Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey Book 1: Re games with birth (hereafter called Dreamfall Chapters in the name of sanity) takes us back to the twin worlds of Stark and Arcadia that The Longest Journey saga has featured. The direct sequel to Dreamfall: The Longest Journey (Dreamfall), it promises to conclude the Dreamer saga that features Zoë Castillo and Kian Alvane.
It was Kickstarted in March 2013 for $1.5 million and its release plans went through several changes until they decided to go back to the original episodic format – with 5 books making up of 13 chapters along with interludes. Book 1 was recently released and makes up two chapters.
Gameplay in it has some classic point and click adventure bits as one would imagine. An inventory, similar in design to that of Dreamfall’s, is relatively small but allows you to have items interact with each other or further examine them. Dialogue puzzles are also a thing and you should pay attention to what is being said – it will matter. In fact, while the story’s destination may remain within a fixed boundary, even within Book 1 there are some choices that affect the journey on the way there within that let alone later.
Its context menu is a bit problematic – while the options work well, it does sometimes act a bit wonky with how much distance it wants before letting interaction or discussion happening. It isn’t a major issue, mostly a minor annoyance at most. The Dialogue Wheel is innovative here – not only is it the traditional bits but when each option is selected you’ll see and hear the characters thoughts dealing with one of the major issues of the dialogue wheel as you can get a feel for what will come without actually knowing the exact words.
Several things in the game are timing base as you only have several seconds to make a decision or perform an action. They seem to give a reasonable amount of time for the player without slowing the narrative pace, and the first time it’s introduced is in a segment where you can retry several times with Zoë’s slow magic in Storytime.
One issue with the game is its saving system. Namely, there are no save slots, and the fact of the matter is the only time the game saves is when you hit certain autosave checkpoints in the story. If you have to go for some reason, or the game crashes (though I experienced no bugs) the game cannot be easily quit without potentially losing some progress.
Visually the game is stunning and excellently realized especially in Propast, Europolis. It is able to create a beautiful and living city there to walk through with a mixture of expected and oddities in multicultural parts that have emerged. There were one or two hiccups with character models that come along, although most are pretty good. The Warden's nose stands out though as a bit of a laugh.
The audio matches it well as well. From the surreal tones of Storytime, to the differing tunes in Propast and in Arcadia, it does a wonderful job of creating atmosphere. The voice actors are good for everywhere and my only complaint of sorts might be that Propast is a bit too loud, but then it is a large city.
Zoë in Book 1 is in many ways two separate characters. In Chapter 1, we see the Zoë who has been around in Storytime since the end of Dreamfall while her body is in a coma. Here she has embraced going out to help and trying to make a difference but she is still hiding from the real world. At the end of Chapter 1, events conspire to have her go back and in Chapter 2, she has been awake for 3 months. This Zoë doesn’t remember the Storytime or the last week of Dreamfall in game meaning many events have been forgotten. While she’s not the person Storytime Zoë feared she had been before, she has also fallen back. Her volunteering in politics can be seen as that part of her that came out than emerging in some way – she is wanting to help make the world a better place in some way.
Zoë here has been effectively reborn twice and now is facing the question of who she is. In Storytime it actually comes to a second self she creates of her own self-image of her old self at the beginning of Dreamfall. Is she the Dreamer who hides in Storytime making changes? Is she the explorer of two worlds who foiled a conspiracy and consorted with rebels? Is she someone who had a chance at life and passed it up? What will she become without those memories of herself rising to that occasion and seeking those answers.
Mysteries and Conspiracies are a key part of the themes of her story. Without getting too much into it, there’s clearly why she has to go back and why the Dreamachines are causing more harm. What happened in that week that she forgot? What put her into coma? Why does she have memories of people she never met? What is up with the EYE? And that’s without getting into the – almost certainly intentional – discrepancies from Dreamfall such as Reza, The Hand That Bites becoming The Hand That Feeds and several others that pop up to those who have played that.
Another theme tying into that is corruption. Propast has much of it and while she dealt with some in Waticorp there are clearly more issues there with the Dreamachine. Talks of leaders being beholden to the megacorporations, gangsters connected to politicians, amongst other things.
