Dreamfall The Longest Journey Review (Xbox/PC)
The best adventure game on the Xbox, and one of the best adventure games, period
Videogames sure have changed over the years. Once just simple screen-driven versions of tabletop games and basic, basic shooters, today’s games exist in a multifaceted world of complex genres and styles. Mirroring the history of film, a key question is often asked now: are videogames art?
While that is potentially arguable both ways in the general sense, one thing cannot be argued – Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is indeed art.
Dreamfall is one of the last, best games for Windows and Microsoft’s original black Xbox. My computer isn’t gaming quality by any stretch of the meaning, so I’ll be reviewing the Xbox title.
Dreamfall the Longest Journey is a 3D adventure game that plays like many menu and text-driven adventure games but with all the text dialogue carefully and skillfully spoken making the wonderful writing even more enjoyable. There are plenty of places to explore, things to investigate, people to meet and interact with, and yes, classic adventure game puzzles.
“They say that every story has a beginning and an end. That may be true in most cases, but sometimes however, the two are one and the same.” – Zoë
Without going into too much detail, Dreamfall is the story of a young woman named Zoë Castillo who lives in futuristic Casablanca. She’s your average gal with average problems – she’s looking for her place in school, love, and the world at large. Although her life starts out completely average, soon she’ll be caught up in events far more important than her trivial problems and her world will never be the same…
Zoë keeps seeing visions of a small young girl in a white dress in various monitors wherever she goes. The girl telling her to save someone named April Ryan and cryptic remarks about a place called “Arcadia”. What does this all mean?
Like Final Fantasy VI, the story of Dreamfall centers around multiple characters that each have a story to tell that is every bit as interesting as the main story, but also like the classic Square game, Dreamfall does generally focus most of its efforts on the central character, Zoë Castio. She is such a well flushed out character that during the times when you don’t play as her, you will actually miss her.
This is what really separates Dreamfall from other games – its not really a “game”. Dreamfall focuses on long, exquisitely detailed in-engine cutscenes to move the story along. For the most part, this is the kind of game that sweeps the player off their feet and takes them on a long journey – just as the subtitle would suggest.
Some people hate this idea and feel they should be in control. If that’s you, then stop reading this and go play something else. You will not enjoy Dreamfall.
If this does sound like something you would enjoy, then you’ll find yourself in true gaming bliss.There are cleaver ways the game engages players allowing interaction in the story which few games employ so well.
Occasionally you have command over how Zoë will respond to someone during a conversation, which can effect the course of events to come. Some entire events can be avoided or altered through speech, and it all feels natural. Everyone in the whole game reacts as you would expect real people to.
The game has some stealth sections that are really just there to break up the gameplay so you’re not always doing the same kind of thing. It’s as fitting in Dreamfall as it would be other adventure games, say Phoenix Wright for instance.
The biggest flaw with Dreamfall is the fact that it has a fighting system. Incredibly simplistic, robotic and awful, there are thankfully only a handful of fights in the entire game. It’s not a big enough problem to worry too much about though.
Of course, what would be an Adventure game without puzzles? Dreamfall’s involve using a small set of inventory items to solve problems. This usually takes the form of combining two or more items together to create something useful or using Zoë’s black market cellphone to hack into digital locks. The hacking mini game is along the idea of Bioshock’s use of Pipedream, but this time its more like Simon Says than anything else.
Dreamfall has a stunning score. Composed by Leon Willett, the tracks are extremely atmospheric and greatly help drive the emotion of each scene. Since Dreamfall has more in common with movies than other games, this aspect is crucial and is executed extremely well. Songs are mostly instrumental with plenty of piano, strings and other soft instruments, but there are also a few vocal tracks sung by Norwegian singer Even Johansen, aka Magnet.
Dreamfall is also without a doubt, the host of some of the most impressive and largest voice cast in gaming history. There are literally dozens and dozens of voice actors who each deliver unique lines, and everyone in the game is voiced. You will never encounter two people with the same voice as you do in other games such as Oblivion. Each of the main characters espically have voices that fit their characters are the acting is spot on. There’s something both fitting and exotic about a girl from Casablanca with a distinctly English voice.
Check out this video for an example of the superb voice acting in Dreamfall, and to see how the game first begins with Brian Westhouse, a character long time fans of the Longest Journey will already know:
As I don’t have the PC version, I can only comment on the controls for the Xbox. Dreamfall is a 3D Adventure game seemingly tailor made for the Xbox controller S in mind. You move with the left stick and can rotate your surroundings with the Right stick. If you click the left stick in, a blue “scanning beam” will appear and when it highlights an object you can interact with, the object will gain a green box around it and a simple press of the A button will allow you to examine it more closely. The +pad is used to manage inventory, the right shoulder button toggles stealth, and the A button is used for general advances. When given different ways you can respond in conversations, simply tilt the left stick toward the one you want and press A. It all works extremely well.
Availability and price
As with all PC games, Dreamfall will cost more or less depending on where you look. I’ve seen it for as low as $10 and as high as $30. As for the Xbox version, expect to pay around $20. Dreamfall was released almost a year after the 360 was, so it may be slightly difficult to find, but you should be able to find it wherever you can find Xbox originals.
Mature – Dreamfalls deals with some pretty heavy stuff, including death, drugs and more, but the game is best played by adult gamers because they can best relate to the various situations Zoë and the other main characters find themselves in, and be able to appreciate what drives their actions.
Dreamfall is the middle chapter in the Longest Journey narrative created by Norwegian game designer/writer Ragnar Tørnquist. The first game in the series, 1999’s The Longest Journey told the story of April Ryan, a young woman from Stark who unintentionally shifts to Arcadia and learns she has a pivotal role in the future of that world. The Longest Journey may be aged, but it’s still such a fantastic game to go into further detail would be a disservice to that wonderful game. Track it down it you can.
Dreamfall picks up several years later and features many of the same characters and places from the first, but Dreamfall does a good enough job that you don’t need to have played The Longest Journey to appreciate Dreamfall and understand what’s going on.
Most everyone who finishes Dreamfall has a single complaint in that the game ends almost as prematurely as Halo 2. The reason being is that Dreamfall was never intended to be the end of the story, rather instead just like the end of a novel.
A sequel is in development called Dreamfall: Chapters which should resolve all remaining issues.
Pros: Excellent voice acting, excellent story, beautiful and memorable set pieces, some cleaver puzzles. Long for adventure game standards. Around 8-10 hours.
Cons: Clumsy combat system, some awful puzzles, unsatisfying ending.
Platform: Xbox, PC
Release Date: April 17, 2006
Publisher: Aspyr Media
Developer’s notable other works: The Longest Journey, Anarchy Online
Buy or skip: Buy