By Mento 4 Comments
It's the final week of May, everyone. Next Monday will be the start of June and the end of this specific daily series of Steam game appraisals. I've already hinted at this several times already, but we're starting what I've dubbed "Ringer Week": a week where I'm starting major backlog items that I intend to keep on playing into June. The three day rule still applies, of course, but suffice it to say that the three games I've chosen for this week aren't simply random Steam curiosities that I'll be uninstalling almost as soon as I've written about them.
Meanwhile, I'm still plugging away at Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow after taking a day or two off to focus on this series. It's still as excellent an IGAvania as I remember, and despite the passage of time and recalling that they supplanted the gothic-romantic character portraits of Ayami Kojima for some generic anime business, its sprite work still looks incredible. This was a time when Konami saw the new console Nintendo was putting together and put their best foot forward, creating a Castlevania that looked as good as Symphony of the Night (now possible with the DS's graphical power) and a few silly touchscreen gimmicks to show they were happy to play ball with whatever new tech Nintendo wanted to push. I miss that Konami. Maybe a new Castlevania wasn't the most innovative step (they released a DS Ganbare Goemon game slightly before then, which wasn't a whole lot more creative) but at least they were trying, and produced an exceptional game during the DS's halcyon days when its library desperately needed a few of them.
Maybe we'll cover that more in intros to come, though given that the game turns ten years old in a few months, it's likely we all know the score by now. Dawn's not as expansive as Portrait of Ruin nor as old-school challenging as Order of Ecclesia, but that soul gathering/equipping gimmick never gets old. Well, unless you've spent an hour trying to farm that Peeping Eye soul while listening to the Beastcast. I've only myself to blame for that, though.
Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
I beat the superb The Longest Journey back in 2013, as it was considered one of those games any self-confessed adventure game fan like myself really ought to play at some point. Shortly after that a new serial adventure game based on the property was announced: Dreamfall Chapters (I notice the series is pulling a Rambo: moving the original's name to subtitle status, and then losing it completely). We've already seen the release of the first two episodes, the second only months ago as of writing. I figured it was therefore high time to move onto the game's first sequel (based between The Longest Journey and Dreamfall Chapters) which switches protagonists and moves the story ahead ten years after the near-cataclysm caused by the events of the first game. I've been slowly catching up with what's occurred in that space of time, as well as familiarizing myself with the new heroine Zoe Castillo.
Zoe's the typical rudderless college dropout character, reminiscent of April Ryan from the first game (who was also in a rut), though life starts to get interesting for her pretty quickly and the game speeds through its early chapters a lot quicker than the first did. Soon, Zoe's seeing odd visions of a creepy little girl asking her to "save April Ryan", a person about whom she would have zero knowledge. Next, her ex-beau and still close friend Reza (who the game pronounces as "RZA", leading to all sorts of jokes (from me) at his expense) is an investigative reporter who vanishes after giving Zoe a simple errand that ends with her foiling a murder and getting arrested. The story quickly picks up from there, wasting little time setting the stage and moving Zoe from her Casablanca home to the prior game's Venice, Newport setting. The place has fallen from grace in the ten years since the first game, and I found myself sneaking into the seedy tweeker den that used to be the student-friendly Border House accommodations in order to track down this errant pal of hers. I don't want to get too much more into the story beyond that to avoid spoilers, which will probably make the next update(s) something of a challenge to write. I mean, what else is there to talk about pertaining to an adventure game beyond its story?
Actually, there's a lot we can talk about here regarding game mechanics and features. The point and click genre was effectively dead by 2006, and wouldn't be resurrected until the Indie boom a few years later (except in places like Germany, where it continued unabated). In order to survive, the genre took on action and puzzle elements, usually drawing on other genres to bulk up the gameplay side of things. However, these additions often served to distract from the stories they wanted to tell rather than enhance them. Dreamfall looks to be another case like this, where the game deigned to introduce a rudimentary combat system and hacking mini-games for some of its puzzles. Zoe's an accomplished martial artist, because of course she is, and so there's a few instances in the game where you can fight your way through an altercation if you weren't smart or stealthy enough to avoid it. And yes, that's also something they introduced to this game: sneaking around to avoid getting caught by hostile NPCs, if there isn't a way to adventure-puzzle your way out of a fight entirely. It feels a little like that LucasFilm Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade game (and probably Fate of Atlantis, I don't recall) where you can avoid or outwit the various patrolling Nazi guards in the Castle Brunwald area of the game, while failing to do so meant being forced into a tough fistfight. I guess the Nazis weren't carrying guns in case they inadvertently damaged any of the priceless tapestries?
My original intent for this first day was to reach Arcadia: the alternate world that The Longest Journey spent most of its runtime exploring. It sits in parallel to Stark, our world, being as magic-heavy and technologically sparse as ours is the converse. The Longest Journey really picked up upon reaching this world of magic, even in spite of how interesting the near-future world of Stark was to explore. Stark features a lot of technology like automated taxis and friendly purple AI organizer gorillas (NOT BonziBuddy) and subterranean "Vactrax" trains that span across the world in hours and other innovations that don't yet exist but feel very much like they could one day soon, sort of like visiting the timeline of Star Trek a few decades before they started building starships and meeting aliens (but, uh, without that big war that almost killed everyone). I did manage to reach a point where the character breaks through to Arcadia, sort of, but it might also be a dream sequence. Hard to say, but it sure seemed like an appropriately trippy note to end today's adventuring on.
Anyway, I'll be providing more updates on this game for probably the next two days at least. One remarkable aspect of The Longest Journey was that it was, true to its name, an incredibly lengthy example of its genre. I don't expect Dreamfall will be any shorter, and it feels like I've only seen the tip of the iceberg so far. I'm just hoping I don't have to do much more sneaking around and punching stuff if I can help it.