The Longest Journey: Old-School Adventures Aren’t What They Used to Be

Sometimes, I’ll jump into a video game because of how it looks. Other times, I’ll go on a friend’s recommendation. And then there are times when I’m courageous enough to try a title from the “Games Similar to What You’re Playing” category on Steam. And because I was playing a choice-based story-heavy game like Life is Strange, I got several store recommendations to play The Longest Journey and its sequel Dreamfall.

The Longest Journey is a point-and-click adventure game centered around an art student named April Ryan. After an intense nightmare set in a fantasy landscape, she discovers similar unusual events taking place in Newport, the industrial setting where she lives and works as a part-time waitress. After pursuing leads from her mysterious neighbor Cortez, April finds herself able to move between two worlds, resulting in a quest to restore the Guardian of the Balance and stop a war in the land of Arcadia.

Copyright © 1999 by Funcom
Copyright © 1999 by Funcom

Here’s what I got from my initial playthrough of The Longest Journey.

A world of sarcastic artists.

Despite the dream of the dragon at the beginning, I quickly fell out of love with the people of Venice, where the first act takes place. Everyone is an artist of some variety, and they all speak in the same long-winded snarky dialect. It’s a bad sign when I’m not 10 minutes into a game and fast-forwarding through conversations just to get to the actual plot. On any other day, I’d be happy to sit back and enjoy the worldbuilding, but The Longest Journey felt different.

Some graphical issues.

Word of advice: if you’re playing this game on a PC, don’t hit the directional keys. It turns out doing so will cause the top bar to turn into a seizure-inducing white flash that says “Build 161.” This flashing nonsense doesn’t go away until you quit and restart the game.

As beautiful as this game can get, the graphics haven’t aged well on modern screens. I even missed one or two puzzle items on my first try just because I couldn’t tell what I was seeing. Kudos to the developers for how much color and shading they put into this game but compared to a title like Primordia, I felt like I had to struggle a little more just to experience everything.

An aimless plot for the first 2 hours.

I spent the better part of two hours trying to make sense of what was going on. All that meant was having April wander around the city of Newport, hoping to make contact with a man named Cortez for answers about her vision. Except all he gave us was cryptic nonsense. We never quite jumped back to the fantasy world that the prologue promised. I never got a sense of the urgency in finding Cortez or pursuing April’s vision of another world.

Compare this to a game like Primordia, where two robots have to cross the wastelands and reclaim their ship’s stolen power source. Or Life is Strange, in which a student uses her newfound control over time to save her friend’s life and investigate a shady student club on campus. Both of these titles got their central conflict out into the open within the first ten minutes of gameplay.

But I was two hours into Longest Journey and apart from these visions and something about “The Balance,” I didn’t have the first clue what was so urgent about anything in the game.

April, the snarky and cheery protagonist.

April was my sole salvation. I like her character design, I appreciate her sarcastic response to standard adventure game tropes, and the art lover in me enjoyed her discussion of Van Gogh and Munch’s styles. I’d have a better perspective on playing as her if not for the poor graphical quality on my screen. At least the cutscenes were flattering to her.

Maybe it’s me, but I never grew up playing this kind of game in the Nineties. I got into LucasArts games like Star Wars: Force Commander or other RTS titles, so I don’t have much nostalgia for this genre. Even so, I do enjoy point-and-click games like The Shivah and Primordia, so if you have a good amount of skill, patience, and interest in this series, I’d still give it a recommendation.

The Longest Journey is available for purchase through Steam, GOG, and Funcom.

Bibliography: The Longest Journey. Developed by Funcom. Published by Empire Interactive and Tri Synergy. Produced by Ragnar Tørnquist. Designed by Didrik Tollefsen and Ragnar Tørnquist. Programmed by Morten Lode and Audun Tørnquist. Written by Ragnar Tørnquist. Artwork by Didrik Tollefsen. Original release date: November 19, 1999.


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