Fall Into A World of Madness
Many games claim to be cinematic or claim to have a movie like quality to them. However very few games come as close to being a movie as Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. While it does not resemble a movie completely, it certainly feels like watching a movie while being in control of the play button. Odd, I know; it certainly is a unique experience. One could compare it to Indigo Prophecy, but experiencing Dreamfall is more like being the viewer, while Indigo Prophecy hands more control to the player, making them feel like the director. It all works in the grand scheme of things in Dreamfall’s favor; in fact the cinematic quality of this video game is what really sets it apart from anything else someone can experience.
Right away, Dreamfall mystifies players with a short gameplay session, starring a supporting character as he journeys into an unknown new world. Later it cuts to a bedridden Zoe Castillo, the main protagonist, as she starts to narrate an explanation in the beginning of the game. She explains that she’s a college dropout, and as she describes her life many young adults will begin to relate with her themselves, regardless of gender or race. She is a typical girl that defies all the stereotypes female video game characters have accrued by now, she’s neither a damsel in distress nor a femme fatale; she has merely lost her ambition and direction in life. However, this soon changes after a series of events have her turn into a Nancy Drew of sorts. Zoe finds herself experiencing visions that tell her to “Find April Ryan, save her.” As a result of this Zoe finds herself in a fanciful adventure which for the first time in a long time gives her some direction in her life. Over the course of this journey one will experience multiple perspectives in the form of two other playable characters that further immerses the player in the game world.
To those unaware Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is the sequel to the traditional adventure game The Longest Journey, released in 1999. While Dreamfall isn’t a traditional adventure game in the same vein as The Longest Journey, it still holds up when compared to the latter. However to those select few gamers that are interested in playing Dreamfall but have yet to play The Longest Journey don’t worry, this game is more than accommodating for you. While I do question you prerogative in refusing to play The Longest Journey, not doing so might actually make you relate better to Zoe’s confusion when dealing with what is happening around her.
The story is about...well many things, but there is a heavy focus on dualism. In the game there are two worlds: One that represents science and logic, Stark (essentially our world), and the other represents magic, Arcadia. There is a disturbance between/in them; it all somehow relates to Zoe's investigation. There are many characters, and all have secrets and purposes that draw you in, like peeling a deliciously juicy tangerine. Characters can be really pleasant and endearing like Zoe's toy-bot, gorilla thing or they can be as hostile or grotesque like some of the foes you will face during the course of your journey. It is also a nice touch to have Zoe receive candid text messages from friends which range from genuine concern about Zoe’s condition and location to bawdy drunk text messages asking if her breasts are real. It all helps in convincing the player that these are real people caught in an unusual circumstance.
The central story is highly metaphorical. It's a complex affair that poses profound questions about the misuses of corporate, governmental, and religious power, and the significant difference between belief and fanaticism and wisdom and intelligence. The story covers many ideals, some with less intrigue and ambiguity than others. However the story never stops short of being completely engrossing. All of the characters feel and behave realistically (even your bird sidekick Crow). Also the story successfully builds up this feeling of peril and urgency, which utterly convinces the player to act in post haste. Overall the story is the crown accomplishment in this game as it is both metaphorical without being tedious, as well as funny and enjoyable without being annoying or senseless.
However the textures for this game are a bit washed and blocky to today’s standard but the distinct design saves the look of the game. The game looks good in general mostly because of the aesthetics; environments feel fanciful and support the magical feel and setting of the game. While the characters may animate stiffly, this barely detracts from what they are saying. Which might I add the voice acting is fantastic and well done. Sure the graphics aren’t going to rock your socks off but the environments have a wonderful depth to them that makes them wonderfully immersive and enchanting. When the player goes from one world to the next the look and design is vastly different further creating the sense that one is really exploring an “alien” or “parallel” world.
It is good that this game looks nice and has a compelling story since there is not much in the form of interacting with what will surround the player. The game mainly consists of moving a character from one point to another to advance the story; most of the time, you will be doing nothing more than pointing the joystick forward. There is the occasional puzzle or two during backtracks; most of which are a joy to figure out. The better puzzles are the ones that involve sound. Yes, you need to listen! These puzzles are more than unique. There is spoken dialogue and interactive conversations a la Mass Effect, minus the morality consequences. Most decisions do not reflect on other characters, but you do have the choice to be an ass if you so choose. While gallivanting around, you will be treated to a soothing soundtrack reminiscent of Oblivion's, and just like Oblivion the light orchestral score really melds well with the fantasy setting.
However the developers also have made an attempt to “modernize” Dreamfall by inserting various action elements in the game. Firstly the player will have to fight numerous enemies that stand in their way, but to put it bluntly these fighting sequences are the worst part of the game. The player has the option of using heavy or light attacks, but seeing how light attacks can be blocked and completely nullified and heavy attacks cannot one can essentially get through these sequences with merely locking onto foes and rapidly clicking the heavy attack button. Secondly there are multiple stealth sequences, and in a post Assassins Creed and Metal Gear Solid 4 world these sequences feel completely archaic and a throwback to the very first Splinter Cell game.
Yet even with these action sequences and in game puzzles the player interaction in Dreamfall is extremely minimal. And it is the fact that there is very little player interaction in Dreamfall that will dissuade many players from playing it. However for the attentive and patient gamer you’ll almost certainly find yourself compelled by the overall experience.
Dreamfall is a pure, relaxing joy to play; one of the few games you can play comfortably laying back. Some may be distraught by the lack of action; others may have a lack the patience to listen to all of the dialogue. However, if you do play it, you will be rewarded by a rich experience that you will not soon forget, because Dreamfall is like a movie worth watching twice to look for those details you missed the first time.