Publisher: Red Thread Games
Developer: Red Thread Games
Year: 2014, though released episodically through 2016
Platform: PS4, XBox One, Mac, Linux
After waiting six years for the second game in the series, fans of epic The Longest Journey series waited eight years (and through a massive Kickstarter campaign) to play the final entry into the saga. The first is one of my favorite games ever and I feel similarly about Dreamfall, though in my review I compared it to The Empire Strikes Back: exciting and dark, but ending abruptly with many unanswered loose threads. And I must say Ragnar Tornquist did an excellent job tying up those threads; while Dreamfall Chapters is not always satisfying on a game level, the story itself resonates so broadly that it retroactively makes the first two games more satisfying as well.
As in Dreamfall, you will alternate between playing with the self-deprecating, reluctant hero Zoe Castillo and the emotionally inexpansive warrior Kian Alvane, whose paths will barely cross but will impact each other significantly. It’s hard to discuss the plot without spoiling previous games in the series, but safe to say there’s world saving to do and self-exploration to be had. Those hoping for a return to the inventory-heavy puzzlefest of the first game will be a little disappointed, but gone are the clunky (though admittedly easy) fighting scenes and the intense stealth missions of the second game (which I loved, though I’m in the minority). Chapters mainly focuses on building relationships and making choices, with some mostly logical puzzles (inventory based and otherwise) thrown in to help with pacing. In fact, the crux of the game is the philosophical debate between free will and determinism, choices and fate. Both Zoe and Kian will face many important decisions in the game that will define who they are and will immediately affect the world around them, but in the end do their choices matter?
The game doesn’t provide an answer either way, though I will spoil that there is basically only one ending to the saga. I am grateful for this, as Tornquist has had this amazing story in his head for at least twenty years now and he deserves to tell it in the only way it should be. That said, it can be frustrating to the gamer to feel like the choices presented are mere illusion. To be fair, the choices you make do affect how others talk to you and in a few cases significantly changes some secondary plot lines. And if you play on Steam, before you make your decision you can see what your friends and the community as a whole made for their choices before you make yours. I played through Chapters twice to see as much as I could reasonably see, and every road leads to the same ending. And what a great ending.
A game relying so heavily on story must have excellent writing and voice acting, and Chapters delivers on both. While some of the characters devolve into stereotype, most of them rise above and are fun to get to know. Rest assured Crow is back and he continues to grow ever more funny and ever more endearing. But beyond Crow there is a lot of humor in the game which helps get one through the inevitable slog of running long distances to solve minor puzzles. Not only that, the care that went into the art and the background is impressive. The games takes place in two primary cities: Arcadia, which you see even more of than in the prior two installments, and a future dystopian Propast, Bulgaria. Both are heavily immersive while avoiding too much of the mundane necessary to be immersive.
For fans of Dreamfall, one should be warned that Zoe is no longer played by Ellie Conrad-Leigh but by Charlotte Ritchie, and her voice has a significantly different tenor. It was jarring at first, though I gradually learned to enjoy Ritchie’s take on the character, which added more nuance. Kian is also voiced by a different actor, but I only noticed because I looked at the credits.
If you enjoyed the rest of the series you will likely dig Chapters, though be warned its length rivals that of the first game. Take my short attention span these days and my willingness to play through twice and you have a testament to the influence this story had over me. It will definitely stay with me for a long time.