Final Thoughts 11

Dreamfall: 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: April 17, 2006

Creating a sequel to one of the most well regarded and beloved adventure games of all time must have been a daunting task. Despite my personal mixed reactions after having recently finished it for the first time, The Longest Journey remains a unique and successful blend of 2D artwork and 3D models in a time where the entire adventure game genre was struggling to enter the world of 3D gaming. Throughout the 2000s many gamers and developers would declare the genre all but dead, and many yearned for the classic Point and Click gameplay of the 90s. The fact that Funcom greenlit a sequel, and returning lead developer Ragnar Tornquist was able to make an adventure game in the mid 2000s is nothing short of miraculous, but it comes with some grave caveats. Dreamfall abandons any pre-tense of 2D scenes, opting instead for a 3rd person action POV with an over the shoulder camera, not unlike your typical 3D Zelda game. The control scheme is thus instantly intuitive to most gamers. As evidenced by Broken Sword 3's horrendous combination of Point and Click with a 3D world, I appreciated Dreamfall's controls and was able to play the entire game on my PC with an Xbox controller with zero issues.

Unfortunately not all of the modern changes were welcome, as Dreamfall inexplicably includes both combat and stealth sequences - none of which are enjoyable. The simplistic fighting consists of Heavy Attack, Light Attack, and Block in a Rock, Paper, Scissors model, and I won 90% of the fights simply by shifting slightly to one side at all times and striking back immediately after my foe. Other times my opponents did nothing but block, and I simply mashed on the Heavy Attack button until they fell. Fun stuff. Thankfully combat was rare, but the game throws stealth sequences at you in just about every chapter. They mostly consist of hiding from patrolling people, some of which you can fight, others of which it's instant game over if they catch you. It does make sense in the storyline and adds a bit of drama here and there, but mostly it's a constant exercise in frustration. One of the few actual puzzles in the game takes place in an underground cavern with roaming troll-like creatures, and it's super fun to have them summon their large friend who comes and kills you while you're trying to solve it. Instead of constantly hiding from them, I simply constantly saved and reloaded during the entire sequence as that ended up being far less frustrating.

I'm okay with adventure games taking more of a story-based approach, but Dreamfall's almost complete lack of puzzles is nothing short of horrifying. The closest game I can compare it to is The Walking Dead, which I hesitate to mention as I think it's an example of a low-gameplay, interactive fiction game done right. Dreamfall's puzzles mostly involve simple fetch quests and running back and forth between the same characters in the same dull environments. There is an inventory but I never had more than a handful of items on hand, and they were always quickly used in the same area. Many times I actually felt a bit insulted with the puzzle design: needing to create a light source in a room with a stick, a rag, some oil, and a fire source, for example. I didn't expect a cerebral Myst-like experience, but I do prefer to have some interesting puzzles in my adventure games. If you're going to go the interactive fiction route, then you need to have a super amazing story, and lots of actual choices and consequences to make it more of a game and less of an interactive movie where you have to fill in all the boring parts with walking around.

Story wise, Dreamfall is a very mixed bag. I was impressed that the storyline picks up ten years after the events of The Longest Journey, and centers on an entirely new, but still similar protagonist - Zoe Castillo. Like April Ryan, Zoe is an uncertain, slightly depressed 20 year old that feels something is missing from her mundane life. Unlike April, Zoe has a good home life in a strong relationship with her father, and she isn't plagued by visions of a fantasy world. Instead she's plagued by a creepy little girl (think Samara from The Ring) that keeps appearing any time she's near a television screen and tells her to find and save April Ryan. It's a neat hook, especially as we don't know what's become of our heroine from the first game. When her ex-boyfriend goes missing after some investigative journalism, it's up to Zoe to pick up the pieces and unravel a corporate conspiracy to take over the world using a device called Dreamer that allows people to enter their dreams and control them, while the corporation monitors and implants suggestions.

When Zoe is under the influence of Dreamer, however, she keeps visiting the creepy girl, named Faith, who sends her to Arcadia, the twin world to Zoe's Stark. Where Stark is a near-future world beholden by their global internet The Wire, Arcadia is a world of magic and fantastical creatures. After the near catastrophic events at the climax of The Longest Journey, Stark suffered a near cataclysm called The Collapse, after which much of the advanced technology was lost. Arcadia too suffered by the rise of a religious and magic-hating people called the Azadi who round up and execute anyone that isn't human.

