Tag Archives: The Longest Journey

The cover art for The Longest Journey and Dreamfall, each features a mid-shot of the game's protagonist.

The Longest Journey and Dreamfall

Writing about the game that gave this site its name feels a bit like smugly opening a discussion about science fiction with “Did you know that Blade Runner is kind of a big deal?” But with creator Ragnar Tørnquist’s new studio succeeding in their Kickstarter campaign to continue the journey and voice actor Sarah Hamilton expected to return as April Ryan, now is a good time to get caught up with the series if you’ve missed it.

Both games are available on most digital distribution sites, but the best price seems to be on Good Old Games where The Longest Journey is $9.99 (US), its sequel, Dreamfall is $14.99 (US) and the pair together are $21.23 (US). The Longest Journey is only available on PC, where Dreamfall is $19.99 is available on Mac on the Adventure Shop or for 1200 Microsoft points on XBLA arcade under the Xbox originals section.

The cover art for The Longest Journey and Dreamfall, each features a mid-shot of the game’s protagonist.

Both games come from the tradition of the point-and-click adventure (although Dreamfall adopts action elements). Puzzle solving is generally more intuitive in the series than in some of the more obtuse titles in the genre to keep the complicated plot moving. However, what makes the games required playing (and the announcement of Chapters so exciting) is the deep and memorable characters at the centre of journey. At their core, these games are about people searching for a better life and never knowing when they’ve found it.

Both games begin in the world of Stark, which is the “real” world about two centuries in the future. The world is run in a corprocratic dystopia. Screens occupy every wall and a vapid media pares everything down to the lowest, happiest common denominator. Poverty is sprawling, permanent and ignored until it has to be pushed back down at gunpoint. That said, it’s a world that’s socially liberal. As has been noted elsewhere, the game features queer characters respectfully and without marginalization. The world is also apparently free from formal conflict. The game references riots that have been met with unabashed police brutality and a last, great cola war to end them all, but otherwise the world has apparently run out of enemies. Stark could be taken straight from a Philip K. Dick novel: sure addiction is rampant, culture is controlled and technology has consumed human identity, but that’s the cost of progress and it could be worse.

A screenshot of Stark from Dreamfall: a dimly lit, rainy street with neon ads for a nearby strip club breaking through a blue haze

A screenshot of Stark from Dreamfall: a dimly lit, rainy street with neon ads for a nearby strip club breaking through a blue haze

Opposite Stark is the high-fantasy world of Arcadia. Arcadia composed of numerous independent and generally unintrusive countries. It’s a pastoral wonderland where magic is free to anybody that studies it. However, different peoples differ radically and often violently, there’s a constantly shifting power structure that individuals and groups use to exploit others. Arcadia offers liberty and privacy, but the people of the world are as likely as not to use that against one another.

The protagonists of The Longest Journey and Dreamfall, respectively April Ryan and Zoe Castillo, are both young women of Stark that shift between worlds. Much has been made of their being “strong” female characters, which they are, but what makes them exceptional is how human they are in their journeys to improve their lives.

April comes from a poor and violent family. Months prior to The Longest Journey’s opening, she runs off to the megalopolis, Newport, to study at the only school left that still teaches art. She’s underpaid and overworked (one of the first quests in the game is to cajole April’s boss into paying her money she’s owed) but she’s incorruptibly optimistic. She rolls her eyes and quips one-liners when she gets tugged along in her adventure, but there’s a sense that she belongs on the path she’s on. She’s supposed to be an unlikely hero, but through her competence and intelligence, she’s well suited for the role.

April’s most immediately visible attribute is her optimism. She’s poor and she lives in a dangerous neighbourhood, but she exudes incredible confidence that her talent will be enough to continue her life on its upward trajectory. Her biggest concern at the beginning of the game is that she’s unprepared to submit her work to an art exhibit. She hasn’t begun working, but she knows that it’s only a matter of time for inspiration to strike. That’s the attitude she takes to every challenge: she might be walking into danger, but she knows she’ll be okay because she’s savvy enough to figure out a solution. She isn’t arrogant, but she’s capable and aware of it.

The game vindicates her confidence. She is the “chosen one,” when she enters Arcadia she’s told she’s brimming with magical power, she never hesitates to put herself in danger and she always seems capable of working her way out of it. April is always comfortable, competent and positive. She may be against forces she never knew existed and the world may hang in the balance, but she’s been through worse and she can handle whatever’s next, she just needs the opportunity to succeed and, eventually, she will.

April from The Longest Journey painting an unseen picture on a large canvas

April from The Longest Journey painting an unseen picture on a large canvas

Appropriately, the game’s antagonists, the vanguard, are also motivated by a self-confidence. They’re determined to bring Stark and Arcadia together because they’re certain it’ll be what’s best for everyone. They overlook the gamble they’re taking, but it’s important that they believe they’re acting on behalf of the many. They aren’t looking to disrupt the balance because they revel in chaos or because they’re looking for personal gain, they want to tear down the divide between the worlds because they believe it would be best for everybody. There are as many people that support them as there are that condemn them.

