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SummaryStill conservative in gameplay, but story and content get a whole new dimension here
The GoodWhen "The Longest Journey" appeared on the scene, it was quickly proclaimed one of the best adventure games ever, and was frequently used by adventure fans as an argument against those who condemned the genre to death. So, is it really that good? And, more importantly, can it save the adventure genre?
The first question is easy to answer: yes, it is indeed a very good and even a great game. But I'm not sure if it can bring a revival to the genre, mostly because gameplay-wise, it still clings firmly to the rules of classical adventure.
"The Longest Journey" is rich and innovative when it comes to setting, content, main creative ideas, and plot. However, its gameplay is still far from being original, and the biggest problem of modern adventures - how to create puzzles that would be realistic, challenging enough, but not frustrating - remain unsolved in this game.
This adventure-saving issue aside, "The Longest Journey" is a fantastic game and is particularly attractive for those who appreciate creativity, story, content, and style in video games. "The Longest Journey" introduces a new story genre to adventure games: philosophical epic. Grim Fandango was close to doing this, but "The Longest Journey" is the true pioneer mainly because it contains no traces of parody and satire, and is absolutely serious in its attempt to build a huge, engrossing story that is profound and complex enough to be used in a console-style RPG. Adventure games simply didn't have such stories before. Philosophical reflections about good and evil, conflict between magic and technology, the concept of "balance", presence of characters with mysterious backgrounds, elements of fairy tale, enormous size, changing of locations - all those are rather attributes of a modern Final Fantasy-like game than of traditional puzzle-solving adventure. "The Longest Journey" did a great job in making a true epic out of an adventure game.
The game is partly set in a futuristic big city, and partly in a medieval fantasy-like world. It can be described as a philosophical fairy tale, science fiction, or fantasy. At the same time, the game world is so precisely described, that you can't help becoming totally immersed in it; the highly detailed characterization makes you feel this is a totally realistic game. The personality of the heroine, April Ryan, is wonderfully developed; her vision of the world, her emotions and ideas are ever-present throughout the whole game, so that it becomes interesting just to hear what she has to say about the objects and the people she sees.
The central idea of "The Longest Journey", the conflict between science and magic, is perhaps not very original, but it is enough to present a very unusual setting and to interest the player. The concept of letting a normal, ordinary girl to catch a glimpse of a world she had no idea about, to make her gradually realize her own importance, the meaning of her existence and her destination, and learn the truth about the world works wonderfully. Just like April Ryan, you discover a totally new world, and are surprised at everything you see. Since the larger part of the game is set in the "other" world, the feeling of magic and exploration of the unknown is unparalleled in any other adventure game. The game has a rich atmosphere, and the sheer imagination of the designers in creating the strange and appealing game world is very impressive.
"The Longest Journey" is indeed very long. But more important that the actual size of the game is the amount of various locations you'll have to visit and explore. The game is truly a journey, a journey through the world of fantasy, full of memorable encounters and places. "The Longest Journey" is a game that puts exploration as highly as it is only possible for an adventure game. Its gameplay suffers from lack of coherent and original puzzle system, but it is free from a popular plague of adventures - backtracking. So many adventures just let you aimlessly wander around the same small location, trying to figure out which puzzle to solve next and how to find the item you are missing. "The Longest Journey", on the contrary, is composed of small sections, each fairly independent, and once you've completed your mission in one location, you are being transferred to another. There is no one great task that you receive in the beginning and then spend the whole game solving smaller puzzles to accomplish it. Such system would have worked well in a comic adventure where story is not very important, but it would have ruined a story-driven game like "The Longest Journey", and the designers wisely rejected it.
"The Longest Journey" also looks very good, with wonderful pre-rendered backgrounds and nicely made 3D characters. There are also several excellent video sequences, that help to advance the story, to conclude a small section and to start a new one.
The BadWhat prevents "The Longest Journey" from being really perfect is its gameplay-related problems. Of course, this gameplay will probably receive no complaints from die-hard fans of classical puzzle-solving adventure. But objectively speaking, the gameplay of "The Longest Journey" is hopelessly outdated. What's worse, it doesn't really fit the game's ambiance and story. Most puzzles are taken directly from classic comedy adventures of the past, and it is needless to say they are entirely out of place in this totally serious game, which is by no means a comedy. Unrealistic and unoriginal, the puzzles of "The Longest Journey" are way behind the rest of the game.
Except puzzles, the game is mainly based on dialogues. Sadly, the dialogues also have noticeable flaws: they are too long, not original enough, and serve mostly as containers of background information necessary to understand the game's complex story. As a side note, there are no close-ups on character faces during dialogues, so you'll have to spend quite a long time just reading and clicking on appropriate answers, without having the feeling of really participating in a conversation. I also found the branching dialogue system inappropriate for the game. It was used before either to allow the player to make choices which would influence the game, or to bring in an additional element of comedy. Since you can't die or get stuck in "The Longest Journey", and its story development is strictly linear, the first option is not a question; on the other hand, the game is anything but a comedy, and the dialogue choices are anyway not funny and weren't supposed to be so. In short, there is no point in them. In any case you'd have to choose all dialogue possibilities in order to get the information you need.
Due to those flaws, the game lacks suspense, and its gameplay is not flowing and natural enough. Fortunately, most puzzles aren't very tough, so the majority of the players will probably regard them as a minor obstacle. But the fact the game didn't really do anything new in this department, and preferred to stick blindly to traditions, is one of the reasons why it couldn't revive the genre single-handedly. With a more involving and fresh gameplay, "The Longest Journey" could have become a revolution in the genre.