With the first episode of Dreamfall Chapters coming out today, now is the perfect time for me to inform you why you should play The Longest Journey and Dreamfall. (Spoiler: it's because they are awesome.)
In the time before I discovered JRPGs, point-and-click adventure games were my favourites. From Space Quest and King's Quest to Full Throttle and the Legend of Kyrandia, I spent many a day on my mother's PC (with its revolutionary new "sound card") going on adventures and solving puzzles. By the time I entered high school, the genre had largely disappeared. It wasn't until shortly after moving to Japan that I — in a bout of homesickness — looked up the old genre. To my surprise, I found that list after list of "must play point-and-click adventure games" had one game I had never heard of at or near the top — despite it not being a Sierra, Lucas Arts, or Westwood classic. That game was 1999's The Longest Journey.
The Longest Journey
The Longest Journey is the story of two worlds, one of technology (Stark — i.e., our world) and one of magic (Arcadia), linked together in an intricate balance. But now, the balance is in danger.
Enter April Ryan, an art student in Stark who has been having fantastical dreams involving dragons and has been seeing more than a few odd occurrences during her waking hours as well. As she tries to figure out if she's just going crazy or not, April is thrown headlong into the world of Arcadia, where she finds the fates of the two worlds rest on her shoulders — whether she wants the responsibility or not.
This setup makes The Longest Journey both a futuristic sci-fi story and a high fantasy tale rolled into one. Locations range from a technological cityscape to a magical underwater metropolis populated by creatures that look like seahorses with wings. Both worlds are quite interesting to explore. They are fleshed out in numerous captivating conversations and observations. In fact, every click you make on a background object elicits a response from April — including one awesome little story about the greatest supermarket advertising campaign ever.
But as interesting as the twin worlds are, the star of the show is April herself. April is just a normal person like you or me. She has no skill with weapons. She's not a hacker. She's not particularly strong, tough, or fit. She's just a struggling artist and nothing more. As such, being thrown headlong into a worlds-spanning adventure is not something she is in any way prepared for. Yet, as she meets more and more people who are depending on her, she does her best to rise to the occasion — even though she really wants nothing more than to run away and return to her boring old life. The way she grows and develops over the course of her journey makes her one of the "realest" characters I have ever come across in gaming.
2006's Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is set ten years after the first. It follows Zoe Castillo, a college dropout trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life. But when her longtime friend, a reporter, disappears while investigating a story, Zoe decides to do whatever she can to find him and help him. Of course, then there's the other matter of a Ring-esque little girl appearing on static-filled TV screens who keeps repeating the same mysterious message to Zoe: "Find April Ryan! Save April Ryan!"
The story also occasionally follows an assassin priest of an expanding holy empire in Arcadia named Kian Alvane and, of course, April Ryan herself.
The theme of Dreamfall is faith — the loss of faith and finding faith. Zoe always had faith her life would turn out happily; but with no goals and motivation, her life has fallen completely apart — both professionally and interpersonally. Thus, her quest to find her friend is also one of restoring her faith in herself.
Kain is on the other side of the equation. A religious zealot, he sees the world in terms of his faith and nothing else — though his encounter with a certain individual shakes it to its very core. And as for April, let's just say that the events of The Longest Journey leave her as an individual opposed to the very nature of faith — in both others and herself.
While an enjoyable game, Dreamfall is a step down from The Longest Journey in a few ways — namely aspects of the gameplay. Instead of a point-and-click adventure, Dreamfall is a 3D adventure game. It has a terrible fighting system that is stiff and unwieldy and a stealth system that is rudimentary at best.
Its other big issue is that it is clearly the first half of a two-part story that has been missing its second half. Of course, today, with the release of the first episode of Dreamfall Chapters, this finally changes. Plot threads that have been hanging for eight years now will finally start getting resolved.
All in all, The Longest Journey and Dreamfall build a pair of worlds that are a joy to explore, filled with their own myths, legends, and colourful characters. April and Zoe are likewise a pair of excellently realised leads that make the story as personal as it is epic. If you are a fan of adventure games or fantasy narratives and have somehow never managed to play these two, you should definitely pick them up. And as for Dreamfall Chapters... well, you'll just have to stay tuned for our impressions of the first episode later this week.