totally get that; if you only kind of like it, I completely understand. Either way it's definitely an incredible experience and a great example of the genre taken to epic levels. If more Adventure games were inspired to pursue their own big budget, expansive stories I would be a very happy gamer.