Dreamfall Chapters Review

Dystopian science fiction and medieval fantasy have both been longstanding genres in all forms of media, especially video games. Dreamfall Chapters manages to merge the two in a compelling adventure game about parallel worlds and the power of dreams. As a direct sequel of Dreamfall, which is a continuation of the 1999 PC game The Longest Journey, this game has big shoes to fill. Though there are some hiccups along the way, fans who’ve played its predecessors owe it to themselves to conclude this long journey.

The five-episode story follows several characters whom you control during different chapters: Zoe, a girl with dream-related powers living in the grim futuristic world of Stark; Kian, an ex-apostle prisoner from the magical fantasy land of Arcadia; and Saga, a mysterious girl living in a mundane cottage. The plot revolves around keeping the balance between the parallel worlds and the conspirators who aim to disrupt it. Stark and Arcadia are such vastly different areas that I often felt like I accidentally turned on a different game midway through. Switching between characters is jarring at first, particularly in the beginning when it’s unclear how they’re related. As the plot progresses, the threads connecting the two troubled lands become clearer and the payoff of each story beat is grander.

My only gripes with the story are how difficult it is to understand if you haven’t touched the originals. There is a recap video and some character guides to help newcomers get up to speed. However, as the plot grows more convoluted and makes sudden references to the older games, it only becomes increasingly hard to follow. I’ve played part of The Longest Journey, so I at least understood certain aspects. But without knowledge of the direct predecessor, Dreamfall, I had initial trouble understanding characters’ motives, consequences, or relationships, all of which Chapters assumes you’re familiar with. Luckily for me, the characters were so likable and well-written that I fell in love with them regardless.

The series is firmly rooted in the adventure genre. As opposed to traditional point-and-click gameplay, Dreamfall Chapters features a third-person perspective for movement and environment interaction. The game very rarely ventures out into action territory, although there are some light stealth and timing-dependent segments. Otherwise, you spend a lot of time simply walking around the large towns to get from one objective to another. Although I liked exploring and eavesdropping on NPC conversations, I easily got lost due to a lack of clear navigation and eventually grew tired of slowly running around.

As you’d expect, there are a good number of inventory and dialogue-based puzzles, similarly to what you’d find in classic LucasArts adventure titles. Though hardcore adventure fans may have fond memories of this style, others may groan at the thought of the ridiculous “game logic” one must use to solve these esoteric brain teasers. Thankfully, there are enough hints and cues to prevent most players from truly getting walled. There are a few stinkers that wasted a lot of my time. For example, an initial puzzle tasks you to attach a pillow to a broom handle and stick it out of a window to catch arrows to use for lock-picking. Okay…

The rest of the game is filled to the brim with cutscenes and dialogue. Like in Telltale’s adventure games, you can make choices that lead to story-altering consequences. Between episodes, the game tells you what choices you’ve made and what it could mean for your future. Interestingly, for the biggest choices, you can optionally see what others have chosen before making your decision. Ignore that if you want to avoid bias. In the long run, like in most other games that use this storytelling method, most of your decisions only affect minor characters and story branches. It’s underwhelming to see so few of these “game-changing” choice points matter in the end.

The graphics look a step above what I experienced decades ago with The Longest Journey, and it’s great to see the series come this far. The characters look good, although a lack of facial animation make them appear uncomfortably soulless. At least the fully voice-acted sequences make up for it, with great performances bringing the characters to life. I love how the game presents the worlds of Stark and Arcadia. The eerie techno music, neon lights, and constant darkness capture the Ghost in the Shell-esque city in Stark. Likewise, magical wisps, bright décor, and festive music properly represent the Arcadian town. Unfortunately, their massive scale seems to cause some framerate issues and long loading times. I also encountered a few hard crashes during the fourth episode. It happened multiple times during the same sequence, and I was worried that I wouldn’t get past it.

Dreamfall Chapters isn’t for everybody, but it’s a must for anyone who’s played the previous games, specifically Dreamfall. The story picks up where that left off, while concluding the tale The Longest Journey began decades ago. Ironically, though the plot itself is about balance, the game has difficulties balancing its gameplay style. Although modern third-person adventuring and old-school logic puzzles are both implemented, neither is particularly impressive. Luckily, the overall plot is exciting and deep enough to warrant its 25+ hour runtime. As long as you’re okay with jumping into a story in progress, it’s a worthy journey to take and a compelling dream to fall into.

I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!