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Dreamfall: Chapters Episode One review: A long-awaited journey

Hayden Dingman | Oct. 28, 2014
It's been fifteen years since The Longest Journey came out, making it a pretty apt name for a series. A cult classic, The Longest Journey is regarded as one of the best point-and-click adventure games and best game stories of all time.In 2007 fans finally got a long-awaited sequel, known as Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, which wrapped up a few story threads from the original game while opening up even more questions.

Once we've escaped that dream sequence, however, we're left literally at square one. Zoe awakens from her coma with no memory of the events in Dreamfall, and while we (the audience) know what transpired she's left to piece it back together. Or not.

As such, we're confronted with a Zoe Castillo who has a day life — a Zoe Castillo who goes to therapy, who delivers lunch to her boyfriend, who works a day job. While there are seeds of a much larger conspiracy to unravel, and while we know that inevitably the other shoe must drop (and drop with what I assume is a world-threatening bang), it's the way Red Thread and writer Ragnar Tornquist add life to liveliness to what should by all rights be boring that I find admirable.

I can't wait to watch things escalate, but I wasn't at all let down by this opening episode of Dreamfall: Chapters. It's slow and ponderous and you'll spend much of your time just wandering the city of Europolis, listening to random side-conversations (the magical realm of Arcadia barely makes an appearance), but it's a way of easing you into a world — of making this feel like a real place rather than Video Game City X — that I really admire. It dangles just enough out there to get you excited and then pulls back. The Longest Journey has never been one to show its cards quickly. Don't believe me? Go back and play the original point-and-click adventure.

What's disappointing is that we have to wait for the next chapter — the downfall of all episodic games. There's something to be said about the format in relation to a tale like Dreamfall, though. Already I've seen people going into forums and speculating about the end of this first chapter. It's almost like watching Lost when it aired, when fans dissected every frame and throwaway line for meaning.

And props to Red Thread for giving us a series of choices that are apparently world-shifting. The game borrows rather heavily from Telltale's school of adventure game design, to the extent that the screen flashes the same "BLANK will remember this" text after you make key decisions.

I was amazed by the breadth of those changes though, even in this first chapter. With one early choice you lock yourself out of an entire section of content, regardless of which path you take. That's Witcher 2 levels of gutsy, and is a drastically different approach than Telltale's "Illusion of Choice" style. For a series that's always played with notions of free will, of faith and rejection of faith, it's a bold extension of those themes into the actual layout of the narrative.

 

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