There have often been games in the history of the industry that have changed the way that we think about telling our narratives or that fundamentally alter the industry at large. The Longest Journey was one of those games. For all its lack of technical polish, the game told a story in a way that most games up till that point hadn’t really tried, and it also dealt with subject matters previously deemed too ‘mature’ for video games. For these reasons, and many others, The Longest Journey is cemented in the hearts of many as a true masterpiece and one of the best moments in its own era of gaming. So, does Dreamfall Chapters live up to the legacy of the now confusingly titled series? Well, yes and no.
Dreamfall Chapters follows the adventures of two separate protagonists, Zoe and Kian, as they adventure across two different worlds, Arcadia and Stark, to try and save both worlds from being destroyed by the dark forces that threaten them. Both worlds have various major differences, the clearest one being that Stark is a world of logic and science, while Arcadia is a world of magic and mystery.
The storyline can be very complex at times, but fortunately, it doesn’t rely too heavily on you having played through the last games in the series. Most of the important plot developments that happened in the previous games are revealed to you right at the start, and there are plenty of journal entries and character bios that will help to fill in any gaps there might be in the game’s story.
During the segments of the game that follow Zoe, you tend to spend your time exploring a specific region of a futuristic dystopian city, complete with quasi-militant fascists and strange light-based hair styles. In the beginning of the story, Zoe has lost her memories of the events of the last game and goes about her life as if nothing has happened. However, events in the futuristic city begin to slowly unlock the pieces of her fractured past, even if the ‘slowly’ in this case means really slowly.
The story that takes place in Arcadia follows Kian, an ex-apostle of the anti-magic empire that currently controls Marcuria. Now working for the rebels, you must do all that you can to make up for your actions performed under the orders of your previous masters. The storyline in this world has the benefit of getting right into the action, and straight away it deals with elements that feel more important.
As you can probably tell from what has been written so far, the game does have a bit of a slow start, at least a partially slow start. Part of the problem with a game that follows two separate threads that don’t become entwined until later into the narrative is that they can be completely disjointed early on. This means that Kian’s story segments actually feel like an epic adventure tale, while Zoe’s just feel like the day-to-day life of a gender studies student in future ‘enter city name here’. Fortunately, by about halfway through book 3, the story starts to come into its own, and you might actually have a hard time stopping from that point onwards.
Normally, it would be expected that the ending of the game is off limits, but for once, that rule will be ignored. Don’t worry, there will be no spoilers, but the ending presents a minor issue that needs to be discussed. It has been said by various people who worked on the game that this was intended to be the final segment of the story, or at least that it was supposed to tie up a lot of the dangling threads of the previous games. For this purpose, the ending is really not fit.
The problem with the ending, although it is a relatively minor problem, is the fact that it feels in no way final. There is some closure to certain elements, but the overarching story of the universe it’s set in appears to be continuing without the player’s involvement. On one hand, this mean that the world feels more alive and realistic, things don’t stop happening just because the player stopped playing. On the other hand, this does mean that it feels like the story is trying to continue despite a supposed resolution being reached. The story still feels worthwhile, and the conclusions that are reached do satisfy most of the player’s need for closure, but there is definitely something missing there.
Gameplay-wise, Chapters is very similar to Telltales Games’ recent output. You control your characters in an over the shoulder third-person perspective and interact with your environment by clicking use, pick up or examine on various objects. ‘Puzzles’ are mainly solved by finding the right thing to activate that furthers the plot.
The game’s puzzles suffer from an issue that has been present with the series since the very beginning, in that a lot of the time you accomplish objectives in very roundabout ways, and most of these solutions simply require you to notice random things in the environment that you can interact with.
The worst sections in the game are the interludes. These sections almost always take place within the same small house, and each of them revolves around you finding objects hidden in the house. These sections are incredibly frustrating, because oftentimes they rely on you noticing intractable objects that are usually well hidden. The only distinguishing difference between an object you can interact with and one you can’t interact with is that a small white circle appears around the objects you can interact with. The issue with this is that it can be very difficult to get these white circles to appear. Several times over the course of the game, you will find yourself getting caught in the same area for a full hour because you walked past an object you could use 30 times without anything happening, and that’s because you have to stand at the right angle for the circle to appear.
The walking can also be frustrating, not because it’s difficult to control, but simply because it’s too slow. You can hold down R2 to run, but this is really more of a gentle jog, and it adds an incredible amount of time to how long you spend exploring locations. Another strange issue is that although the game offers a ‘skip lines of dialogue’ button, it seems to work intermittently with no rhyme or reason. On top of this, there is a lot of loading, and despite being on the PS4, these screens stick around for far too long.
The game looks great and sounds fantastic, which is especially good as the soundtrack is included as an extra for this complete edition. Although the graphics do look great, it is not because they’re super high definition or photorealistic, rather everything looks so good because it has well done and highly consistent art design that makes both versions of the world feel alive and connected. The only minor issue to be noted with the visuals is that, occasionally, they glitch out, especially when skipping dialogue, and also that most of the characters don’t seem to have facial expressions.
The voice acting is also really well done and more than makes up for the lack of character facial expressions. Most of the voice work is done by industry veterans who have more than proven their talent in many previous titles, and it really shows here.
The soundtrack will probably be one of the few game music albums that might actually be listened to outside of the game itself, joining the likes of Bastion and Seasons After Fall. It is clear that the creators knew their game’s strengths when putting the package together, focusing on tightening up the visual effects and including the OST as an extra. There are also a bunch of extras that help bridge any gaps in the lore of the universe and add some deleted scenes that you otherwise would have never seen.
Developer: Red Thread Studios
Publisher: Deep Silver
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 5th May 2017