This is a multi-part series retrospective on Ragnar Tørnquist's Longest Journey Series, made up of The Longest Journey, Dreamfall and Dreamfall Chapters. Part One is here. Part Two is here.
It took seven years for The Longest Journey to see a sequel, and when Dreamfall arrived the gaming landscape had come a long way. It would take another ten years for Dreamfall's follow up to arrive, and when it did the gaming landscape had moved even further.
Where TLJ was a standard point-and-click affair, and Dreamfall a third-person action-adventure, Chapters would instead present itself as a full blown episodic drama, a format popularized by Telltale's The Walking Dead and Dontnod's Life is Strange. The adventure game, long thought dead, had now been resurrected in a new form, and it seems fitting that The Longest Journey would see a revival along with it.
Chapters is in many ways the biggest departure from the series so far. Like the contemporaries that influenced it, game-play is paired down to a bare minimum, with character interaction and dialogue taking on a a greater focus. It would also be the first in the series to give the player binary choices that would impact the plot of the game. One of the neat tricks it does is trigger a message stating 'The Balance Has Shifted' upon an important decision being made. In any other game this would be a simple reminder to the player, but in a series that has constantly framed 'The Balance' as a critical, world shaping power, this gives your decisions real weight.
Dreamfall had finished on a cliffhanger, leaving many plot threads unfinished. I can't imagine what it must have been like, waiting ten years, not knowing if Zoë would even come out of that coma. Indeed, the series was in a precarious position, and it was only the changing landscape of crowdfunding that gave it new life. Tørnquist and new developer Red Thread seem to have been very aware of this, and go to great pains to truly bring together a satisfying conclusion.
Like Dreamfall, Chapters is less of a self contained story and more an installment of a larger series. Going from Dreamfall to Chapters feels natural, and the two clearly compliment each other as part one and part two of the same plot.
The story picks up almost immediately where we left off with Zoë in a coma, Kian imprisoned and April dead. It doesn't take long to get the plot moving however, with Zoë finally awaking and moving to a new city, Europolis, and Kian escaping to an uneasy alliance with the Marcurian rebellion. It also introduces a new character, Saga, who's life we play through gradually, and who's importance does not appear to be immediately apparent.
If you thought the politics would stop with Dreamfall then you'd be very much mistaken. In many ways Chapters itself becomes more overtly political in telling an allegory for the current climate. In Europolis, we see a crisis unfold around the coming election, as the two main parties are represented by a right-wing fascistic bully and a morally compromised centrist, while the far left struggles to make a diffidence due to constant infighting. Kudos to Tørnquist for so succinctly framing the problems that continue to plague western politics.
In Marcuria, the Iraq War allegory mostly gives way to a focus on nationalism and xenophobia. Onor Hilloriss, a minor villain, is clearly a stand in for many right-wing European politicians, and definitely influenced by one from the UK in particular. Through Kian we see more of the Azadi's compromised occupation and how it was intended as a mostly benevolent campaign that was, instead, prolonged and manipulated by the powerful few for their own ends. A clear representation of how many feel about the never-ending War on Terror.
Chapters weaves these stories intrinsically into each other, showing that both Zoë and Kian's struggle to find a place in the world is absolutely tied to mankind's self destructive impulses. The political chaos in Europolis and Marcuria is caused by the exact same longing that the characters suffer from, and sticking with the themes of the earlier games, the only cure is to move forward. The past can never be regained.
And it's these themes that are so wonderfully brought to a head in Chapters in bizarre and wonderful ways. Not only does the game draw back to characters and storylines from the first entry in the series, but it expands the scope even furthers, from The Balance, to The Dreaming, to Storytime itself.
It's fitting, in a way, that each entry in the series has evolved in tandem with the adventure genre. The Longest Journey couldn't have stayed a point-and-click adventure game, it had to evolve with updated technology and changing audience tastes. Just like the characters, you can't stay in the same place forever, you just can't, you have to keep moving. It's how you stay alive.
Thus, over the course of three games, we see old lives put to bed and new ones embraced. Zoë finally finds her place in the world, Kian brings an end to the Azadi occupation and April finally realizes her destiny through reincarnation as Saga, becoming the old lady in the comfy chair that was recalling the tale all the way back in The Longest Journey.
On it's own, Dreamfall Chapters is a fine and inventive episodic drama. As the final entry in the series, it ties everything together to make them all greater than the sum of their parts. The stories and lives we witness are universal, but what's even more wonderful is just how broad the scope is.
This isn't a story about mighty warriors or powerful space marines. It's a story about artists, farmers, mechanics, bar owners and computer programmers. It's a story about the dispossessed, the persecuted and the downtrodden. It's not a power fantasy, it doesn't offer any easy answers, but it's comforting too. It lets the player into the lives of it's characters and shows that we aren't the only ones who struggle to find our place in the world.
This is only reinforced by the diversity of it's characters. Back when I was talking about The Longest Journey I already mentioned that the cast was pretty diverse to begin with, but the decision to put LGBT and POC characters front and center brings it's themes of belonging right to the forefront. A less diverse game would have been unquestionably a weaker one.
Gripes? I have a couple. The change in Kian's voice actor between games is pretty jarring, particularly how he goes from soft spoken in Dreamfall to deep and gravelly in Chapters. His redesign also looks lighter skinned, so take that as you will. The game also struggles to shake it's predecessors obtuse puzzles every now and again, in contrast to it's contemporaries more straightforward solutions. Still, these are all minor, and the freedom to choose the path of the story, and explore Marcuira in full for the very first time, more than makes up for it.
The Longest Journey series was intend to have one more entry, The Longest Journey Home, a sort of interquel set between TLJ and Dreamfall that would have followed April and gone back to the series roots as a classic point-and-click. It was set as a stretch goal for Chapters' funding, but the goal was never met, forcing Tørnquist to put the project on ice. In a way, I'm glad that this happened. I don't think it would be in the series best interest to see a sequel so immediate or nostalgic. I'd much rather see Tørnquist come back to it in another ten years time, when the gaming industry, and the world in general, has once again moved on.
All things considered, Chapters is a worthy conclusion, and elevates the series to that lofty status of high art. The worlds of Arcadia and Stark closely mirror our own, and gently warn of the pitfalls of historic reverence, and encourages us to take hold of our own destiny. I can't recommend the series enough. If you've never played them before, you have to check them out, and if you're a long time fan, they are absolutely worth a revisit.
Jack Harvey 2017. Dreamfall Chapters is (c) Red Thread Games