In Arcadia the player's point of view shifts constantly between Zoe, April, and newcomer Kian, a young but zealous Azadi warrior. Seeing April after so much time has passed is interesting but ultimately unfulfilling as they've put her character in a very unsympathetic light. She's apparently completely forsaken her life and friends in Stark (Zoe meets her friends and when asked about them, April tells her to tell them she's dead) and instead gone on quite the soul-searching expedition in Arcadia, even to the point of abandoning her faithful companion Crow. When Zoe confronts her to enlist her help in stopping WATI Corp and the Dreamer, April basically refuses and simply focuses all her attention on stopping the Azadi and helping the folks of Marcuria. April's actions have garnered her a reputation amongst the people and the Azadi, however, and they send Kian to kill her. As an unfortunately cliché twist, Kian of course learns much about what the Azadi are really doing to people and wishes to learn from April. Kian's last name hints at a future romance between him and April (April has the same last name in the epilogue of TLJ where it shows her as an old woman), but the romance is never even hinted at in the story, and eventually April is dramatically (and confusingly) killed as Kian was followed and subsequently arrested for refusing to kill her.

While both storylines are somewhat interesting, their intersection is only barely hinted at throughout the narrative. Dreams can spill between worlds, and April indeed seems to find the font of dream energy that is created and stored by Stark's Dreamcore in a hidden underground chamber in Arcadia. Even then, just when it seems that the stories are going to intersect (Zoe witnesses April's apparent death and Kian's arrest), they split apart again and never reach a satisfying conclusion. In fact, the last events we see in Arcadia are of that climactic scene, and the final chapters of the game involve Zoe's discovery of Faith's life and death, and ultimately going into the dreamworld to convince her to let go, as a part of her soul has become trapped there and threatens everything.

If you're not completely confused by now, I applaud you, but you've probably just been skimming anyway. That's okay, as the storyline is either way above my head, or just not as good as it wants to be. The Longest Journey was an epic tale of two parallel words with a villainous organization that wanted them to be violently reunited, a Guardian that had to be restored, and the Balance preserved. Its sequel is less about a coherent plot and more about themes, such as faith, sacrifice, duty, and prejudice. It's also quite the downer. While The Longest Journey ends with an interesting, walk off into the sunset kind of motif, Dreamfall piles on events and twists right at the end that suggest another sequel was supposed to be released right around the corner. Huge bombs are dropped like the fact that Zoe and Faith are sisters, their mom is still alive, and we met her early in the game. That same character drugs Zoe so heavily that she never wakes up from the Dreamer; it's implied that she dies and goes to this strange Between Worlds location, and the Dreamer is released upon the world of Stark anyway. Oh and ex-boyfriend whom we thought was dead shows up, but Zoe (in ghostly narration) claims it's not really him. All of these crazy revelations happen within the final five minutes of the game, and it ultimately just caused me to utter "WTF" several times as the credits began to roll. Cliffhanger endings when done right can be pretty awesome, but this was definitely a case of information overload, none of which gave anything close to a satisfying conclusion.

Like the Broken Sword sequels, Dreamfall likes to reuse many of the same characters from The Longest Journey. I was generally okay and amused with this, as at least most of them fit appropriately into the narrative, rather than the game trumping them up as if to say "Hey, remember this guy? He's back!" Many minor characters return with similar roles, like Brian Westhouse, Benrime the Innkeeper, and April's friends from Stark Charlie and Emma. Even Roper Klacks, the evil alchemist that April defeated in the first game makes his return as a reformed potion salesman who's memoirs "My Wizardin' Days are Over" elicited a chuckle or two out of me. By far the best and most desperately needed return was Crow, the sassy talking bird that April befriended during her journey. Crow was the highlight of The Longest Journey for me and I was thrilled that he was included in the sequel and dismayed that he's only in the second half - and even then confined to the criminally under developed Arcadia segments. Dreamfall is an even more somber tale than its predecessor, so having a sharply written, genuinely enjoyable comic relief character is extremely welcome.

Dreamfall remains a difficult game to pass judgment on as it's hard to argue against the fact that it is barely a game and more a work of slightly interactive fiction. As a sequel to the classic adventure gaming sensibilities of The Longest Journey, I found it extremely disappointing. Obviously the addition of simplistic combat and frustrating stealth sequences didn't improve my opinion. As a story and a work of fiction though it did manage to stay captivating throughout the adventure, at least up until the complete letdown of an ending. I wasn't a fan of the direction they took April's character but was impressed that the sequel was anything but a rehash of the original. The multiple protagonist aspect ended up being more gimmicky than interesting, as two of the characters exist only in Arcadia and most of the adventure takes place in Stark. I retroactively applaud Funcom for making another strong female heroine without simply remaking April, but Zoe is neither as interesting nor empathetic as April was from the original. If you're a big fan of the original game it might be worth checking out just to experience the darker tone and continuation of the original storyline and setting, but in this age of youtube videos, I'd be hard pressed to recommend anyone actually play the game.