Frivolous Waste of Time

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Archive for the tag “The Longest Journey”

Dreamfall Chapters for PS4, Xbox One, PC, Linux and OS X

1999’s The Longest Journey is one of my favourite games of all time, and certainly my favourite adventure game which doesn’t contain Guybrush Threepwood. Wonderful world-building and a truly epic journey which loved up to the name were held together by April Ryan, one of my favourite game protagonists ever. 2006’s sequel/spin-off Dreamfall: The Longest Journey impressed me less and I feel has actually aged much worse than its 7-year older predecessor. The long awaited Dreamfall Chapters is the third in the series and, unsurprisingly based on the name, is very much is the vein of Dreamfall rather than The Longest Journey. It is likely to be the concluding game of the entire saga and whilst elements work very well, it ultimately falls rather short. It could have worked as a 2017 style adventure game, it could have worked as a revival of a 1990s style adventure game, but instead it feels like a revival of a 2006 adventure game, which I don’t think anyone would argue is the genre’s golden age.

Dreamfall Chapters picks up a few months after the end of the last game; over in our world, the technologically advanced Stark, Zoe Castillo awakens from a coma, having forgotten the events of the previous game. To rebuild her life she moves to the continent wide mega city of Europolis, but it isn’t long before she is caught up in a new intrigue and local politics. Despite Zoe’s efforts in Dreamfall, Wati Corp have managed to release their sinister Dream Machine, which has turned many into lifeless husks, addicted to lucid dreams. Over in Arcadia, the apostle Kian Alvane has been imprisoned for betraying the Azadi Empire, who have invaded Marcuria and begun a system of oppression against magical races. To atone for his part in the death of April Ryan, Kian is recruited into the Resistance to fight his former masters and help the magicals he had previously despised. Finally, in the House of All Worlds, a strange child with mysterious powers, Saga, is born.

I’ll start out with the things I liked about the story of Dreamfall Chapters. The actual dialogue is as good as ever, with the same sharp, engaging and fully rounded characters that the series should be known for. Returning characters form The Longest Journey and Dreamfall are welcome, particularly the cowardly, sarcastic and intensely loyal Crow, my favourite sidekick in gaming history. I also really enjoyed the development of the stoic and powerful Dolmari Likho from Dreamfall, whose character develops in some interesting ways. I also really liked some of the new characters, particularly the nervous and endearing member of the magical resistance Enu, who forms an unlikely and very sweet bond with Kian. Zoe was never the most engaging protagonist, but she’s a bit better here, helped by a new and improved voice actor. I didn’t expect to like Kian as much as I did, but we find out that there is a fair bit more to him than we saw in Dreamfall and he even gets some endearingly funny moments.

There are elements of Dreamfall Chapter’s plot which work very well, but it’s origins as an episodic game expose major plot issues, which are exacerbated when the five chapters are played back to back. Seemingly major plot elements from earlier chapters vanish in later chapters, either without a trace or in brief dialogues. A seemingly key plot point in the first couple of chapters about an upcoming election in Europolis, on which Zoe works as a campaigner, fizzles out into nothing. Seemingly vital characters vanish into the aether, with the final episode in particular introducing a dazzling number of concepts and locations in its dash for the finish line. I totally get why this game had to be episodic due to the realities of crowd funding and publishing, but I can’t deny that it hurt the eventual release. If this is the final Longest Journey game as has been suggested, I would be pretty sad due to the fact that the fascinating reveal at the end of the first game has still not been addressed; the reunification of Stark and Arcadia and the so-called War of the Balance. In fact, a lot of plot points from The Longest Journey are glossed over, such as The Balance itself, the Draic Kin and the multiverse. They are referenced and touched upon, but the focus is always on the vaguer notion of ‘The Dreaming.’ During the Kickstarter, game director Ragnar Tournquist suggested a potential direct sequel to the first game, The Longest Journey Home. He has recently suggested that this is unlikely to happen which is heart-breaking as it honestly feels that there is a story left to be told. Dreamfall Chapters does a decent job of wrapping up the series, but it simply doesn’t have the time to address everything.

