Back in the 90s the puzzle-adventure genre was prospering. With the likes of Broken Sword, Myst, and the extensive LucasArts catalogue, the genre provided a more mature respite in a time when games were aimed at a very narrow, adolescent audience. These explorative games were story-driven escapades with extensive puzzles that could take hours to solve. From this genre, emerged The Longest Journey – a game and epic saga that is held in high regard as one of the great classics of that era.
Dreamfall Chapters is the third tale in the saga of The Longest Journey. It is the product of a highly successful Kickstarter campaign that reached nearly double its initial goal. This shows the impressive dedication of the series’ fan following. It was initially released as a 5-part episodic, but it has been compiled into a fancy disc version for console with a new publisher.
The story follows the narrative strands of three characters, plaited together to form an ambitious multi-threaded narrative. The game is set in the parallel worlds of Stark – the futuristic land of science and technology – and Arcadia – the fantasy land of magic. Returning fans will recognise the two main playable characters, Zoe Castillo and Kian Alvane, from the previous titles, as well as an array of recognisable supporting characters to enjoy. A third new playable character also joins the ensemble in the form of Saga.
The story begins where the previous game left off. Zoe Castillo has been forced into a coma state by her mother after she defies plans to release a dangerous lucid dream technology called Dreamachine to the general public. Yet, whilst her body is immobile, her mind is roaming the Storytime; a void between worlds. Zoe is a Dreamer, which means she can physically dream herself into another world.
When Zoe awakens from her coma, she has lost all memory of the Storytime. She must come to terms with the time and memories she has lost and forge a new life for herself in Stark. Zoe settles in the city of Europolis, which resembles an Orwellian future, where EYE soldiers track her every move. She soon becomes a political activist in support of a socialist movement for the coming election, and life in Europolis becomes increasingly hostile. A chain of events eventually leads her back to the world of Arcadia where she meets Crow and together they undertake a perilous journey to find the First Dreamer.
In parallel to Zoe’s story, Kian must contend with his own story of loss. After breaking rank and conferring with the enemy, he has been imprisoned by his own people, the Azadi. It is not long before the anti-Azadi rebellion free him from his confinement and attempt to recruit him to their cause. The Azadi have been rooting the magical people from their homes and taking them away, never to be seen again. Kian’s story is one of redemption for his past misdeeds by helping those whose lives are being destroyed by the Azadi.
Meanwhile, a third tale brews quietly behind the scenes of the main narrative, one shrouded in mystery. It follows the life of Saga, a feisty child living in a house between worlds. She is both surrounded by, and shielded from magic and the outside world by her overprotective father. The short view into her life is enough to develop an understanding of this character and the important role she has in tying the overarching The Longest Journey ‘saga’ together.
The world of Dreamfall Chapters develops through a combination of dialogue, environment dressing, and incidental audio. It delivers an impressive number of stylised locations to explore, with a high visual standard that serves to make the world feel compelling and populated. Both Stark and Arcadia are abundant with a hugely diverse cast of inhabitants. They talk amongst themselves and adapt their conversations based on your character’s proximity. All of these nuances help to build an immersive world worthy of a puzzle-adventure title.
Narrative is the clear focus of this game. It tells current story through interactive gameplay and dialogue, but it also seeks to build an extended backstory to give more depth. The story told is truly vast, as is the amount of dialogue, and if you’re not paying attention you might miss something of importance. The game’s heavy reliance on character monologues to convey key story overshadows the more delicate storytelling methods previously mentioned. The extensive amount of dialogue lacks interaction, so unfortunately it loses some of the story’s agency.
Fortunately, the game tries to give some interactive options for some of the main plot dialogue. It allows the player to choose the journey they will take, even if the fates of their characters are set. The branching dialogue and actions never truly diverge very far from the main story thread, but Dreamfall Chapters dresses it very well. The assortment of characters and agendas that force the player to make difficult decisions, are far more interesting options than the simple good or bad choice of other games.
In some areas, Dreamfall Chapters feels like it has sacrificed gameplay in favour of story. The story feels bloated at times and useful interactions become sporadic. Individual puzzles inconsistently switch between being bland and arbitrary, to logical and well embedded into the character’s goals. Either way, the puzzle interaction becomes a pleasant respite from the incessant dialogue. The game would have benefitted from better integration of the dialogue into the gameplay.
A point of contention is the addition of puzzles based solely on knowledge of the previous games. The developers logically wanted to draw on elements of the prequels, but without that knowledge, players are required to make huge logic leaps. They were clearly added as fan service for devoted fans of the series, but for those new to the world they might feel like an in-joke they’re not privy to.
It is fair to say that the game industry has drastically changed in the past thirty years. Most players prefer more immediate interaction and constant feedback on their actions, and puzzle-adventure is not as popular as it was when The Longest Journey was released. While Dreamfall Chapters retains the adventuring of the previous games, it is very story-heavy and offers minimal puzzles, which may be off-putting to some gamers. It tells a fantastically deep and intricately woven tale, but the delivery does not do it justice. Despite that, Dreamfall Chapters provides a fulfilling experience that is definitely worthwhile if you can look past the dialogue, especially for story enthusiasts.