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Lora's Adventure Game Reviews: The Longest Journey

The Longest Journey (Game release date: 2000)
An absorbing fantasy-adventure masterpiece featuring some of the most compelling characters of any computer game out there.

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Highlights: Great plot, evocative mood, memorable characters, very interactive for a graphic adventure Lowlights: Lack of resolution for certain NPCs, some players may tire of the long conversations

If The Longest Journey were only the most innovative and interactive adventure game to date, I might feel compelled to acknowledge how little that was actually saying; if it were only the most evocative computer game I have personally ever played, I might feel compelled to contrast my emotional response against its admittedly linear gameplay and simplistic puzzles. But like its heroine, The Longest Journey capably straddles two worlds, and I'm left with little to say here except that it's the single best adventure game I've ever played and if you haven't played it yet, you should. It's hard to talk about the plot of this game without revealing information that is far more magical to discover on your own, so I'm only going to say that the premise is creative, the writing is very good, and the details I found jarring and pointless all turned out to make sense in the end. Trust this plot; it will reward you. (Especially if you've ever been a fan of fantasy adventure or science fiction, and what gamer hasn't?) The writing is excellent, and the characters feel as real as those in a good movie. Despite the crappy graphical rendering of the NPCs, their complex personalities, well-written dialogue, and terrific voice acting made me truly care what happened to them. This is one of two computer games that have ever caused me to shed a real tear. (The other was Planetfall, and I was *twelve* at the time.) If there was one disappointment I had with The Longest Journey, in fact, it was that the game wooed me into caring about characters the plot never returned to again, leaving me with a slightly unsatisfied feeling as I had to imagine their interpersonal resolutions for myself. But then, most good stories leave you wanting more.

Oh, there are flaws in this game, to be sure, but they are flaws shared by the entire graphical-adventure genre at this point in time: plot linearity, limited interactivity, boring inventory puzzles, and a main character who doesn't change her clothes every day. And to The Longest Journey's credit, it has done more to combat these flaws than any adventure game before or since. The inflexible string of puzzles to be solved is broken up by a few quests with alternate endings for you to choose from, something commonplace in CRPG's but revolutionary in adventure games. You do get a choice of conversational alternatives that let you decide whether April is kind or obnoxious to any given NPC, and though the puzzles are nearly all variants on "use the round key on the green door," they are creative variants, and there is always a hint to the solution somewhere within the game itself, so you never get random item-click fatigue ("Hey, look, using the pencil eraser on the goldfish bowl causes the clock to strike twelve!") And as for the clothes, well, at least April changes them for plot purposes every once in a while.

If the game designers of the future were as deeply impressed by this game as I am, then perhaps in another twenty years adventure games will have ascended to a new level of interactivity, flexibility, and choice-making. If that happens, The Longest Journey will be even more than the best adventure game of this decade. It will be the Ultima IV of its class. Don't miss out on playing it and experiencing its magic for yourself.

Style: The Longest Journey is a third-person graphic adventure game with a 3D point-and-click interface. You control a single character. The plot is an exploratory adventure and there are fantasy and science fiction themes. The game is untimed and no manual dexterity is required. Combat and leveling are not elements.

Series: There has been one sequel to The Longest Journey so far: Dreamfall. Although Dreamfall builds on the same gameworld (and even features April as one of its playable characters,) the two games really are not dependent on each other-- Dreamfall's plot does not rely on The Longest Journey's or even reference it very much, so it isn't necessary to play The Longest Journey before playing Dreamfall. But since the two games are both excellent and are least expensive when purchased together, there's no reason *not* to play them in order.

Finding The Longest Journey: It is 2010 as I update this, and The Longest Journey can still be easily found for sale; but like many 10-year-old games, the prices are sometimes ridiculously high. At the moment, it is actually much cheaper to buy The Longest Journey bundled together with its sequel Dreamfall, like this. If that should change, here is a link to The Longest Journey for sale online on its own-- look in the "used and new" section, where there are often reasonable prices on new or nearly new games.

Getting The Longest Journey to Work: The Longest Journey is a relatively recent game and ought to be plug-and-play. I encountered no gameplay bugs while playing it on XP, though I've been told that like most games, it doesn't necessarily work properly with Vista.

Hints For The Longest Journey: You can check out my low-spoiler page of Longest Journey hints if you like. There is also a good hints page at UHS which reveals only one hint at a time, so you won't accidentally learn the answers to future puzzles while scanning for the one you're stuck on.

