A Compendium Worth Reading

HIGH Anytime Kian talks about his love of Yams.

LOW Checking the concept art before finishing the game.

WTF Yes, I am reading every one of these Diary entries.


 

2000’s The Longest Journey and 2006’s Dreamfall were standouts in the post-Lucasarts, post-Sierra Adventure era. With writing primarily helmed by Ragnar Tornquist, those titles were mature, intelligent and thought-provoking. This new game, originally released in five episodes (each called ‘Books’) has now been released as a full collection and continues the strong tradition of Tornquist’s output with some unexpected twists in style.

The first games in this series concerned two parallel worlds in trouble. The first, Arcadia, is a land governed by magic. The second, Stark, is a science-led dystopia. April Ryan was the protagonist of TLJ, in which she had to rescue the worlds from certain doom by shifting between them. In the sequel She was joined by Zoe Castillo, a young student investigating a corporate conspiracy in Stark, and Kian Alvane, a puritan Apostle from Arcadia tasked with assassinating Ryan. Dreamfall: Chapters carries on this story one year after from the events of Dreamfall.

There is a good recap included for people new to the series and I recommend it, as it fills out what happened to the three leads in a fairly speedy nature. Chapters also does its best to let newcomers know about some of the nuances of the two worlds in the opening Books without it feeling like an infodump.

Any series fans coming to Chapters and looking forward to the combat from Dreamfall are either insane or unclear on what the real draw is — combat is not why anyone likes these titles. This time, the environments are large and rendered in 3D with a smattering of simple point-and-click puzzles and a glut of conversations to have that will dictate the fate of characters in later parts of the story. There was never a moment more taxing than doing a brief object hunt for an item, or tut-tutting over what decision I should make with Zoe’s boyfriend, who is kind of an idiot.

With combat gone, the development team have wisely spent time on filling each of the two worlds with hours of incidental dialogue in the form of direct and indirect conversations the player will witness, and also plenty of details for each of the characters to comment on when clicked. It’s impeccable in terms of lending both Arcadia and Stark humanity and authenticity.

As Zoe walks through the City of Europolis, people will chat about local events, the price of food or make offhand jokes. People set up stalls, imposing cyborg cops patrol, and ‘bots try to sell her timeshares. As the City is a fusion of cultures, the local dialect is punctuated with Polish words like ‘Dobra’ and German words like ‘Bruder.’ This serves to present a coherent vision of a futuristic Pan-European people, where borders have become blurred. Not only is it believable as a vision of what is to come for Earth’s future, it also includes a darkly prescient view of current cultural climes. Zoe works for a Neo-Liberal candidate, who is viewed as a better choice than the far-left and far-right in opposition. The game uses this as a jumping off point for a critique on corporate interests infringing on government design, and the importance of free press. Anyone seeing the current state of politics with any kind of left-leaning bent will shudder at where the first few Books in Dreamfall go.

The portions where I controlled Kian in the fantasy town of Marcuria were also political. The divide between the humans and the ‘Magicals’ (read: anyone that looks different) is exacerbated by religious zealots and a group that buy into a ‘Blood and Soil’ idealogy. The leader of the second faction bears an unpleasant resemblance to England’s least treasured joke, Nigel Farage. The game explores xenophobia and segregation here, frequently punctuated by Kian’s own ignorance serving as a window into a struggling bigot’s mind.

While much of the writing is very good when it comes to the serious stuff, that was par for the course in each of the Dreamfall games and I would have been disappointed if it hadn’t been. What surprised me is that Chapters also shows a deft hand at levity. Usually consigned to the comedy sidekicks, the script manages to lighten even the most stone-faced characters. Kian, who previously spent his time walking around with a stick up his ass, gets obsessed with Yams and there are at least two good easter eggs to be found that wring jokes out of this. Zoe also spends much more time being genuinely funny with self-deprecating humor, so when she gets to some soul-searching choices, they’re all the more heartbreaking in contrast to her normal quipping. All in all, I appreciated how the comedy help shape the darker portions of the game, and made the experience stronger as a whole.

My only criticism of Dreamfall: Chapters is that I was disappointed in the final Book. Tying up any story is difficult to do, and Chapters resorts to almost two hours of characters walking and talking, without anything else really happening. That aside, I still valued getting to the end of the tale and seeing how things played out. Credit is due to the team for with managing to make it all feel poignant and conclusive when it could have come off as trite and weightless in the wrong team’s hands.

Dreamfall: Chapters is the finale that this trilogy deserves — the story is top-notch, anyone coming to this with no knowledge of the previous entries will still be entertained, and longtime fans will get to finally walk away content – if not a little sad – that The Longest Journey has now come to an end. Rating: 9 out of 10


 

Disclosures: This game is developed by Red Thread Games and published by Deep Silver. It is currently available on Xbox One, PC, PS4 Mac and Linux. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox One. Approximately 22 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Mature and contains Violence, Blood, Sexual Themes, Strong Language. The game is littered with swearing, there are some pretty violent scenes, including torture and sacrifice, there is topical section on terrorism that might be unsettling for some. For those not keen on violence against animals there are some pretty nasty moments too. Not suitable for kids at all.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All information is accompanied by subtitles but there is one music-based puzzle which has no visual cues. Some players may encounter issues there.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options. There is one puzzle in particular that requires identifying red dots that will be much harder to do without a non-colorblind person’s help or a walkthrough.

 

AJ Small

AJ Small

AJ Small is a games industry veteran with over 12 years of experience. He started his gaming on the BBC Microcomputer and switched to being a devout SEGA fan from then on. He currently walks the earth in search of the tastiest/seediest drinking holes as part of his attempt to tell every single person on the planet that Speedball 2 and The Chaos Engine are the greatest games ever made.

He can be found on twitter, where he welcomes screenshots of Dreamcast games and talk about Mindjack, just don’t mention that one time he was in Canada.
AJ Small

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3 Comments on "Dreamfall: Chapters Review"

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elio
Guest
Great review. I felt that the first books moved too slowly for my taste and the ending felt rushed. But the writing overall was top notch and the humour really worked for me. I’m a little ashamed in admitting how many times I laughed ad the “kitten and rooster” jokes. “Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All information is accompanied by subtitles and there is no reliance on audio cues to play this game. It’s fully accessible.” There’s a puzzle in which you need to sing a song which, if I recall correctly, has no visual aid (although maybe I… Read more »
badgercommander
Guest

Yes, that was a slip up on my part, thanks for reminding me about that puzzle.

As for the rest – yeah, I am a sucker for glacially paced stories and I felt that this one gave just the right amount of breathing space for its characters so that later you really care about them.

The ‘Kitten and Rooster’ gag’s punchline was worth waiting for. But my favourite, is when Kian looks at certain items and with a hint of excitement goes ‘Are those… are those Yams?’ and then despondently ‘No, only apples’

Kian loves his Yams

Brad Gallaway
Editor

Thanks, Elio! I checked in with AJ and he confirmed the puzzle… We’ve updated the advisory. Appreciate you letting us know!

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