Funcom's Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is the sequel to the highly acclaimed original Longest Journey. Like the first Longest Journey, Dreamfall is an epic sci-fi adventure game with a central female character, Zo? Castillo. In fact, Dreamfall includes both the new character Zo? and the Longest Journey's original character April Ryan who are played across Dreamfall's parallel worlds.
Dreamfall succeeds at presenting an intricate and beautiful world with the two main characters and a host of supplemental characters, but its success comes at the price of several key components of gameplay. The primary problem is that Dreamfall operates more like a film than a game. Unlike other games that have explored this divide-notably King Kong's action-packed filmic pacing, Indigo Prophecy's simple elegance for interactive controls and variable narratives, and even Resident Evil 4's action buttons during cinematics-Dreamfall basically excises game elements. In doing so, Dreamfall's main game play consists of walking around and speaking to other characters. With Dreamfall so intensely focused on presenting a story, gameplay becomes simply a tacked on extension to that story. Given the quality of the story, this may be an acceptable compromise for many players; others will find that the story does not compensate for the lack of gameplay.
Walking and talking in Dreamfall are actually fairly interesting because the game's story crosses the parallel worlds Stark and Arcadia and each world has multiple locations, including Casablanca, Japan, Newport Venice, and Marcuria. These locales are explored through the main characters Zo? and April, as well as through another playable character Kian. In these places, the players meet a number of extremely well-developed non-player characters, including new characters like Reza, Damien, Na'ane, Benrime, and familiar faces from the original Longest Journey like Brian Westhouse, Crow, and White Dragon. All of these characters and the focus on conversing with them could be overwhelming. However, Dreamfall's tightly designed story allows it to handle the parallel worlds and multiple characters extremely well. In fact, Dreamfall divides the characters into the separate worlds and then incorporates the transitions between worlds into the game characters and the game narrative in various ways. These ways include April's ability to shift between Arcadia and Stark and Zo?'s own interesting ability, and explaining her ability would reveal too much of the game's story.
The complexity of the story and the game itself are aided through Dreamfall's incredible job of presenting characters who are fully realized as real characters, complete with excellent voice acting and excellent sound throughout the game. In addition to the quality sound, Dreamfall's locations are beautifully constructed. While the image quality doesn't reflect the current highest levels for graphical quality, the graphics are excellent nonetheless.
The story begins with Zo?, a bright young and slightly apathetic college drop out, trying to figure out what to do with herself. She lives with her father in Casablanca, and players are very quickly introduced to Zo?'s friends. This futuristic Casablanca has sci-fi elements depicted like something from the Matrix or Neuromancer, complete with corrupt governments and evil corporations. With this world's advanced technology, the Wire serves as the primary means of communication, and Zo? starts to see messages in the Static that errupts into the Wire. The Static and the girl in the Static are imagistically somewhat like the video in the Ring; however, the images aren't scary and develop narratively to be more like the net in Serial Experiments LAIN. Other sci-fi elements include Zo?'s robot friend Wonkers, a product of WATI-Corp that performs similarly to the primer in Diamond Age. As is obvious with these analogues, Dreamfall weaves a rich narrative using familiar sci-fi elements and then combines those with other fantasy elements in the world of Arcadia, where both magic and technology are prevalent. With its many elements and references, Dreamfall does an excellent job of creating a narrative, it just isn't what most players would expect from an interactive narrative or a game. While the divisions between interactive narrative and game are already strained and complicated-Fa?ade and Last Express being the primary interactive narrative examples-Dreamfall simply doesn't manage to combine its fascinating narrative with enough interactive or game elements to fit the normal definitions of interactive narrative or game. Further, Dreamfall doesn't present an interesting new form that can stand on its own outside of the bounds of games, interactive narratives, or films. And, Dreamfall ends too quickly to fully round out the story it so excellently develops at the beginning and the middle of the story, requiring just 10-15 hours to cover the game.
Dreamfall's overall story is excellent and the idea of relying on conversation for gameplay could have been a provactive and innovative idea. However, while conversation is the main game component, it normally doesn't diverge-whatever conversational choice you make, you tend to get and to give the same information. This is strange since it does give you the option to choose what responses to make. Also, these conversations are long, often several minutes (over five and sometimes around ten minutes) without player interaction, which many players will find boring even when encased within the fascinating narrative.
Other components to gameplay include fighting, lockpicking, hacking, sneaking, and using items. All of these are badly implemented because they're just too easy to be anything other than tedious. The fighting, in particular, consists of using three buttons which respond slowly, but even with the slow response the fights are far too easy to win. Similarly, the sneaking is overly easy and poorly implemented. Hacking and lockpicking are basic puzzles and their difficulty remains consistently easy throughout the game. Some players may enjoy the easy gameplay and the filmic style of the game, so the hacking and lockpicking puzzles can be viewed positively for them. That said, the fighting and sneaking simply don't work and won't be appreciated by players regardless of their game style preferences.
Dreamfall's positives are that this is a new sort of adventure game with fewer puzzles, lots more dialogue and narrative, and some fighting thrown in. This new style aids the solid storyline and superb voice acting, but it doesn't do what the controls did for Indigo Prophecy. Essentially, the improvements make Dreamfall an interesting sort of film, but not much of a game. There's an argument for this sort of game-that it captures new players who want to be emotionally involved without having any penalties for errors or any major difficulties that draw them outside of the gaming experience. This argument is generally made for girl games or games that appeal to nongamers, and the argument could work for Dreamfall. Although, that also means that many traditional gamers may be bored or annoyed by the number of fetch quests, the extreme linearity of gameplay, the limited options available at any point, and the limited options in Dreamfall overall.
Dreamfall relies on a solid storyline that captures traditional adventure gamers who will forgive the lack of difficult puzzles, and making those few puzzles easier is a good choice to hit the untapped "too old for kids games/not interested in full adventure games" market. This, too, is a bit complicated though because Dreamfall has a Mature rating, likely for its use profanity given the otherwise easily Teen-rated gaming. For more traditional gamers, Dreamfall is too much like a film and too little like a game. Because Dreamfall continues the story form The Longest Journey, those who loved the original should definitely play Dreamfall for the story if nothing else. Others may really enjoy Dreamfall's quality voice acting, character and story development, and exotic locations. However, most gamers who were aware of the promise and possibility that Dreamfall embodied will be disappointed. Many will probably still want to play Dreamfall, but gamers should know that Dreamfall doesn't deliver on it's potential, which is a real shame.