Mento's May Mastery: Day 26: Dreamfall: The Longest Journey

Today I have been mostly complaining about: The new Humble "Nindie" Bundle. Insofar as I immediately registered my displeasure on Twitter (kvetching and dumb humor is the only thing I use it for) at least. Now that I've taken some time to reflect, I'm slightly more ruminative about what this bundle might mean for the future of Nintendo.

Nintendo, as we all know, is somewhat apprehensive about present trends in the industry. They treat this prospective future of digital distribution and free-to-play business as the greatest and scariest of all question mark blocks, and are presently far too cautious to hit it full on and deal with whatever pops out. This Humble Bundle is a big step for them; something I'm sure they had to be cajoled into by the slightly more adaptable younger executives in their employ. It's a huge bummer that this particular bundle is only available to the Americas, but at the same time I'm happy to see Nintendo getting their feet wet in this potential new enterprise for them. I'm hoping this region-locking blowback isn't so harsh as to scare them away from this type of distribution delivery system forever, sending them right back to their comfort zone of charging ten bucks a pop for twenty-year-old SNES games and thirty-year-old NES games.

Talking of old embracing the new in a less-than-ideal way, it's time to head back to Stark and Arcadia.

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is, alas, beginning to lose me. Whereas the story of the original game was excellent and found a lot of mileage with a dual-world plot that was able to combine near-future sci-fi with atypical magical fantasy hokum, the actual adventure parts were fun too. You'd be solving the standard adventure game puzzles and getting into a lot of fun dialogue with NPCs like your buddy Crow (the only big NPC from the prior game I haven't bumped into yet, actually, unless you count the antagonist). I appreciate that Dreamfall had to get with the times, edging towards the nebulously defined "action-adventure" that took over the PS2 era and beyond, but the action-y additions haven't enhanced the game one iota. If anything, it's allowed the puzzle parts to atrophy as more focus is put towards the entirely unnecessary stealth and combat.

I'll give you an example of this, since I'm still reluctant to discuss the plot in any fine detail. (For the record, the plot is still very much the highlight, and pretty much the only thing keeping me going right now. They're definitely doing some interesting things with the "disturbing the capital-b Balance of the two worlds" story this time around.) Zoe did indeed wake up in Arcadia moments after I quit the game last night, and we're introduced to the first game's city of Marcuria, the Journeyman Inn and its pragmatic host Benrime and the various sentient species that inhabit the capital. It's currently under occupation by the Azadi, who appear to be religious zealots with little love for magic or the non-human races, but still protect the city and improve the quality of life for the humans in their care. They're a layered bunch, not entirely evil, but clearly not the sort you'd want to throw your lot in with.

For as weirdly static as the facial animations can be, this game is surprisingly gorgeous for a game made in 2006.
For as weirdly static as the facial animations can be, this game is surprisingly gorgeous for a game made in 2006.

Anyway, this sterling example of poor puzzle design happens soon after Zoe lands in Arcadia. She's tasked with finding someone who can help her get back to Stark, and possibly hook her up with this April Ryan character she's been hearing about. To do so, Zoe needs to ask a beggar named Blind Bob for the whereabouts of the deposed Minstrum Magda, one of the wise elders and former rulers of Marcuria. He won't tell you anything, however, without the Journeyman Inn's famous mulled wine. To get the wine, the innkeeper Benrime tells you to slog across town (two whole areas, no skipping) to the spice merchant. The spice merchant is waiting for his supply, and the trade caravan owner is currently stuck a few feet away from the Inn. So that's back two whole areas again. You're then given the package of spices, but you can't give them to the innkeeper directly, so it's back across two whole areas again. Then you get the spices, hand them over to the innkeeper (two areas back, naturally), give Blind Bob (who is not even blind) his mulled wine to be told that he has no idea where Magda is, but he knows another beggar who does. This beggar is presently three whole areas from the Inn, and wants you to rescue her pet before she'll tell you where Magda is. As for Magda? She's the soup kitchen attendee a couple feet away from the spice merchant, who I talked to about three times during this whole process. Nothing in the game intimated that this sequence was meant to be deliberately annoying, so I'll chalk it up to the game designers treating their players with barely-contained animosity for some perceived slight of which I am entirely incognizant.

There's another puzzle a little bit later when you're sneaking around the top-secret basement of a major corporation. Long story there, clearly (and an even longer journey), but suffice it to say that the game went for a style of puzzle design I tend to call "using every part of the buffalo". What this essentially means is that so much was spent on individual resources that every single one is factored into the puzzle in some way, which is great if you want a puzzle with a dozen different steps but not particularly realistic. If there's six different accessible rooms in a circular hallway and the puzzle requires that you visit every single one, then there's a definite sense of contrivance to the proceedings. Most adventure games would like you to think that they are filled with incidental detail; little hotspots in the environment that offer nothing but flavor text and enhance the mise en scène. This attention to detail seems to vanish the moment after leaving the first room of the game in many cases: with Dreamfall this would be Zoe's room, which is filled with little details about her life. You can then use abductive reasoning to intuit what her situation is from these contextual clues moments before the game explicitly tells you. With this particular corporation basement puzzle, most of the nuance has long since dissipated, and the game just has you going from points A through Q with explicit instructions while trying to stealth your way past security spider robots throughout. It's really quite disappointing.

Um... it was you?
Um... it was you?

Still, I'm here for the story and for the sequel hooks for this Dreamfall Chapters serial adventure I'm curious about. In that regard, at least, it's a worthy sequel to The Longest Journey. The game's getting fancy with its narrative at this point, jumping between Zoe, April Ryan and an Azadi Apostle (which I'm meant to believe is some kind of paladin or agent of the Azadi Empire) named Kian Alvane. Now, I remember a couple of things about the prior game that leads me to believe that Kian might not end up an enemy of April Ryan's. Quite the opposite, in fact, but I suppose I'll find out as I get further into the game's story. Despite her brief sojourn into Arcadia, Zoe is firmly up to mischief in Stark and will probably end up being the chief protagonist for that side of the balance. April and Kian will no doubt be more focused on the Arcadia half. But then, this is the sort of game that continues to surprise me with plot twists and character turns, so I'm anxious to see what happens next... if, perhaps, a little less excited about even more stealth/fight sequences to come.

Hey, at least I got to meet that loveable Starkian-trapped-in-Arcadia drunk Brian Westhouse again (he was also the tutorial protagonist! So that's four playable characters so far!). Make sure to check in tomorrow as I continue to vacillate between liking and hating this game.

Day 01: I Have No Mouth, and I Must ScreamDay 11: MiasmataDay 21: Magrunner: Dark Pulse
Day 02: I Have No Mouth, and I Must ScreamDay 12: BotaniculaDay 22: Magrunner: Dark Pulse
Day 03: I Have No Mouth, and I Must ScreamDay 13: BotaniculaDay 23: The Nightmare Cooperative & Lilly Looking Through
Day 04: Life of PixelDay 14: Shantae: Risky's RevengeDay 24: Cook, Serve, Delicious!
Day 05: Life of PixelDay 15: Bit Dungeon IIDay 25: Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
Day 06: SPAZDay 16: Stick it to the Man!Day 26: Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
Day 07: SPAZDay 17: NaissanceEDay 27: Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
Day 08: NightSkyDay 18: The SwapperDay 28: The Banner Saga
Day 09: The RoomDay 19: ClaireDay 29: The Banner Saga
Day 10: Ultionus: A Tale of Petty RevengeDay 20: DokuroDay 30: The Banner Saga
Finale: Papers, Please
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