Anthony's Film Review
The Longest Journey
(Video Game, 1999)
One of the most engrossing computer adventure games ever made...
The Longest Journey, designed by Norwegian game designer Ragnar Tornquist, may not be the very best adventure game ever made, but it's still very, very good. This is a game with a creative story, intriguing dialogue, and a central player-controlled protagonist who is admirable and heroic. It's so well-written that it could easily work as a novel or movie. The only difference, of course, is that it's interactive and that you control the main character. Basically, any computer gamers who love adventure games owe it to themselves to check out The Longest Journey and have an experience they will surely remember.
The first thing to note is that the game doesn't just blur the line between science-fiction and fantasy. It nearly erases it. Imagine a world where you don't know what is reality and what is a dream, where order ends and chaos begins, and where science and magic coexist more than you think. This is where the game's protagonist, an 18-year-old American art student named April Ryan, finds herself. She's been having strange dreams involving dragons and other mythical creatures, while going through her normal life with finishing her art project, hanging out with her best friends Emma and Charlie and her landlady Fiona, and avoiding an obnoxious guy named Zack. The only other oddity besides the dreams is a mysterious man named Cortez, who insists that April plays a vital part in something metaphysical and out of this world.
Despite her reluctance to believe it, April cannot help but wonder if her dreams and this man Cortez are related. She meets with him and soon enters another dimension. This is where she learns about the true nature of the world that nobody else around her knows. A long time ago, the Earth was a place where science and magic actually coexisted. However, humans have discovered ways to exert control over the cosmos and the forces of nature. In an effort to stop this, a ritual was done to split the world into two: a world of science and logic called Stark, which April comes from, and a world of magic and chaos called Arcadia, which April has entered. An individual is designed as a Guardian every 1,000 years to reside in a tower so that his or her soul maintains the Balance between Stark and Arcadia.
April learns that the Balance is at stake, because the current Guardian prematurely left the tower before his thousand-year duty ended. Understanding that she may be the person prophesized to restore the Balance, April embarks on a quest to find the missing Guardian, the pieces of a stone disc that would unlock the Guardian's tower, and even the location of the tower itself. It is up to her to restore the Balance, or else catastrophic consequences would ensue once the two worlds merge back into one. If that is not pressing enough, there is a power-hungry cult called the Vanguard that actually wants Stark and Arcadia to be combined into one world once again, the way it was ages ago.
The adventure, set in the 23rd century, goes back and forth between Stark and Arcadia. Locations in Stark include April's apartment, art school, and neighborhood in Venice and seedy spots in a city called Newport, providing a mix of technology and a cyberpunk ambience. In Arcadia, April explores the city of Marcuria and ventures into an alchemist's fortress and other locales where all sorts of non-human creatures can be found. Along the way, April encounters a wide variety of interesting characters, including a race of mermaid-like aquatic creatures, a computer hacker who lost his lower body and relies on a small hovercraft to move around, a gambler who is clearly a con artist, a sailor with an unusual superstition about signing documents, a wisecracking bird, a cop with an artificial eye, a dimwitted theater worker, and a tree-like creature who can see the past, present, and future all at the same time.
Regarding gameplay, the interface is familiar to anyone who has played point-and-click PC adventure games. You click the mouse cursor to move April around and to examine or interact with items on the screen designated as clickable hotspots. You pick up and maintain an inventory of items, which you can combine with each other if possible and which (as adventure gamers like to joke about) can be so bulky while still being able to fit in the protagonist's pockets. When you talk to characters, you select the things you want to say, and conversations often involve exhausting all options of a dialogue tree. As for the difficulty of the puzzles, I would say that they are not terribly difficult but still challenge you to think a little. If you ever find yourself stuck, be sure to explore your environments and inventory items very carefully, because, in my experience, one can only get stuck by not being observant enough. The rationale behind the solutions to the game's puzzles is usually very logical, so don't worry about bizarre puzzle solutions in this game.
There's really only one major downside to The Longest Journey, and that's the game's ending. It's not a fully complete one, because it leaves some big questions unanswered and opens the door for a sequel. I would think that if the game's storytellers could tell such an immersive story from the beginning, especially as it spans 13 chapters, they should do the same with the end and wrap things up nicely. Even if they wanted a sequel from the start, I'm sure they could still write the ending in a way that provides a sense of resolution without closing the door to a sequel. I don't know what they were thinking when they wrote the ending they did, but I'll still give them credit for the rest of the story. Otherwise, it's worth noting that parts of the game contain adult language, which is probably not needed because much of the story doesn't have adult content and is, in fact, a great story for young players to enjoy.
I'm with many game critics when I say that The Longest Journey is an adventure game that isn't perfect, but it's close. It ranks among the best of the genre, up there with the first two Gabriel Knight games, which in my opinion represent the height of adventure gaming. The game has a great story to follow, memorable characters to listen to, and fun puzzles to solve. In addition, the voice acting cast is incredible, especially Sarah Hamilton as the voice of April Ryan, who portrays the character as young and a bit imperfect, yet kind-hearted and heroic. Overall, I'm glad I purchased this game and popped it into the CD-ROM drive on my computer. The Longest Journey is one that is surely worth taking.
For more information about The Longest Journey, visit the Internet Movie Database and Moby Games.