If these two characters are not familiar to you as a gamer, they should be. The Dreamfall series is an adventure series comprised of one of the most layered and interesting stories you will ever run across. At its core the Dreamfall series is about the friction that exists between the physical and metaphysical. It tackles that through themes of logic and emotions, science versus magic, and faith versus proof. What is real? What is dream? And how are two seemingly polar forces connected? Heady stuff. And the series has successfully grounded these big world ideas with journeys of the series two main characters, April and Zoë.
The series got its start back in 2000 with the release of The Longest Journey(TLJ) featuring April Ryan. It was in the mode of the point and click adventure game. TLJ is huge with over 150 locations to explore. In TLJ the story is focused on April Ryan, an 18-year old art student. She lives in a world much like ours called Stark. It is the world of science. But April discovers that there is another world. Arcadia, a world of magic. She also discovers she is one of the few that can move or shift between the two worlds. The two worlds co-exist with one another through the mediating force of the Balance. But something has upset the Balance and it is up to April to save both worlds. TLJ is very much in the tradition of the point and click 2D genre of adventure gaming.
In 2006 the story continued with Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. In it the gameplay transitioned to 3D and introduced combat to the adventure element. The series became a hybrid between the original’s point and click and something along the lines of the original Tombraider. The story shifted its focus to a new character Zoë Castillo. As well as warrior Kian Alvane.
Once again the story is complex as Zoë tries to find her friend an investigative reporter who has gone missing and discovers more than she ever expected. Dreamfall: TLJ takes place ten years after the events from TLJ. The story picks after an event that is never explained referred to simply as The Collapse. What happened remains shrouded in mystery and no one seems to be able to recall exactly what happened. Zoë makes the same discoveries as April Ryan did but her method of travel between worlds is different. She does Shift, Zoë dreams. Zoë is driven by two searches. In the world of Stark she is trying to find her former boyfriend – Reza. He is an investigative reporter who has stumbled across a global technological conspiracy that affects both worlds.
Zoë’s dreams haunt her with a little girl telling her to find someone called April Ryan. And to save her. Those dreams eventually propel Zoë to Arcadia and the search for April Ryan.
Dreamfall:TLJ ends with unresolved story lines and though well received the series languished, leaving little hope for it to ever have a proper conclusion. Fortunately, Kickstarter came along and the sequel, Dreamfall: Chapters was easily funded. Now, eight years later, the first episode has been released. Developer Red Thread plans to release the game in five chapters.
Dreamfall Chapters aims to be the most ambitious game in the series. The game opens with Zoë languishing in an induced coma. Her mind or soul works tirelessly to help people trapped in the dream world known as Storytime to find their way back. Dreamfall Chapters will conclude Zoë’s story also known as the Dreamer Cycle. The game aims to revisit locations and characters from the previous games. The setting is spread across both worlds as well as the metaphysical one of StoryTime.
The first chapter works very much like the introductory chapters of a book. We are informed that something big is going on and it is Zoë’s destiny to find out what. The road to doing that is a difficult one as she must rediscover herself in order to do so. In Dreamfall Chapters the game establishes Zoë’s efforts to simply re-establish a new life for herself. This includes moving to a new location and reconnecting with her boyfriend. While doing this the game also makes it clear that Zoë knows there is something else she should be doing. That frustration comes across clearly in her journal entries.
Gameplay is context sensitive. You will either play as Zoë or Kian Alvane, a soldier introduced in Dreamfall: TLJ. His part in the story takes place in Arcadia and has impacts on Stark. In these worlds the action menu is prompted when interaction with a person or object is possible. An eye icon will display. Left clicking on the object will either prompt an observation comment from the character or open up a further submenu.
The submenu will allow the character further actions such as dialogue or interaction. If it is an object, the character may be able to add it to their inventory for later use or to combine with other objects. In Storytime, the context of the action menu changes to reflect Zoë’s dream powers. These powers are used to manipulate the dreamworld environment and aid lost characters to find their way home.
A new element that has been added to the game that Red Thread is very excited about is the social experience aspect. The game has hooks into Twitter and Facebook that shares fellow player decisions. As a gamer when you reach a branching point in the game, you can choose to see how others decided before making your choice. This shared experience brings a new dynamic to the game. Of course, the option to turn the social aspects off exist for those who prefer to proceed on their path without any influence from other players. You can always compare choices afterwards.
I’m being deliberately vague here about story specifics because they are such an integral part of the player’s immersion into the story. Who wants a good story recounted to them by someone else? You should experience it firsthand for yourself. Returning players know what I am talking about and new players would do well to play the previous games.
Dreamfall Chapters first episode was released on October 21, 2014. Red Thread has been quick to release patches and the game has stabilized nicely. Red Thread continues to monitor player feedback and will continue to improve the game. Tip of the hat to the level of customer service this small team has been able to maintain. You can find the game on Steam and at Good Old Games.
Another tip of the hat goes to them for the production value of the game. Graphically the game has been deftly crafted to establish and enforce the mood of the game. Along with the camera angle edits, music is also used expertly to enhance the story telling experience. Fantastical environments look, well fantastic and the future world invokes those Blade Runner sensibilities just as adroitly. New voice talent has been hired for this game and they do a great job of taking over the reins of established characters.
The tone of the game, like the characters, is more mature and feels appropriate. The story has greater depth than before pulling into political and religious overtones even more so this time. There is growth here, in the game and from the creators. That is the most exciting thing about this new game as it should lead to a more emotionally engaging gaming experience.
Based on the pedigree of this first installment, players can expect the scope of story and characters to expand leading to an ever increasing gaming experience. If you have yet to experience this series and are a fan of The Hunger Game books and/or movies – the Dreamfall series will be right up your alley.
Dreamfall Chapters – Episode 1 does an excellent job of laying the groundwork for what is to be sure to be a helluva journey. The burning question now is – when we will get the movie version? And what of April Ryan? Is her story truly over? May the Balance be with you always.