Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is the sequel to The Longest Journey (obviously), taking place 10 years after the events of the original game. It often comes highly recommended, though with several caveats. Some of its issues turned out to be less problematic than I had anticipated, though many of the warnings were spot-on. In the end, however, Dreamfall is a highly enjoyable game with some story-related decisions that are so random and fan-service-y that even those who give George Lucas free rein to bastardize everything they love will question their necessity.
One of the things I was hesitant about was the change of main character. Though I didn’t expect it, April Ryan grew on me in The Longest Journey, and the idea of her role being minimized really bothered me. That reservation was all but shattered fifteen minutes in when a creepy-looking little girl possessed a TV and told me to “Find April, Save April.” Not only does April play a huge role in the overall story, but she’s also the playable character for ~40% of the game. Really, Dreamfall winds up being more about her than even The Longest Journey was, and it’s refreshing because she’s become a total badass since the last game ended.
If you can’t tell already, playing The Longest Journey before this game is more or less necessary. I suppose it’d technically be possible to play Dreamfall first, but you’d miss so many little nudges and callbacks and be so confused by characters who are only explained in TLJ that you’d likely have no idea what was going on half of the time.
The first thing that’s inevitably mentioned when Dreamfall comes up is the lack of an ending. While it’s true that the overall story remains unfinished, the more personal story involving the transformation of the main character (Zoë) from an apathetic person to the archetypal “person who helps people and stuff because someone has to” is finished. As such, the game feels strangely complete, despite the large number of plot points that are left unresolved.
Another flaw that you’ll often hear mentioned is the awkwardness of the stealth and combat sections. This, too, is overblown; while the criticism might cause you to expect a huge number of random fights and sneaking bits, they’re actually surprisingly rare, and, save for one sneaking bit where you have to figure out a puzzle while avoiding some patrolling creatures, there’s nothing at all difficult about them.
Minigames are the last of the issues that are often brought up when discussing Dreamfall’s flaws. These, too, are rare, but the criticism over them is far more justified. These pop up when you have to hack/lockpick something, and though there’s one where you spin wheels that’s not too difficult or frustrating at all, the other one is absolutely ridiculous: A ton of symbols with similar features appear and jump all around the screen, and you have to match up a few symbols on the bottom with those from the mess of random symbols. Of course, that would be little more than an annoyance if you had all the time in the world to wait for the right one to pop up, so in order to make this the obnoxious impediment to your enjoyment that they apparently wanted it to be, this particular minigame is timed. Not only that, but the time that you’re given is almost always too short. The end result of all of this is that you’ll have to frantically look through random symbols, hoping that you’re clicking on the square with the lines under it and not the circle with the lines under it, both of which look the same when everything on the screen is constantly changing. Again, the minigames are rare, but when they pop up they’re like a brick wall for your enjoyment to slam into at 90 miles per hour. You’ll eventually get past them, but your enjoyment will face life-threatening injuries.
The story is strange, abstract, and alternates between being fulfilling and leaving you empty, but it’s also quite tight. Everything that happens feels like it’s within the realm of possibility, like the kind of thing that could easily happen in the world presented in the first game. On the other hand, there’s also one of the most random, unexplained, pointless romance subplots in any game, ever. It’s so bad and so shameless that, until the very end of the game, I had completely lost all respect for Zoë. The other character has no development, no story. His role is solely to provide a huge amount of important information when they first meet, so to randomly throw in romance for no reason despite the fact that they both have more important things to worry about that, in any realistic world, would preclude the very thought of romance is beyond sickening. It makes the random guy character seem like a douchey pussy hound, and Zoë comes across as a pathetic damsel in distress. I love love stories, but this scene exists solely for the sake of having a “romance scene” in the game. It’s bad writing.
Graphics are a mixed bag. On one hand, some things look absolutely beautiful. Seeing the Journeyman Inn realized in 3D is one of those warm, fuzzy moments. The weather effects also look good, and a lot of the environments are straight-up pretty from an art design perspective. There are inexplicable jaggies all over, however, even with antialiasing turned all the way up. These manifest in some details of the environments (though they don’t make them any less pretty), and more annoyingly, on certain characters around the mouth and hair. On top of that, some of the characters have blurry textures that leave them looking strange. Still, details don’t define the game and Dreamfall is an absolutely beautiful game, overall.
Voice acting is excellent and I enjoyed it all, though there were fewer random things for playable characters to comment on than in The Longest Journey. The sarcastic observations are still present, of course—just in smaller amounts. Music is varied and of consistently high quality, from the more commercial tracks to the (beautiful) solo piano piece at the end that perfectly matches the tone of the scene.
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