I just want to say before I start that I am currently having one of the biggest fangirl moments on my life. Basically, a few days ago I tweeted a post singing praises about one of the main characters, Saga. And while I was in the process of polishing up this review, actual Ragnar Tørnquist (aka founder of Red Thread Games aka creator of “The Longest Journey/Dreamfall” series) retweeted it. And I just . . . oh my God.
I need a moment.
[deep breathes] I am calm. I am collected. Now on to the review.
“Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey” is an five-part 3D adventure game and the third and final instalment in “The Longest Journey” series. While this game alludes to its predecessors on several occasions, anyone can play this game as a stand alone as long as they get the gist of what went down in the previous games so that they won’t be too lost. I didn’t play the first two games myself, but I did watch a playthrough of them here and here. There is a playthrough for the this game as well, which I had to refer to constantly).
This game is set between two worlds: Stark (a futuristic cyber-punk version of Earth, a world of science and logic set two hundred years into the future) and Arcadia (a fantasy ‘parallel otherworld’, populated by humans of many fantastical races and magical creatures alike). The story revolves around the actions of our three main heroes:
- Zoë Castillo → She uncovered a major criminal conspiracy that transpires between both worlds in the last game, but is put into a coma and suffers from amnesia as a result (it’s no ordinary coma and amnesia, either, but I’m not spilling the beans). In this game, she is on a journey to recovery and rediscovering her purpose in life, but soon finds herself entangled between the fate of Stark and Arcadia once again.
- Kian Alvane → He was an Apostle of a Nazi-like party that are hellbent on wiping out all Magicals (aka genocide) in the second game, but has turned against his people and is working with rebels in this one.
- Saga → She was no more than a toddler when we first met her. Other than the occasional cutscene that features her birth parents or her experimenting with her latent powers, there were no clear explanation of her history or purpose until the very end. We later find out that she possesses the ability to open portals and travel between realities.
Can I just say, though? Red Thread Games were not kidding when they gave this game its name. It really was the longest f***ing journey. It’s definitely the longest one I’ve ever been on. Unless I count in my very existence, none of my journeys has ever stretched up to seventeen years (the first game came out in 1999, the penultimate in 2006, and the final spanned between 2014 to 2016). But what an incredible seventeen years it has been!
This has to be one of my favourite video games to date for a number of reasons. Not only is the premise highly unique and original, but the diversity count is through the roof. This is the number one reason I was drawn to this game in the first place. And even better still, no one in the main cast is white:
What I love even more about this game is that the developers took the time to not only made a majority of the supporting characters a) people of colour of a huge range of cultural backgrouns, b) queer (this canonically applies to one of the mains as well), and c) different shapes instead of just one cookie cutter size. Bonus points to them for not only including women (and I mean a lot of women) in this game, but also fleshing them out and giving them roles of authority and in professions often categorised as ‘masculine’. This feels like a breath of fresh air to me because all too often we see women constantly getting sidelined and/or underestimated, no matter what it is they do. None of them were ever degraded, demonised, discriminated against (with the exception of the situation in Arcadia, but that has more to do with fantastical racism—even when it did allude to Hitler’s regime—more than anything), or even stereotypical in any way.
The characters were the highlight of this game for me; they won me over by a mile. As a person of colour myself, representation comes few and far in between—which honestly shouldn’t be the case anymore in this day and age. So when I discovered this game back in 2014, no words could describe how incredibly happy I felt when I finally saw not one, not two, but an entire squad of fully-developed women of colour. Personally, I felt at kin with Mira, Saga, and Zoe because they’re all so tenacious, headstrong, intelligent, witty, and they definitely have an eye for fashion—that last one was an automatic plus from me!
World building is a really strong point of this game. Since this game deals with issues that reflect a lot of the real world, there comes a time where these topics will become heavy-handed multiple discussions of multiple complicated subjects. On a more personal level, topics such as mental health, familial abuse, sacrifice, and death were brought up. But on a wider scale, politics, racism and many other forms of discrimination, religion, government manipulation, manipulation of the media, violence and threats as a means of control, dictatorship, etc. were everywhere. There was hardly ever a second in the game where the characters don’t debate, argue, or at least off-handedly bring up these topics.
On one hand, this predicament could be a potential turn-off for players, because who wants to be bombarded with real world problems? Video games are a means of escape, after all. But on the other hand, no matter which character you’re controlling, you’ll always be giving a hand in destroying the evil that is the government. Which we’ve all probably thought of doing at some point in our lives. Don’t lie.
One of my favourites things about this game is that it often feels like a novel come to life. And since this is primarily a story-driven game, narration is obviously a key component in this game. I love that the developers have gone for a narrative style that feels as though the characters are conversing with you directly. For me, it creates a special bond between the characters and the players. I thought this particular style was effective in the wake of players being faced with a choice card—a feature of the game in which players are given several options to control the flow of the story. When one hovers one of the choices, the character in question will voice their opinions on said choice. Though not all the choices brought about a massive change in the course of the universe in-story, I thought this was a clever way for the players to get to know the characters in more ways than just controlling them on the screen.
There were times, however, when character interaction took so long I felt that it dragged on forever. Simple conversations turned into long-winded exposition dumps in a blink of an eye. They may be plot-related, but I’d rather learn about the world via exploring rather than having it dumped on me all at once. Not to mention that the complexity of both worlds is, well, out of this world. It is insane how much thought the developers put into the world-building. Don’t get me wrong, I commend them for it. As a writer with a love for settings rich in history, I know how incredibly difficult it is to get the consistency and the fluidity of world-building right. Even so, the exposition dumps made it overwhelming for me to process all information that had just been unloaded upon me. Loads of times I also found myself shaking my monitor and wanting to scream at the characters to get on with it.
But honestly? That was the only problem I had with this game. Well, I also have this other problem about getting lost all the time but that’s just due to me being a complete idiot when it comes to directions, in-game or otherwise.
To conclude, ‘Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey’ is a brilliantly thought out game that lived up to its premise. It has remarkable world-building and exceptional racial and female representation; all the characters, both main and secondary, were well-rounded, complex, and flawed in their own uniquely human ways. There was a great deal of telling not showing, but with time and patience I found that this aspect of the game soon became tolerable. It’s a shame that this game is so underrated because believe that it has the potential to be a game-changer (yes, I went there) in the gaming industry, be it story-wise or diversity-wise.
If you’ve made it this far into the post, then thank you for reading! Let me know what you think in the comments, if this review has you intrigued and you’d consider checking it out, or maybe if you’ve played the game yourself. Then definitely let me know of that!
Before I go, I came across this appreciation video on Red Thread Games’ Twitter account and it’s one of the sweetest and coolest thing I’ve watched. It just goes to show how much of an impact games like this can have on the world and it just, personally, further cements my own dream of someday having that kind of influence as well. I did wish I was a part of it, though, but oh well. I’ve shown my appreciation here. That has to count for something.
Until next time,