Considering how much I go on about it in my articles, I’ve considering changing my name to Phil “Narrative” Dean. Or perhaps that’s a new trend setting name to give to my first-born child? To me what makes a successful game is the ability to not only present an invigorating and completely immersive story, but to carry you through it from beginning to end, whether that be on tender hooks or on the edge of your seat. We live in a time where only the games with the most explosive, expensive and endorsed trailers get the spotlight, which is a grave shame seeing that more often than not, the complete opposite can make for a better game. Dreamfall Chapters is a prime example. The latest title from a marginally forgettable franchise with an unforgettable experience and story to tell, where ‘playing’ is minimum, and decision making is everything.
Dreamfall Chapters is the 3rd entry into ‘The Longest Journey’ franchise, a series which debuted on PC in 1999 from the chaps at Red Thread Studios, releasing their latest venture as a complete package on PS4, XboxOne and again for PC. Continuing from the events in its predecessor “Dreamfall: The Journey”, Chapters has players once again stepping into the shoes of courageous activist Zoe Castillo, who last time we saw had uncovered a conspiracy involving technology capable of stealing and manipulating dreams, a technological breakthrough that was more addictive than drugs and killed just as many users. Zoe has the ability to travel between 2 coexisting worlds, Stark the one she physically lives in, and Arcadia, a magical twin-world built up of dreams and dreamers. Awaking from a coma, Zoe is determined to get her life back in order and save those she loves with her unique magical abilities … if only she could remember … dang! Also, making a return in the threequel is Kian Alvane, a holy assassin who refused to kill previous protagonist April Ryan and has since began to question his peers and faith. Having been captured and imprisoned for a year, he is struggling to walk his own path, but thankfully for everyone involved he is roped into saving the world and killing some baddies, hooray! Both Zoe and Kian’s adventures will play how you see fit and every decision you make, talk topic you bring up and character you converse with will have a significant impact on your story, ensuing no 2 playthroughs will unfold exactly the same. Billed as a narrative driven puzzle adventure game, I’m particularly interested in how much of this game is made up of doing stuff rather than simply listening, and as a narrative guy I certainly think I’m the best bloke to fairly critique this interactive graphic novel; let’s see how long my attention span withstands the perils that await me.
It didn’t occur to me until 15 minutes in that this was a continuing story, so boo to my research! I then spent the next 15 minutes reading up on the previous plot lines, but quickly became ferociously lost within the universe’s many named characters and events, however suffice to say that Dreamfall Chapters is equipped with plenty of characters obsessed with expositional dialogue to get you up to speed, oh and these really handy character descriptions that unlock and update throughout, meaning without playing the previous 2 releases you’ll soon feel acquainted with everything and everyone. Right from the off Dreamfall Chapters is a very dialogue heavy game, with very little player involvement other than highlighting objects in a room and deciding how to respond to another character. This trend of doing nothing and listening to hundreds of lines of dialogue unfortunately doesn’t change as you progress, so if the story doesn’t have you hooked right from the off then you could find your eyes and ears wondering around the room. If that is the case then in all honesty it’s a tremendous shame as within this dialogue overhaul you’ll discover a well written, dark story that is difficult to turn away from once it gets going. Luckily for me, and indeed you, Dreamfall Chapters features a very good voice cast reading a very intriguing, witty and all-round impressive script, which made for a delightful change to what is typically (and ironically) expected for a narrative focused adventure. Admittedly the first Episode is a bit of a snooze fest, much like a TV pilot trying to cram in as many characters and plot devices within it’s opening 60 minutes, however if you give the game time, all will flourish into a greatly captivating mystery that will really test your wits and your morals.
Speaking of which, what makes Dreamfall Chapters so interesting and admittedly rather terrifying is almost everything you choose to say and do can change the course of the story, and you’ll be constantly reminded throughout, adding another drop of sweat and wrinkle to that forehead. This feature is not only intimidating, but it’ll let you know a point which could have worked out differently, giving you an opportunity to revisit that part another time and change your decision in the future. Throughout you’ll also be threatened with timed events that can “Shift the Balance” as they put it, and it’s these occurrences that will really affect your game, and upon completion of that particular Book/Episode will the game tease you of when that decision may come back to haunt you. I’ve played games before that can be altered enormously by your decision making, and with each of them it was very difficult to determine how much will be affected and when it will be affected, not to mention having the outcome actually be worth the hype, however Dreamfall Chapters defies all of those presumptions, as though still vague, your actions will be summarised at the end of each of its 5 episodes, telling you that the consequence could occur soon, or later, which was enough to get me excited and eager to continue. It’s fair to say that walking around the map simply talking to people isn’t what most will call an exciting video game, but being held accountable for your actions is, and wonderfully plenty of your decisions will be tested. It’s a very unique way to play, never before have I thought so much about how to best answer a simple question, so for the most part Dreamfall Chapters is quite the tantalizing adventure, and it could be so much more, that’s it everything between the dialogue wasn’t so unbearably boring.
It’s clear that the studio has worked very hard to create a deep and riveting narrative, with plenty of twists, turns and tough decisions to keep you in check, however it’s a great shame that everything either side of it is boring and very tedious. Now, being an avid RPG enthusiast I’m used to endlessly walking around a map, talking to everyone and everything, and it’s not that I have a problem with, but what I do hate however is how slow you move, how every NPC says the exact same thing and how the game’s map is about as useful as a chocolate fireplace. With no mini-map on the screen and an objective telling me to go somewhere I’ve never been to, having to pause the game to open up the map began to grate on me incredibly quickly, even more so when the map would only show me vaguely where I needed to go; I would often waste time talking to everyone in the area where the marker was, or spending ages looking for my objective that actually happens to be on the floor above. As Dreamfall Chapters is a narrative driven game, a few annoyances such as the ones above shouldn’t really come into play if the story is well crafted and delivered, but considering you do need to walk around the map to keep the tale going, those annoyances do play a key role in the occasional displeasure I felt. At the top of this article I was most interested in finding out exactly how much ‘puzzle’ takes place in the ‘adventure’, and disappointingly I found them to be few and far between, often completable within a small area and nothing more than a bit of item hunting. I didn’t expect the puzzles in Dreamfall Chapters to be Earth shattering, but I did expect them to be at least enjoyable and actually puzzling, and sadly they weren’t.
Dreamfall Chapters, at best is a mystifying, intriguing and well written story, however at worst it is a slow-paced and sometimes hard to swallow game with no gameplay present to break up the long dialogue and fetch quests. Once the story starts to pick up pace, fans of both the franchise and the paranormal will wholeheartedly enjoy the unfolding story, a story which I might add is read from a strong script and an excellent voice cast. Having a constant fear and awareness of every move you make and everything that you say makes Dreamfall Chapters quite an exciting story to sit through (especially when you get reminded of that at the end of each episode), however the lack of captivating gameplay will upset some, whilst the frustrating presentation will upset most. With a strong cast, great soundtrack and bewitching tale, Dreamfall Chapters marks a thrilling final act to The Longest Journey saga, just don’t expect to do an awful lot.