Dreamfall Chapters is a continuation of the critically acclaimed The Longest Journey and the not so revered Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. The three games all involve a complex, and long-winded story that spans across dimensions. This particular story is an episodic affair that is split between two characters (Zoe Castillo and Kian Alvane) in parallel worlds. Stark is a futuristic Earth-like world with advanced tech, and this is Zoe’s world. Kian meanwhile, resides in the magical fantasy realm of Arcadia.
Zoe’s story sees her embroiled in fiery political feuds, and a grimly dystopian scenario where people are heavily-addicted to machines that create wonderfully lucid dreams. Kian sits rotting in prison when we first meet him, but he is soon free, and winds up becoming involved with a rebel uprising out to topple a wicked empire. These two stories seem unconnected, and for most of Dreamfall Chapters there’s little that persuades you otherwise, but sure enough, events begin to interlock and bring our two protagonists together as choices made by both twist the overall narrative in different directions before settling into its combined conclusion. It’s one of the highlights of Dreamfall Chapters, to see the how and why of the two stories come together. Having some background on the characters certainly helps amplify that, but it’s still a solid bit of storytelling regardless.
Now storytelling is where the problem of this being the first in The Longest Journey series on PlayStation becomes an issue. Especially if you haven’t played this series before. Dreamfall Chapters does not recap well at all. Even veterans could be left scratching their head about some aspects of this game simply because of how long it has been between entries. You are expected to be on board with the comings and goings of the series, which would be fine were it not for a sore lack of The Longest Journey on any console ever. It doesn’t entirely restrict you from enjoying Dreamfall Chapters story, in fact it may get you to seek out the earlier games on PC to consume more of what is a pretty rich tale. What it does do is make the game’s early plodding pace absolutely excruciating to get through. Well actually, it does that whether you’re clued-in or not.
This is an adventure game in the more traditional sense, so Dreamfall Chapters tries to maintain much of the point n’ click core from The Longest Journey (mercifully it shies away from the clunky combat). It is combined with some open world areas such as the bustling neon grime of Europolis to give it a slight modern edge, but you’ll still spend the majority of your time in conversations, and solving puzzles that require interaction with the scenery. The early puzzles are horrifically mundane affairs, tied into some drab, insignificant plot points. Everything at this stage is a monumental chore and normally I’d be telling you that progressing beyond that isn’t worth the ambling torture of the first two episodes, but as the story embeds itself, it gets to be a really interesting game. Puzzles don’t get too much better, if anything, gameplay overall is light, inconsistent in challenge, and generally poorly handled, but the nuances of these characters and their worlds are a fascinating to behold.
Zoe in particular shines as a really well-written character, fully believable as a flawed human being, and her side of the story certainly has the most intriguing developments, and features some genuinely amusing humor to boot. On the negative side, the writing is leagues ahead of some of the vocal performances and pretty much all of the character animations, so it takes you out of the moment when the people delivering lines look like mannequins and sound half-interested. Character models are the least of Dreamfall Chapters technical problems however, as there’s a fair few patches of slowdown too. I don’t feel that Dreamfall Chapters had to look particularly stunning, and it does actually look quite nice anyway, but it reminds me a little too much of Telltale’s engine-based nonsense, and the world doesn’t need any more of that.
Dreamfall Chapters’ worlds are lovely places to explore though, full of vibrant colors and charm. Praise here is sadly also fleeting as both locales have a habit of regurgitating the same old scenery over and over, often making you revisit places on multiple occasions until they become thoroughly underwhelming. Europolis is a great example of this. In the first episode the place feels fresh, interesting, and highly reminiscent of the kind of futuristic neon grunge of Blade Runner. Over the course of the next few episodes, you’ll return time and again to the city, and little has changed, and the static, fairly empty nature of it becomes more apparent.
Dreamfall Chapters has an uphill battle on its hands right from the off, as you immediately have a question on your lips. Who exactly is this console version of Dreamfall Chapters for? Fans will likely have already purchased the game when it released on PC around a year ago. Newcomers will have gaping holes of knowledge about the plot threads, characters et al that continue on into this, a sequel to a PC-only game now over a decade old (itself a sequel to a 17 year old game). It’s a tough sell, and the game’s pacing and technical problems certainly don’t do it any favors either.