Hello all! Last week, I replayed an old Star Wars game, and while it was fun, I found that, sometimes, you can’t go back again.
Today, I’m writing about one of my favorite classic adventure games, and I’m also exploring whether this style of gameplay still holds up today.
The Longest Journey was released back in 1999 and was written and designed by Ragnar Tørnquist, and developed by Funcom. You play as April Ryan, an ordinary artist who lives in the industrial cyberpunk-ish world of Stark. The game opens with April’s dream, wherein she talks to a tree and a dragon, hinting at things to come. After this, and following a series of waking dreams and classic adventure game puzzles, April finds herself transported to Stark’s lush, fantastical parallel world of Arcadia.
TLJ is a classic adventure game; one of the more old-school point-and-clicks. It’s not as barbaric as letting the player get stuck and have to revert to an old save, but the puzzles are definitely old school-that is to say, nebulous and often nonsensical, requiring you toss real-world logic out the window. Wanna grab that key sitting on the third rail of the subway? Welp, ya gotta inflate the rubber duck inner tube, wrap it around the clamp, tie the clamp to a clothesline, and grab the key with your new contraption. Oh, but first, you have to get the rubber duck by throwing bread, which you had to get earlier in the cafe’ and...
It can be a bit tedious today, but that really depends on how much you like adventure games. I love them, and while TLJ could at least gently nudge you in the right direction sometimes, it’s always a rush when you solve a puzzle. When you have that “A-HA!” moment. In gaming, there’s absolutely no better feeling than solving a problem with your brain. Even back when this was released, there were a lot of shooters that required little more than reflexes. Like last week’s game, Star Wars: Republic Commando, you didn’t really do much except fly through the game on autopilot.
Adventure games make you think, and think hard. And that’s why I like ‘em. And the best adventure games tell great stories to boot, and TLJ is no exception. It gets off to a kind of rough start, but quickly picks up. Both worlds in the game-the cold, mechanical Stark and the whimsical Arcadia are more fully realized than most games today. Stark is bleak; April lives in what could be considered a sort of nice part of town, but much of the city consists of steel towers and oppressive police who work for corporations (and therefore, they try to sell you stuff as they arrest you). Much of it looks like this:
It’s kind of a weird but delightful mash-up of art and function; there’s a bit of steampunk, but not anywhere near enough to consider it a steampunk world. There’s also the characters you run into around the city. They resonate with me, because a lot of them are like people I’ve met in my hometown of New York City. The world just feels...real.
Conversely, there’s Arcadia, a much more colorful, fantasy-inspired world. You first get a glimpse of it in the game’s opening level:
You’re right April; real life looks awful.
It stands in, well, stark contrast to Stark; there’s a richer color palette, more creatures out and about, and it has a much more dreamlike quality. There’s actual trees, unlike Stark, and even the trees seem to grow epically. Plus, at least one of them talks. And there’s dragons.
I like to sum it up like this: Arcadia is where you want to be, but Stark is where you are. I mean, who wouldn’t want to tour that lush dreamscape? But we cant. Perhaps it’s a commentary on escapism, or something. Escapism is fun, and healthy in my opinion, but eventually, you have to go back.
What impressed me upon firing up this oldie is how good it still looked. The character models and pre-rendered cutscenes look a bit gnarly, but the pre-rendered environments still look great. The art style is unique, and regular readers of this article series know how much I like art. All the voice acting is on point, too, especially April’s (Sarah Hamilton). There’s also a ton of voice acting in general, leading me to wonder how it all fit into one game back then.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention April, one of the best characters in gaming. Why, you ask? Because she’s so incredibly realistic. Unlike virtually every character in gaming, April seems like a person you can meet in real life. At the start of the game, she’s just an art student, trying to finish a project, but then she’s thrust into a situation far beyond anything she thought possible. She’s a multi-layered character, and that’s something you didn’t see in 1999. Hell, you barely see it now. Game developers struggling with the depiction of female characters could do worse than study The Longest Journey.
I’d also like to point out that The Longest Journey features a female protagonist who lives in a house with two other women who are in a relationship. And yet, the Earth’s core did not turn into a black hole and suck us all into oblivion. So...y’know, think about that.
Go play The Longest Journey! Sometimes the puzzles are really obtuse, but it’s still one of the best adventure games you’ll ever play. And the sequel, Dreamfall, is pretty okay too (I only played a couple minutes of it).
Thanks for reading my stuff! As always, leave comments, suggest future games to be featured as Game of the Week, and find me on Twitter! Also, catch up with my (currently on hiatus) other article series here!
Next week, I write about a game that, I confess, I thought could never work...until I actually sat down and played it. Tie your giant shoes and grab your even more giant Key.