I discovered my love for gaming at the ripe age of 10 when I got my own Gameboy color for Christmas, with Pokémon Red as my only game. Even if your first experiences was in the next gen era, or even the days of Pacman, all of us have been in this type of situation before. You pick up and play a game that rocks the foundation of everything that came before it. It could be the visuals of this title are unlike anything you have encountered before. Maybe the gameplay brought new features that left you speechless, or the story transported you to another universe. Whatever the reason was, that game changed the way you would look at future titles from then on. Whenever you start playing another game, you will self-consciously hold it to higher standards then you ever would have before playing that revolutionary title. Never will a current teenager claim that Final Fantasy 7 has beautiful graphics when playing it for the first time. Sure, they may appreciate how evolutionary they were for its time, but it will never look amazing compared to the PS 4 releases of today. Revolutionary games and advances in technology alter what the gaming community classifies as a great game. These are the types of games that make me proud to be a gamer. DreamFall Chapters by Red Thread Games, and the entire series as a whole provided that type of experience for me. After playing this game, Story based adventures will have to work a little harder to leave an impression of this magnitude, and I hope you get the chance to enjoy this adventure yourself.
I want to begin with a warning. DreamFall Chapters is the third installment of ‘The Longest Journey’ series, which began in 1999, followed up with ‘DreamFall: The Longest Journey’ in 2008. The series depicts a deep, inner-connected story that cannot be appreciated properly by missing a chunk of the content. For that reason, I strongly suggest waiting to play DreamFall Chapters until you play the first games of this series. I will say that the first game ‘The Longest Journey’ is not crucial to enjoying and understanding the later installments, but is worth checking out if you can deal with an outdated point and click adventure. I started with DreamFall after playing DF Chapters for an hour with a confused expression glued to my face. Now that I’ve played that entire game and made it to the Second part of DreamFall Chapters (it’s an episodic game), I’m glad that was the decision I decided upon and strongly encourage others to follow in my footsteps.
Dreamfall Chapters made a lot of improvements in a couple areas, the developers learning off the flaws of their past achievements. Since the story is a direct continuation from previous installments, and since the plot’s quality stayed consistent, I was already expecting more of the same from that department. When it comes to gameplay however, many strides were taken in the right direction. Although there are a couple aspects in this category that they stumbled over, the advancements they made in the series overshadowed the mistakes. The biggest change came from the ability to make decisions that alter the flow of the story. I classify the act of choosing your own path as gameplay over story because this feature allows the story to branch off in many ways. These choices can impact the plot on multiple levels that range from altering the job of a main character to deciding if a person lives or dies. Many choices that you are faced with will change the entire outcome of the story throughout every episodic installment. I have yet to experience all of them, but it is on my to-do-list.
I also enjoyed the extra freedom they provided in this game of the series. In DreamFall: The Longest Journey, you did have sections where you had the ability to explore your surroundings, but Chapters allows the player more choices regarding how the characters progress through the story. Using one example, in the second book while controlling Kian, he arrived in Marcuria with a list of tasks needed for completion, along with optional quests, depending on your story choices in-game. Since you are not required to follow a set structure, the order in which you complete these tasks can be whatever strikes your fancy at that moment. Even though this is a small addition to the game in comparison to the extra plot-lines, I feel it accompanies that change, working together to add to the uniquely immersive experience already set in motion.
The main issue I had with the gameplay is how clunky and bug-ridden the ‘point and click’ mechanics were. You experience this adventure by playing in a third person view. Imagine the third person format in Skyrim or Fallout. The perspective is pretty similar to that. Unlike those titles, you interact with your environment and NPC’s by using a wheel-style interface. For example, if you need to talk with a town’s shop keeper, you would choose the chat icon from a wheel which also contains other options you can do with that character, or item. When it works correctly, the system is very smooth and has a clean feel to it. The issues come in when the proper menus don’t feel like working at the drop of a hat. They would much rather take their precious time. When I was trying to tell a robot its next task in book two, it would only allow me to observe this machine, and make a couple snarky remarks towards it. I had to position my character in an awkward position in order to pull up the proper commends. This issue presented itself in such a frequent manner that I had no choice but to drop the gameplay rating down a notch. This problem hurt my immersion so much at times that my entire opinion of the game slightly shifted. Lucky for the game, I was so mesmerized and fixated on the story that I did not have enough energy or desire to worry about any negative traits. That my friends is the pro-level way of covering your mistakes: make everything else so masterfully that those features explode into the weaker parts of the game.