Dreamfall Chapters is mechanically very basic, only a very slight step up in interactivity from Telltale. There are a handful of puzzles, but they’re simple and not particularly engaging. The Longest Journey infamously went too far in the other direction, with some the most hilariously obtuse puzzle solutions in the genre. Still, at least The Longest Journey felt like, well, an adventure. Although some other locations are included, Dreamfall Chapters mostly sees you running around a smallish open world in Europolis as Zoe and in Marcuria as Kian. Most puzzles just involve wandering around these environments and there’s little sense of discovery or satisfaction in your travel. I almost wish that they’d gone the whole hog and made Dreamfall Chapters an entirely narrative, Telltale-esque experience rather than this weird hybrid, because it doesn’t really work.

For the relatively low budget, Dreamfall Chapters looks pretty nice. The environments are particularly impressive, bursting with character and life. The character models fare less well, generally stiff and fairly expressionless, but the voice acting and writing are to a high enough standard that it doesn’t feel like a major problem. Some dramatic moments come off as stiff and a bit awkward, with the visuals feeling more like an early Xbox 360/PS3 game rather than something more modern, but it never really hurt the experience for me.

There was a lot I liked in Dreamfall Chapters and I’m happy to have got some kind of ending, but ultimately the stuff I wanted to see the most does not appear. I truly hope that this isn’t the end for the series, but for something as obscure and niche as this to get an ending at all, with roughly a decade between instalments, is a hell of a thing. It may not be exactly what I wanted, but I’m still glad it exists.


Grim Fandango Remastered for PS4, PS Vita, PC, OS X and Linux

It’s always interesting playing a game considered to be a genuine classic. More so than any other medium, games age badly. If we remove nostalgia, I’d say that there’s only a tiny portion of games which remain truly timeless. One of the very few games I’d call timeless is the original Secret of Monkey Island, as adventure games tend to age better than a lot of genres. Grim Fandango though…well I’m not so sure.

Grim Fandango takes place in the afterlife, in a sort of purgatory between life and the mysterious ‘9th Underworld.’ Manny Calavera works for the DoD, the Department of Death, who sell travel packages to the recently deceased to make their journey to the 9th Underworld easier. Only people with relatively clean souls qualify for the more deluxe packages, with the worst of all being forced to walk the arduous journey to the end themselves. Manny uncovers a conspiracy at the heart of the DoD, with good souls having their golden tickets stolen. The game takes place over four years, with each part taking place during the Day of the Dead where most spirits go to visit their families.

Tim Schafer is a hell of a storyteller and Grim Fandango told a story I thoroughly enjoyed. As with games like Psychonauts and Broken Age, Grim Fandango is a whimsical experience which I wouldn’t necessarily call a comedy, although you certainly will laugh. His stories are always very human, making each character, even the minor ones, feel better developed than the cast of your typical AAA blockbuster. Sure, the central conspiracy isn’t necessarily that interesting but the core of Manny’s journey from self serving middle man to genuinely caring and heroic leader is compelling. This is helped by a wonderfully understated performance from Manny’s voice actor.

The game looks great as well, with the remaster tidying up some of the character models and smoothing off some of the edges. It’s not a huge change but it doesn’t need to be. Generally, games from this era don’t age well, but by the sheer quality of the world and character design Grim Fandango has. The voice acting is exceptional across the board and the music is fantastic; that jazz clarinet theme song isn’t leaving my head any time soon.

Sadly, I didn’t like the actual gameplay nearly as much as I did the story and presentation. Now, I grew up on adventure games. I get that they’re trial and error and that the puzzles are obscure, but that’s part of the charm. I even didn’t mind the infamous inflatable duck/subway key puzzle in The Longest Journey. However, there was one reason that adventure games could get away with this sort of design and that was simplicity of their interface. There’s a reason the SCUMM engine was the best possible for game design; any interaction with the world was, at most, three clicks away. You could experiment and try loads of stuff and it wouldn’t waste too much of your time. However, Grim Fandango is not point and click, so traversing the world is a bit clunkier and it can be difficult to interact with the object you want to. The time it takes to remove items from your inventory makes experimentation a drag, with this awkwardness making many puzzles painfully irritating. Fine, call me soft, but a hint system would have been invaluable. Sure, a lot of people would have complained, but keep it optional and who’s harmed? Coming to this as a seasoned adventure game player who missed this one back in the day, Grim Fandango simply isn’t a particularly good adventure game.

Overall though, in the end, Grim Fandango was a positive experience for me. You may perhaps need to adjust your expectations though; as with any classic you have to remember that times have changed and that, as much as we tend to mythologise the past, there are certain ways in which modern gaming has simply gotten better. Regardless,  I’m really glad that I got to play this influential and important game.grimfandangorelease

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