Dreamfall’s protagonist Zoe differs significantly from April, and her perspective adds a great deal of depth to the world. Zoe is the only child of a loving, single father. Zoe was raised not in the greasy, closely watched Newport, but the warm, gold-hued cafes and campuses of Casablanca. She’s not an artist, but a gifted student of bioengineering. Also unlike April, Zoe is near paralyzed by a deep depression. After leaving school, breaking up with her boyfriend and moving back home, she becomes isolated and apathetic. Her well-meaning loved ones remind her that she has no reason—no right—to be depressed and that she should just get her life back on track, but of course that only makes her feel more depressed.

Zoe is not the chosen one and she’s not eager for a new adventure. Her journey seems more the product of chance than an orchestrated manoeuvre by unseen supernatural forces. Her primary goal is to rescue her ex-boyfriend after he uncovers incriminating information on the monolithic WATI corporation. Similarly, when she’s pushed into Arcadia—again, not because she was sent to accomplish anything, but because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time—she’s accidentally wrapped up in April’s struggle against the occupying Azadi empire.

 

Zoe Castillo from Dreamfall in front of a yellow background. She's wearing a sleeveless purple top, a large necklace with two chains and a silver armlet, her thin black hair is pulled back into a ponytail

Zoe Castillo from Dreamfall in front of a yellow background. She’s wearing a sleeveless purple top, a large necklace with two chains and a silver armlet, her thin black hair is pulled back into a ponytail

Here we also see the change a decade has made in April. In Dreamfall, April is not hopeful or confident, she’s exhausted and impatient. Her boisterousness and joie de vivre is replaced with bitterness and irritability. She’s exiled herself from Stark and taken charge of a hopeless rebellion against the Azadi. Unlike the vanguard, the antagonists in Dreamfall aren’t trying to create a brave new world for everybody, they’re trying to return to a way of life that doesn’t exist anymore. In the wake of the first game’s events, Stark and Arcadia are shocked by unprecedented circumstances. The WATI corporation and the Azadi empire have taken near absolute control of their worlds and aggressively conserve an old standard of normalcy.

The main characters of Dreamfall are still looking for a better life, but the means of achieving it have become murkier. The journey referred to in The Longest Journey series is the one to a better world and better ways of living. And when Dreamfall comes to its frustrating conclusion, the efforts to make the world better have only left people more confused and frightened by one another.

April Ryan and Kian Alvane, an Azadi soldier, facing one another in a wintry, medieval alleyway

April Ryan and Kian Alvane, an Azadi soldier, facing one another in a wintry, medieval alleyway

The Dreamfall games aren’t perfect: the plot is remarkably convoluted when it isn’t safe and cliched, but it shines in its honesty and in its lively, human characters. Again, it’s a classic that probably everybody is aware of but it’s also well-preserved, available and friendly to newcomers. With Dreamfall Chapters projected release in November of 2014, it’s a great time catch up on the series.

FYI: Dreamfall Chapters is on Kickstarter

Ragnar Tørnquist’s new studio, Red Thread Games, launched their Kickstarter campaign for Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey today. Chapters is the long-awaited third game in The Longest Journey adventure game series, from which this blog takes its name. The series is known for excellent writing, strong female protagonists in April and Zoe, and a number of queer characters as well. The Kickstarter is asking for $850,000, of which over $280,000 has already been raised as of this writing. If the game is funded, Red Thread plans to have it ready for release in 2014.

Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey by Red Thread Games — Kickstarter

The Longest Journey in large letters above April Ryan, a white woman in her late teens.

The Tale of Homecoming

While I have known for some time that the name of this blog comes from The Longest Journey, it wasn’t until this past week that I actually sat down and played this title. Within the first twenty minutes, I already began to see the inklings of why that particular name was chosen for this space. The game is full of many instances of inclusion, but I wished to discuss one that most drew my attention: the Tale of Homecoming. Spoilers ahead.

The Longest Journey in large letters above April Ryan, a white woman in her late teens.

The Longest Journey in large letters above April Ryan, a white woman in her late teens.

April Ryan, the game’s protagonist, goes through the game being heralded as the woman from the prophecy by various peoples and species. It is when she encounters the Alatien people that the Tale of Homecoming is told, though the reason for its telling is just as important as the tale itself. April is seeking to reunite the Maerum and Alatien peoples, who have a common ancestry, and relied on each other for a mutually beneficial relationship, but went to war and are now sworn enemies.

To do this, she must see the Teller of the village, the one who is said to know all the Alatien stories, and among the reasons April came to this part of the magical world known as Arcadia in the first place. In order to even see the Teller, her guard poses to April that he will ask questions of her from the tales of Sea, Winds, Stars, and Homecoming, and she must answer correctly. Because this is an adventure game, the goal is simply to talk to people and to get the answers so that they show up in the dialog options with the guard. Fairly simple, and yet, it brings attention to a key point in this game.
April is a stranger to Arcadia at the start of the game. She is to be instrumental in its future, but she knows next to nothing about the world. In order to be the savior of the Alatien, she must first know some of their basic stories. They are stories that would be likened to fables, full of small nuggets of wisdom universally applicable, and yet tied to a particular culture with its flavor text and way of viewing the world.