Game Length: 40 hours including all the side conversations, less if you opt out of some of them. There's more material available in this game than in most graphic adventures.

Age-Appropriateness: This game is rated M (17 years and up) due primarily to lots and lots of cursing. If gratuitous profanity doesn't bother you, there's no reason not to give this to a younger teen. There's no sex (though there is a lot of sexual language) and no graphic violence. One of the villains and several vagrants on the city streets are stated to be abusers of drugs/alcohol.

Lora's Longest Journey Review: (Outstanding)

Plot and Quests: The plot is innovative and absorbing, in places truly thought-provoking. Like most graphical adventures, The Longest Journey is rather linear. You are usually limited to completing quests in a pre-ordained order, and most of the quests can be completed in one and only one way. There are a few exceptions, and the flexible conversational options make The Longest Journey feel less straitjacketed than most members of its genre.
Puzzles and Mental Challenges: Primarily inventory and logic puzzles (of the "which item can I use on this clickable object?" sort). Some of them are quite original--it's rare for a game to really serve up several impasses a grizzled old Infocom vet truly hasn't seen before in some shape or form, but The Longest Journey manages to do this. The downside is that few of them are very challenging. Even the ones you don't immediately figure out can be quickly arrived at by trial and error.
Characters: You play a pre-assigned PC in The Longest Journey, a teenage art student named April Ryan. Though you have little control over her personal development throughout the game (there are few meaningful decisions you get to make on her behalf), you do have the choice of conversational options to help you feel ownership of her personality. The NPCs are generally excellent and you can have interactive communications with them, one of very few graphical adventures to offer such a feature.
Gameworld: The Longest Journey is set in two worlds: a futuristic and somewhat dystopic sci-fi Earth and a lush fantasy dreamworld. Both are excellent: well-written, detailed, consistent and interesting.
Gameplay: Like most modern graphical adventures, The Longest Journey is really just your standard Infocom game with graphics and sound appended. That isn't inherently a bad thing--I loved those old Infocom games--but this genre really has not advanced much since the '80's where gameplay is concerned, and it only takes ten or twelve times jogging April manually across the same eight location screens on her way to the other side of town before you start to realize: Hey, this was much less of a pain when you could just type "E,E,NW,D,S,enter subway,S,S,S,exit subway." :-o There is no way to die or lose this game. Puzzles can primarily only be done in the same, linear order, and it's impossible to paint yourself into any corners.
Interface: The roll-over interface in the border of the screen is nice, though the inventory system is awkward and irritating. The programmers thought of some very intuitive details that improve play--for instance, it often works equally well to combine something in your inventory and then use it or to use one piece and then another.
Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): The game has a wonderfully immersive feel, due largely to the interconnectedness of plot and gameworld, the excellent dialogue and voice acting, and the evocative artistic themes. Graphics are functional. The NPC's look terrible even on the highest setting, especially Charlie (who is blocky, faceless, and has an oddly angular ponytail). I'm usually not a stickler for graphics, but the quality of the NPC sprites in this game detracted somewhat from the mood--if Charlie and Emma had looked anything like real people, the game would have been doubly powerful.

Lora's Recommendations: I recommend The Longest Journey for anyone whose heart isn't set on an action game. This is an expansive and rather slow-paced game with a lot of exploration and dialogue between dangerous interludes, and it takes a while before the most powerful plot twists start happening, so gamers with little patience for quiet stretches may become bored. Otherwise, if there are two computer games you play in your life, make them this one and Shadows of Amn. You won't regret it.

If You Loved The Longest Journey: Then you should definitely try its sequel, Dreamfall. You may also enjoy Syberia, which is far less interactive than The Longest Journey but creates some equally memorable characters and evokes a similar sense of wonder. There's also Grim Fandango, an older title offering up an unusual fusion of film noir and magical realism. If you loved the character interactions in The Longest Journey, you may want to try the brilliant fantasy epic Shadows of Amn or the unusual Gothic adventure Planescape Torment; these are more action-oriented games, including tactical combat, but feature the most interactive relationships out there. If what you loved about The Longest Journey was its magical mood and puzzle-solving, you may want to check out the haunting puzzle adventure Myst IV: Revelation, or even the older Myst Trilogy, all of which are puzzle games with evocative settings.

For a more detailed critique of the game involving spoilers, plot holes, and impacts The Longest Journey could have on the adventure-game genre, please see my Backseat Game Designer page. Happy gaming!

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