The reason the DreamFall series has a special place in my heart lies in the interconnected story that was masterfully woven. Each game focuses on two or three main characters, all influencing the overarching plot in their own ways. To avoid ruining your experience, I will keep my summary of this section brief. The series revolves around twin worlds: Arcadia, a world of magic and Stark, a futuristic alternate version of our world, built around science. Both of these worlds are connected by dreams and a place called StoryTime. In both of these worlds, a couple special people have been born, or created. Some are shifters, having the ability to travel between worlds. There are others that have special abilities that allow them to interact with dreams and StoryTime. There is a larger story that is told throughout the three games, but each installment comes with many smaller stories told from the perspective of the main characters. All of these events meld together with the other plots in the game, sometimes causing a butterfly effect of sorts, connecting everything into the grand design. DreamFall Chapters follows Zoe and Kian, two characters that were introduced in the last game. There is another character that you play as, but even the mention of this person can spoil events in the game, so I will leave their identity a mystery.
One major aspect that makes the storytelling in the DreamFall series so enticing is how each character’s separate lives and actions can affect events and lives in other worlds and even in dreams. Even if some of these connections are minimal, the way it’s executed is simply brilliant. By utilizing the new non-linear system built into DreamFall Chapters, the series has achieved a greater level of immersion. Every decision you make during the game, every comment you choose in conversation has to be decided carefully, since all of these actions can and will have lasting consequences. From the first hour of gameplay I experienced with these characters, I fell in love with their personalities and the world, felling myself connected to their situations and goals. It has been a joy watching each character grow and interact with their unique world. I don’t find myself getting emotional over a game’s story often, but it was near impossible not to sympathize with Zoe and Kian.
The only real complaint I would have with the story is the pacing between transitions. This was an issue more in the second game, and has not really affected me too much in DreamFall Chapters. That proves the writers for this series are learning and improving their story-telling craft. Creating a story of this magnitude is difficult. Being able to not only improve the way you tell the story, but add multiple plot directions due to the choose your own adventure style of play, that kind of improvement is shocking in the best way possible. In the last game, the focus would switch to the other main characters in awkward places. It always ended up working out in the end, but was still annoying to have to wait for Zoe’s next adventure while playing as another character. So far with Chapters, the pacing is done very well, and play-time between both characters have been spread out well. The newest character has not had much play-time, but once you are introduced to the character, you would understand why.
The music and sound effects in the DreamFall series have always been great throughout, so I don’t really have much to comment on in that regards. They don’t detract from the story in any means, but instead do their part to help build both worlds properly. When it came to the voice acting in the game, there was much left to be desired after the last title. Every piece of dialog in the game has been voice acted, so having a certain level of quality to it is important. In the last game, Zoe’s accent in particular was rather annoying, and it was sometimes hard to deal with for long doses.
DreamFall Chapters has taken many strides in the right direction, voice acting being part of that. Each character’s voice is done in a respectable fashion. Even though some are better than others, I appreciated the effort put into making each character believable. There were no voices that sounded completely dull, void of emotion, and it never felt like I was listening to people reading lines from paper. I do feel like the voice-overs can be improved, but for what it was, I had no complaints.
The graphics and visuals in the last game were nothing special when I experienced them, but they could have been seen differently when the title was first released. Comparing how that game looked with DreamFall Chapters, you can clearly see how much they improved the visual quality throughout the game. Every character had a visual overhaul for the better, and everything has a more realistic feel to it. The game is not top of the line in the graphics department, but it really is beautiful. The colors and contrast in both worlds help distant themselves from each other, while maintaining a connected feel. It’s hard to express my thoughts on this into words, but the visual style of both worlds are very similar yet different at the same time. I’m sure that doesn’t make too much sense, but you may understand what I’m saying once you play the game for yourself.
I know this will not be the last time my overall bar will be raised when it comes to a game’s quality, but this one will always be special to me. I was not expecting this gaming experience to rock me off balance, and even as I write this review, all I can think about is what will happen next. With this review wrapping up, I can finally get back to playing the game so I can wait impatiently for the next chapter of DreamFall Chapters. Even if this is not the type of game you are normally into, I highly suggest giving it a shot. If you don’t want to drop money on a game you’re unsure of, I would check out a Let’s Play of DreamFall; The Longest Journey. If you start to enjoy the story from that, then I would highly recommend this series to you. You can find it for $29.99 here. What are you waiting for? There is an epic adventure waiting for you and the fate of two worlds hangs in the balance, and you’re still reading my review. I thank you for that, but still, go play this game and feel free to contact me on social media if you would like to strike up a DreamFall Discussion!