Among those stories is that of Homecoming told by Neema, which you can watch on YouTube right here, and for which I’ll provide the text below:

This is the Tale of Homecoming, my Tale, and I shall tell it in my own words, as told to me by my teacher, in her words, and by her teacher in turn.

Moran was a handsome young Alatien man with strong wings and a hardy beak. He lived below the white cliffs, where the water was salty and the fish plentiful. Moran was betrothed to Anara, the loveliest girl there ever was. She was fair, and slender, and tall, and her eyes were the clearest shade of blue.

But Moran was hesitant to enter into union with Anara, to become her husband and to give her children. He would always come up with a new excuse for why they had to wait a little while longer. Now, Anara was skilled at pottery, but even more so with stories, and the Teller of the village had many times asked Anara to be her apprentice, to learn all the Tales so that some day she could take over as the Teller. But Anara refused, knowing that if she did accept the Teller’s offer, she would never be able to marry Moran, because a Teller cannot have a husband nor children of her own.

Her refusal to become the Teller’s apprentice was unheard of, because who could refuse such an honor? But to Anara, love was more important. Her love for Moran was beyond honor, beyond reason. But despite Anara’s love, Moran was still hesitant. And then one day he told Anara, “I am traveling on a pilgrimage to the far shores. I will be gone for some time, and while I am traveling, and in accordance with our traditions, I will be freed from our betrothal. Not until I come back will the bond between us be renewed.”

It was not unusual for a young Alatien man at that time to go on a pilgrimage, and the bond between the betrothed would often be cut while he was away, to be formed again upon his return. But Anara was heartbroken, because she had thought that Moran would soon want to marry her. When Moran saw her tears, he said to her, “Do not weep. When I come back, I promise I will marry you. Just wait for me, and stay with your pots, to make the time pass quickly.” And then Moran left on his pilgrimage to the far shores.

Many years went by, and Moran had exciting adventures on the far shores, but by and by, he began to long for home, and for Antara, and now he had finally realized that he loved her, and that he wanted to marry her. But when he returned, he could not find Anara amongst the pot makers.

He went to visit her family, and they told him that, after waiting for many years, Antara accepted the Teller’s offer of apprenticeship, and that when the Teller left on the last wind during the previous winter, Anara herself became the new Teller. Angry, Moran made his way to the Teller’s nest, and when he saw Anara he said to her, “You promised me you would wait!” But Anara did not say a single word in answer. She just turned around and lifted something wrapped in leaves from the cot behind her, and gave it to Moran.

Moran unwrapped the package, and inside, he found an old pot, cracked and broken in two. “What is this pot?” he asked. “And why did you not wait for me like I asked you to?” And finally, Anara spoke, and she said to Moran, “I made this pot for you, my dear Moran, when you left, because I wanted it to be my marriage gift to you. But when many, many years passed, I finally realized that you did not love me the way I loved you, and to live hoping otherwise would be death.”

“But I want to marry you!” cried Moran. “I came back!” But Anara just nodded at the broken pot in Moran’s hands, and said, “Like an old pot that is left without care, a heart may break in two, and a broken heart can never be mended.” And so Anara turned away, never to speak with Moran again. And Moran’s heart, like the pot that was left untended, broke in two, because absence makes a heart brittle.

Neema, the teller of the story, is looking for a mate herself, so that when she tells the tale of Homecoming, she is giving her own version of the story. It serves as a cautionary tale (as can be said for the other Alatien storytellers), and it reflects the culture in which such stories are told are given life by the tellers–there is no one truth to the story.

A sketch of the beach of Alais, the island on which April find the Alatien.

A sketch of the beach of Alais, the island on which April find the Alatien.

This is a fact that the Teller later reveals to April, after confirming that April is a good listener. Her firm belief is that the tales must change with every telling, because if they were not to change to reflect the people who told them, they would just be words. Words themselves are not as important to the Alatien as the meaning the words convey, and how they reflect the current teller.

Given the fact that these tales are told to April, it brings to mind the question of how she would repeat this story to other people of Stark, her own world, which serves as a futuristic setting of our own. While she would need to give context if she were to use the words directly, if she were to tell the above tale to us, without us knowing the particular rituals of the Alatien, we could likely understand them anyway.

To the left sits an elderly April Ryan in a chair while two younger people, one a man and the other a woman, sit on the ground to the right.

To the left sits an elderly April Ryan in a chair while two younger people, one a man and the other a woman, sit on the ground to the right.

Of course, given that the entire story is a frame narrative as told by an elderly April Ryan, the question of how these words are understood and reflect in the culture of her listeners, a couple in the game, and the player, is also worth contemplating. Among the reasons the story reflected with me was the nature of the beginning of the story: woman waits for her man, who is off to have adventures, because he isn’t ready to settle. It is the subversion of the fact that she neither waits for him, nor really betrays him (as I could see it also being depicted, where he comes back and has to win her back from another suitor), but instead lives her own life that struck me as particularly poignant, especially in a game with a female protagonist.