Learning Curve: About a half hour
Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is, first and foremost, a great work of science fiction. Such a complex plot, endearing characters, and imaginative settings and situations are highly uncommon to gaming, or any medium for that matter. Those familiar with the game's predecessor might expect no less, since it's widely considered one of the best adventure games ever made. Judged as a follow-up to a beloved classic, Dreamfall does not disappoint, for the most part. It exhibits the unique attention to detail and terrific presentation that made The Longest Journey so remarkable for its time. But Dreamfall also does an excellent job drawing in new players as well as those fans patiently awaiting this sequel. The actual gameplay is a blend of action adventure conventions, but it clearly isn't the main draw. It's there to help make the story more engaging, and that's more or less what it does. Yet, as impressive as the story is, it ends too quickly to leave you feeling fully satisfied when you finally reach the game's bewildering, enlightening, frustrating, thought-provoking conclusion. Is the journey itself worth your while, though? Absolutely, yes.
Dreamfall packs not one but two of the greatest female protagonists in all of gaming. And it's also got this totally great robot monkey named Wonkers.
More than six years ago, The Longest Journey introduced one of gaming's most memorable heroines, a smart and resourceful young woman named April Ryan. April happened to possess a latent ability to "shift" between worlds, from her familiar (yet futuristic) home to a magical place called Arcadia. These parallel worlds of technology and magic had fallen out of balance, and the reluctant April became the key to restoring harmony between the two--but at what cost to her and her friends? At any rate, you don't need to know what happened to dive right into Dreamfall, which is deeply connected to the events of The Longest Journey but doesn't assume you've played or remember that game. If you haven't or don't, then upon finishing Dreamfall, you'll probably want to go back and play The Longest Journey. It's certainly better as a pure adventure game than Dreamfall is, in case you were wondering. Dreamfall doesn't seem to have nearly as many complicated puzzles in it, but on the flip side, that means you can enjoy this story without running into many roadblocks.
It's tempting to go into specifics about Dreamfall's sharply written story. But since playing through the game involved unraveling a convoluted mystery, it's best not to spoil anything. Suffice it to say that you spend much of Dreamfall playing as Zoë Castillo, a bright and attractive young woman who's not unlike April from The Longest Journey, only she's a little less cynical and she's got a lovely British accent. Zoë seems like she has it all--a high-tech room with an incredible view, a good-natured and understanding dad, and even a gentle-hearted, artificially intelligent monkey robot. But she's seen better days. She's living at home with her father, trying to decide what to do with her directionless life, having dropped out of school and recently broken up with her longtime boyfriend. She's still on good terms with her ex, though, and one day, he asks her for what seems like a small favor, for help with a story he's working on for his editor. From that point, a chance encounter sets in motion an epic series of events that'll send Zoë all across the globe, and beyond.
Science fiction and fantasy conventions combine in some truly unique ways during Dreamfall's inspired story.
Zoë is a great character who's likable, charming, and sympathetic almost right away. And she'll get to meet lots of other similarly interesting characters during the course of her adventure, including some whom Longest Journey fans should recognize. The dialogue between all the different characters flows naturally, and superbly done voice acting, along with expressive 3D characters, makes all the conversation (and there's a lot of it) the highlight of the game. Dreamfall earns its M rating through a little bit of ribald humor and some profanity that's used very liberally by certain characters, and yet applied with restraint overall. For instance, you'll hear Zoë cuss in situations in which you'd expect almost anyone her age to react the same way. She leads an outstanding ensemble cast of characters, but they're not to be outdone by Dreamfall's wonderfully imaginative locales. Few games can muster up a cohesive science-fiction setting or a believable fantasy world. Dreamfall pulls off both at once, tying them together in some mind-bending ways. This is some seriously virtuoso storytelling from Longest Journey writer/designer Ragnar Tørnquist. There are so many inspired little touches all throughout the game that it's hard not to get swept up and emotionally invested in everything that's going on.
That's why it's all the more disconcerting that the game ultimately leaves so many loose ends untied. The story seems well within the author's capable control as it unfolds, intensifies, and deftly changes tone, but then it hurries to a close, practically with a nudge and a wink. Some room for continuation and interpretation can be a good thing for a story, but in Dreamfall's case, the game doesn't do as good of a job wrapping everything up as it does introducing multiple layers of conflict in the first place. In the end, you'll be left wishing for a sequel, wondering what this game could have been like had it simply been longer. It's almost painful not knowing the full breadth of what ends up happening to all these fascinating characters and this amazing world (or, worlds).
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