In the summer of 2000 I stumbled upon a review of this new point-&-click adventure game by a Norwegian game studio I had never heard of. The UK release had gone out in the spring with no word of a US release. So desperate for a story focused adventure game, I decided to pay a hefty premium and import the game so I could play it. The US release ultimately came a few months later, but not knowing that at the time, I thought I had discovered gaming gold.
By way of stage setting, King’s Quest VI came out in the fall of 1992. Space Quest V came out in the spring of 1993. Full Throttle arrived in the spring of 1995. The late 80’s/early 90’s was the golden age of adventure gaming — right smack center of my gaming adolescence. But the late 90’s saw this all dry up. The gaming landscape had pivoted to 3D and FPS. It was clear, even by 1999 that story-driven adventure games were all but dead, at least from main stream gaming. So when I heard of this ambitious new project, The Longest Journey appeared from nowhere, I was A) shocked and B) like a dehydrated man stumbling upon an oasis, eager to consume as much as I could.
I’m not sure what I appreciate most: the world building, mythos, characters, dialog, OST… There is so much to like about this ambitious undertaking written and designed by Ragnar Tørnquist. That being said, let me direct my first shot of praise on the lead protagonist — April Ryan.
This isn’t your typical protagonist: eager for adventure and happy-go-lucky. April is world-weary, depressed and takes no bullshit. This isn’t a “blank slate” character you project yourself onto. Adventure and sudden epic responsibility is thrust upon her in a way that would leave anyone reeling. Combined with superb voice acting, April Ryan came to life like no other protagonist before her (at least for me).
I loved TLJ (not to be confused with The Last Jedi).
Six years later, Funcom released Dreamfall. Instead of directly building off the story of April Ryan, we were introduced to yet another kick ass female lead — Zoë Castillo. While this probably surprised many, Zoë was a fantastic character and her story interweaved between Arcadia and Stark seamlessly while not being a direct clone of April. I appreciated the time spent world building through the eyes of another character in a different (yet related) setting.
fear & silence
Dreamfall had many more noticeable flaws in design and game mechanics than TLJ did. A broken attempt at combat mechanics was called out repeatedly in reviews and I definitely can’t disagree. Additionally the story’s third act seemed to be cut short, as if they ran out of time and/or money. Ragnar was pulled off or diverted into an attempt at reimagining the MMO genre with more story elements in The Secret World. Funcom teased a notion of an episodic sequel for Dreamfall in the spring of 2007, but with Ragnar diverted to a new ambitious MMO project, it was clear that it might never happen. While fans clamored for a sequel, there just didn’t seem to be space in the gaming landscape for story-driven adventure titles.
The depression was profound. Unlike other adventure games from Sierra or LucasArts where the ending wrapped things up nicely, TLJ & Dreamfall were still incomplete. The cliffhangers at the end of Dreamfall alone begged for a third game to continue the story.
There may have been others leading by example, but none as big as Double Fine’s Kickstarter for a new adventure game by Tim Schafer and his LucasArts alumni. Their success emboldened the indie gaming world, giving fans an outlet to support the games they enjoyed so much ahead of the actual development. With Double Fine’s success, there was a steady pulse throughout the internet that maybe the same could be done for The Longest Journey. Unlike Double Fine’s game, Broken Age, TLJ was a previous studios’ property, still owned and managed by Funcom. Would TLJ even be given a chance at life outside the studio?
In the fall of 2012, Ragnar announced that his new studio, Red Thread Games had leased the rights to the property and would be using Kickstarter to crowdfund the game (along with a series of grants from the Norwegian Film Institute). Five episodes where announced and the first, Book One: Reborn arrived in the fall of 2014.
Dreamfall Chapters is a deserving capstone to the TLJ story. Chapters has a branching narrative where decisions, actions or inactions in the earlier chapters have consequences (sometimes serious ones) in later chapters. The world feels much bigger and lived in than previous games (which early builds of the earlier chapters were overpowering even decent gaming hardware). Chapters is much longer than Dreamfall and gives more development to some of the complimentary characters (Enu is best Zhid).
The episodic delivery (rather than released all at once) I think benefited the game as a whole. The developers were able to respond to feedback and as they got more practice with the game engine they were able to refine and push boundaries.
the future of the Balance
Ragnar Tørnquist has said that any further forays into the world of Arcadia and Stark are in the distant future if ever at all. At this point I’m not expecting any further games in this universe (though I hope to be pleasantly surprised). I hope this isn’t the last we hear from these characters, but if we never get anything else, I am immensely happy that TJL was a happy and important part of my gaming life.