Dreamfall: The Longest Journey review

The Good: Terrific story; memorable characters; outstanding voice acting; great art direction. Did I mention the story?
The Bad: Far too little player interaction; weak combat sequences; no story closure.
Our Verdict: Dreamfall is a triumph of (unfinished) storytelling that deserves to be in every gamer's collection, despite sacrificing a little too much gameplay for its own good.

It is. It does. You should. (But…)

Normally I wouldn't begin with a bottom line, but in keeping with the spirit of Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, I figured I'd make the answers as easy to find as possible, without having to work much for them. But also like the game itself, if you want to experience the full benefit of deeper explanation, you'll need to follow along to know how we've arrived at this point.

If you've somehow managed to shelter yourself from the hype about Dreamfall, you're perhaps one of the few people who don't know which questions the opening line answers. For the many caught up in at least some of the anticipation -- and of course, controversy -- surrounding the sequel to one of the most popular adventures of all time, you've probably already narrowed down your points of interest to three factors:

1) Is it a real adventure?

2) Does it do justice to the legacy of The Longest Journey?

3) Should you buy it?

After years of speculation, at long last the game has arrived and the results can be shared, and while each of my favourable responses comes with a caveat, that has more to do with expectations going in than the experience brought out, and those can easily be addressed. However, an unexpected new question has emerged about how much of a "game" Dreamfall actually is, and that I'll leave for you decide, as it's a personal definition that may just make or break your enjoyment of what is otherwise an incredible cinematic achievement.

Dreamfall is, first and foremost, a triumph of interactive storytelling. This will come as no surprise to those who felt that The Longest Journey was a similar accomplishment six years ago, but the sequel has raised the bar further still, both in focus and in presentation. Now, when speaking of story quality in games, usually there's an unspoken "for a game" qualifier attached. Meaning, while any given plot might manage to fill the gaps and support gameplay effectively, as a similar story appearing in a book or movie, it would be in the 99-cent bargain bin or straight-to-video fare. Not so with Dreamfall, a sci-fi/fantasy epic that deserves its endorsement unconditionally. This is simply an impressive story, period.

The game begins with an account of a young woman named Zoë Castillo, a university dropout living at home in the futuristic city of Casablanca. Comfortable but bored, Zoë has lost her motivation and any sense of purpose in life. That is, until she agrees to help a friend with a seemingly innocent errand, and begins to see genuinely unnerving images of a little girl on electronic screens, imploring her to "save April." There's not a lot more I can say without starting to spoil the game's many layers of mystery, but suffice to say that Zoë soon finds herself caught up in an escalating adventure of dream technology that has her traipsing all across the world… and beyond it.

Yes, what would a Longest Journey plot be without multiple worlds, inter-dimensional travel, and the fate of the universe as we know it resting on our shoulders? Fortunately, there are more shoulders than just Zoë's to help carry the burden. While the bulk of the game is spent with Zoë, who proves to be an utterly endearing protagonist, at various (pre-determined) points during the game, players will also control two other main characters. One is an Azadi assassin named Kian, a devoutly religious "apostle" ordered to deliver a holy message with his sword. The other is the Azadi's sworn enemy, April Ryan, now residing permanently in Arcadia and leading a band of rebels against the tyrannical oppressors forcibly restricting the use of magic. April is of course the heroine from TLJ, though she's no longer the feisty but innocent girl she once was. Set ten years after the events of the first game, April is now a hardened woman, feared and respected for her dedication to the cause, and yet personally disillusioned by the demands of her fate. Each of these characters plays a key role in the story, but we're also taken on their inner journeys, as they come to question their convictions in a game that's as much about personal faith as it is about the unfolding drama around them.

This attention to character isn't limited solely to the central few, either. Almost everyone in the game has been infused with individual personalities and backstories that really help make the world(s) come alive. No cardboard cutout plot devices here; it's not they who are there to propel your story, but you who have arrived in theirs to affect it. With new additions like Theoretically Blind Bob and Wonkers the Watilla joining many familiar faces returning from TLJ, Dreamfall has a wealth of memorable characters that will surely leave a lasting impression. The quality of the writing is consistently excellent, telling a serious, mature story that doesn't shy away from uncomfortable issues or disquieting feelings, and yet offering just enough humour and hope to take you right through the emotional spectrum if you avail yourself of the opportunity. There's a great deal of dialogue that's completely optional, but the only reason you'll skip any is if you cave to the overwhelming temptation of the larger adventure beckoning you ever onward. Even if you found the dialogue in TLJ tedious at times, the more natural conversations here seem less gratuitous and do a better job of creating an emotional investment in the lives of the characters.

While intentional, there are two consequences of the narrative approach used in Dreamfall that are worth pointing out. The first is that you begin with only little (and often cryptic) pieces of a story so complex that you'll undoubtedly feel lost at times. Like Zoë, you'll find your mind reeling at the many things you don't understand, and each new bit of information seems to create more questions than it answers. That's part of the challenge and part of the fun, but the kicker is that the game never offers full disclosure, or any closure at all. Dreamfall's director and co-author Ragnar Tornquist has never made a secret that The Longest Journey is meant to be a trilogy, but in case there was any doubt, the mind-blowing conclusion of Dreamfall leaves so many questions unanswered that this game really needs an "Episode 2" marked on the box. Hey, if it takes three parts to fulfill a story worth telling, that's okay by me. But if you felt cheated by the ending of Syberia or even Still Life, that's nothing to how you'll feel when the Dreamfall credits roll (or more specifically, finish rolling, as there's one more scene waiting at their conclusion.) Being left wanting more is always a double-edged sword. Wanting more is definitely a good thing. Being left wanting, not so much. Don't let that dissuade you, but consider yourself forewarned.

Fortunately, such a clever story and engaging characters are presented with production values that manage to do them full justice. And while graphics typically get all the headlines, here it's the audio that deserves the kudos first. Dreamfall has absolutely exceptional voice acting that is as good as any game I've ever played, and its importance cannot be understated in making such a fantastic tale believable. It doesn't happen often, but when a developer shows it understands the necessity of good voice direction, it makes such a difference. Most notable here are the main protagonists -- Zoë I could listen to all day long, and April is portrayed by the same actress from TLJ -- but really that's just a matter of quantity. There's not even a single minor character that doesn't deliver a first-rate performance. But not to be outdone, both the instrumental music score and sound effects are equally impressive, creating just the right atmosphere and ambient support to keep players fully immersed.

Continued on the next page...

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Game Info

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey

Platform:
Mac, PC, Xbox

Genre:
Fantasy, Science Fiction

Developer:
Funcom


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United States April 17 2006 Aspyr Media
United Kingdom 2006 Empire Interactive

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Dreamfall: The Longest Journey

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User Score

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User Reviews

Posted by Lucien21 on May 27, 2012

When's Chapters coming out?

Dreamfall is the sequal to The Longest Journey. Something is strange in the twin worlds of Stark and Arcadia once again. This time you are... Read the review »

Posted by subbi on May 20, 2012
Fantastic story, interesting chatacters and a nice shining look. The gameplay was a bit too hybrid for it to work well and the ending was... Read the review »



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