It’s been eight long, long years since Dreamfall was released; and considering how that game ended, it’s been a hell of a wait. As a fan whose expectations started high, and only escalated with time, it’s been a surreal experience stepping foot in this world again.
Dreamfall Chapters opens with an alien-looking child singing at a funeral, and things only get stranger from there. With this first installment of what will eventually be a five-part episodic experience, Red Thread Games is opting for a slow burn, taking its time setting up what will hopefully be a satisfying ending to the story. Episode One doesn’t deliver the answers we were waiting for, but it does lay the foundations for something really memorable.
The story, and more importantly, that ending, is unsurprisingly what everyone has been talking about since the game was officially announced. But I think a lot of fans forgot about what might be the more important draw: the ability to revisit this world one more time.
It was almost enough just to explore the Storytime, to take in the sights and sounds of Arcadia, to stroll through the quasi-dystopian cityscapes of Stark. It doesn’t hurt that Dreamfall, in most aspects beyond its writing, has not aged very well at all.
After an eight year gap between games, Chapters undoubtedly looks incredible compared to its predecessor. That being said, it’s an indie game, and that really does shos around the edges. Character movements can be a bit stiff and unnatural, things like fingers and hair tend to clip in and out of bodies, and a few sudden frame-rate drops marred an otherwise stable experience; although it all feels like a small price to pay for the fact that a Dreamfall sequel exists at all.
Despite any technical shortcomings, I was particularly struck by just how moving it was to be back in the world of The Longest Journey. Chalk it up to the eight years that we’ve had to wait for this game, sure, but that doesn’t change the fact that seeing Stark and Arcadia again nearly brought a tear to my eye.
The first time I played through Dreamfall, Casablanca took my breath away. It’s heartwarming to know that nearly a decade later, this world can still manage to inspire a sense of wonder.
But if you’re here primarily to put your graphics card through its paces, you’ve probably signed up for the wrong game. Chapters is about story, and more specifically, it’s about culminating a narrative that began 15 years ago with The Longest Journey.
Dreamfall Chapters makes it clear from the get-go that story and writing is taking a heavy precedence over gameplay (which after the last installment’s combat system, is probably for the best). Characters are extremely chatty this time around, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s played through Dreamfall first. And if you haven’t, you’re in for some confusion, because Chapters wastes almost no time jumping straight into the meat of things.
The writing style doesn’t seem to have evolved too much, the dialogue is still mostly clichés, but it does manage to be poignant and affecting in all the right places. And even in these first few hours, the character work is still impressive, augmented by some phenomenal voice acting.
A darker tone overall also helps to differentiate it from the bewildered wonderment of April and Zoë from the previous games (although I have to admit that the ridiculously high body count is a more than a little upsetting).
Despite its heavy emphasis on dialogue and character development though, Dreamfall Chapters does manage to squeeze in some very intriguing gameplay additions.
Without spoiling too much, Zoë exhibits some interesting new abilities, which I hope are expanded on in future installments; while the dialogue system borrows heavily from Telltale’s trademark style, with NPC’s “remembering” key aspects of your choices and conversations. With this gamepurportedly being the final chapter in the story, one can hope that these choices will factor into the events to come in a significant way.
Additionally, at a certain point, things open up quite a bit (at least compared to the previous games), allowing for some amount of exploration. That’s great news for fans who are relishing the opportunity to take their time with this game. After all, it may very well be our last chance to see the sights.
Perhaps the most intriguing new element though is the power to “shift the balance” through key conversation choices. During certain dialogue sequences, players will be presented with two choices, and a button that lets them to see which path players before them have gone down.
What this means exactly, I’m not quite sure (which may be why it’s so fascinating to me), but it sure is interesting; and given how big of a show the game makes for each choice, I’m really hoping there will be a satisfying payoff for it all.
So what does this all boil down to? It’s honestly hard to tell, as this first installment in the five-episode “season” that is Chapters isn’t looking to answer all of our questions.
What it does manage to do though is give us one more (polished and visually updated at that) peek into a world that many of us fell in love with more than a decade ago; and by the balance, it feels good to be back.