Review by CynicalZealot
To sleep, perchance to dream...
The Longest Journey:
Dreamfall is the sequel to The Longest Journey (a popular Adventure game released back in 2000), and it shows. The game is also the first-part of a planned two-part duology, which also shows. These two facts need to be considered before you ever decide to pick up this game, because they WILL affect your enjoyment of the game.
First off, I've never played The Longest Journey The instruction manual tries to sum up the really important details from the first game, but that still leaves a lot of unexplained references in the game (and, to be honest, who really reads the instruction manual before playing a game anyway?). While playing the game, it was obvious to me when something was being mentioned that fans of the series would get, but that newcomers like me would completely miss. This didn't ruin the game for me, per se (none of the references were important to the plot of THIS game), but it DID make me feel like I was missing out on a very large chunk of the overall story.
Secondly, Ragnar Tornquist has already admitted that he planned Dreamfall as the first half of a two-part story, which means that, in many ways, the game ends "mid-way through". Even a cursory analysis of the plot will produce at least a dozen major story elements that are never answered, and the ending will leave you asking more questions than you had before. While part of the story does indeed come to a conclusion, in many ways, it feels like that part of the story was nowhere near as important as the parts that didn't end.
To some extent, playing this game is like watching Empire Strikes Back or The Two Towers without watching the other movies in the trilogy. It's not impossible to enjoy without having played the first one and having to wait for the third game to come out years later, but being able to play all three in order will most certainly make the experience more enjoyable overall.
In many ways, Dreamfall isn't much different from any other modern Adventure or Survival Horror game - you control the character's movement in third-person as they move around their environment, interact with people and objects, and solve puzzles. Rather than point-and-clicking where you want to go, you use the analog stick to walk up to objects, and the commands will appear if you walk near something (or someone) you can interact with. The commands are selected via the A/B/X/Y buttons, and dialogue choices are selected via the analog stick and the A button.
The puzzles, for the most part, aren't that difficult to solve - when playing, I needed to look at a FAQ precisely once, because one puzzle is very non-intuitive. That being said, there's still enough challenge to keep the game interesting.
Combat in this game is fairly poor, but this doesn't detract from the game overmuch, as there are maybe only half a dozen instances where you'll actually need to fight (and some of those can be avoided).
Character design is a major strength of this game, though the actual development of some characters leaves a little to be desired. Still, the characters are likable for the most part, and leave you interested in their stories. You WANT to see the good guys win, and thus, you're able to involve yourself in the story.
The game basically revolves around the character of Zoe, with lesser focus on April Ryan (the character from the previous game) and Kian (who gets the least screen-time of the three). All three are basically controlled the same way, but they each interact with the world around them in different ways (talking to someone as Zoe will result in different dialogue than speaking to them as April or Kian, for example), and each adds their own little pieces to the overall story.
This is, bar none, the main reason to buy this game. If you're a gaming purist who prefers complicated controller action, reflexes, and split-second decisions, you won't care (and, in fact, you probably shouldn't be playing this game), but a fan of games with strong story will most likely love this one. Better, this isn't a Xenosaga situation, where you play for 20 minutes and then watch an hour-long cut-scene - the plot of this game is intricately woven into conversations and interactions, and you feel far more in control than you do in "cinematic" games.
I won't describe the plot, since doing so could easily spoil things, but the game takes place in Stark (the World of Science - ie, our future 200 years from now), and in Arcadia (the World of Magic), and sort of hops back and forth between the two, weaving a story concerning the fate of both worlds, and the power of dreams. The storytelling is definitely better than many other games, and is on-par with some books and movies.
Simply beautiful. Though many gamers chant the mantra that "graphics don't matter!", it's a reality that good graphics DO enhance the gaming experience. Dreamfall has very attractive character design, beautiful backgrounds, and a degree of detail which definitely adds to the experience.
While the music in the game isn't horrifically bad, none of it really stands out as breathtaking, either. This doesn't matter too much in the long-run, though, as the music is generally subdued, and mostly in the background. As such, while it adds very little to the experience, it also doesn't detract from it.
Overall Score: 8/10
This game isn't for everyone - if you've never enjoyed a modern Adventure game, give this one a pass. If the fact that it references an earlier game, or that it ends on a cliffhanger bothers you, this isn't going to be the game for you.
But, that being said, the game IS a solid entry, and one of the better Adventure games to be released recently. If you can live with the fact that you'll be waiting another 2-3 years to know how the game ends, I'll heartily recommend you pick up Dreamfall and give it a whirl.
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