The world of Stark in Propast is well established here as are setting conflicts and ideas. The visuals of Propast add a lot to it, as does Zoë’s commentary on most everything around if you click on it. While your exploration options are a bit limited to what you are actually doing, it manages to create a great atmosphere.
At the end of Dreamfall, Kian was arrested for failing to kill April Ryan, The Scorpion. After one of the other soldiers who had been following him does so, he is arrested for Aposte and tossed into jail where he has been since then. Kian was an Apostle – directly answerable to the Six of the Azadi Empire. Kian is a believer in the Azadi Goddess of whom little is known, but his travels in Dreamfal meeting the Magical races and being exposed to another culture seem to have made him doubt the people in charge. Now, after a year in Friar’s Keep, he seems to have abdicated life and just want to die moving onto the Next Life.
The key theme around Kian has always been about belief, closed mindedness and change. Exposed to new ideas, he has been forced to grow and in that cell he was able to stop thinking. Now, with his beliefs changing, his questioning of the state he has to wonder who he is and what defines him. What is right? Finding a balance between belief and right, between what the Goddess says and what the government speaking in her name say is a tough thing.
The rebels have decided though to upset Kian’s little plan of dying easily with staging a breakout here. A riot starts and that gets most of the guards attention while Kian and the Rebel Captain work their way out solving various puzzles until they reach the top. There, Kian learns how he will be leaving… by magic – and blood magic at that. Kian here is faced yet again with it for his religion is against that, his people in fact segregated and have been ruthlessly calling the magical races in Marcuria.
Rebirth in Kian’s case refers to a new life – taken from just before his own execution at the hands of the people he had served by the rebels. Of a new style of living, as a person perhaps with less prejudice and less likely to kill in the name of a cause.
While Friar’s Keep is well rendered, with the lack of scenes outside of it (Just one on the Azadi Tower that is not clearly identified as such), Arcadia is sadly not well established nor are the conflicts beyond a general rebellion. Much of what I talked about above is drawing extremely heavily on Dreamfall knowledge of Kian’s character and Marcuria that isn’t established in Book 1 sadly.
SagaSaga is a baby and the playable character in the Interludes of Dreamfall Chapters. She’s a new character and we don’t even really know when her story is going on, though we do know where. On the story side of hers there isn’t much as its short but from it a lot of guessing can be made. First of all, she’s somehow related to the balance given her toy and where she is. Second of all, she is somehow related to April Ryan, given the ghost that speaks to her appears to be the White Dragonkin given the way she speaks and the fact that it has April Ryan’s voice actor.
The gameplay here hits a slog, with the audio from Saga’s baby noises irritating, the slower movement and the *shudder* slight bit of stealth play (go around the back of the room to avoid dada). There’s lots of questions, weak play here and not much less.
On the whole, I found Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey – Book 1: Rebirth to be very well done though it was lacking in a couple places. The length at 3 hours was somewhat disappointing as one would have hoped for something more around 5 hours per Book to tell the story and explore especially with 2 protagonists and worlds to go through. The short run time sadly is most notable in Kian’s story where the world he’s in isn’t allowed to establish itself – who the Azadi are, what world this is and such aren’t allowed time to be seen. The lack of the interactive story recap at this point is also most notable here, as while it helps inform on Zoë it is much more essential to having any grounding in the Arcadia plot.
Despite that the story is rich as is Europolis with a set of excellent characters. The idea of using thoughts to go with the dialogue wheel is a natural and excellent evolution that makes getting into the mind of the character much easier to do, mixing different methods of storytelling. While only Book 1 is available right now, purchasing it will get you access to all 5 of the books and if you like story rich games I heartily recommend it.
Edit: The game has received its first patch with a 3 minute video recap of Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. While not interactive or incredibly detailed it does a decent job in setting the stage and giving much more detail in what has gone on, especially in Kian Alvane's story. While that has not impacted the review score as that was done before the patch was released, it does alleviate one of the issues that was in the game at release which was that it was difficult for people new to the story to get in.
Disclosure: I backed this game on Kickstarter.