The Longest Journey
First posted on 15 August 2007. Last updated on 07 September 2009.
After a long time in which adventure games seem to have been played out, leaving many passionate gamers to fend for low-quality titles, a truly spectacular masterpiece suddenly appears from the mind of a single man—Norwegian game designer Ragnar Tornquist. With The Longest Journey, Tornquist has managed to create a story that is as immersive and captivating as a classic tale. The Longest Journey is a breath of fresh air, a game that alone has revitalized an entire genre and sets a new standard for other games to follow.
In The Longest Journey, you play a young visual arts student named April Ryan. She has just moved to a big city from the countryside, where she now lives in a sort of hostel for students in the neighbor of Venice. She has a part-time job working in a bar, but what she really wants is to apply to study in the world renowned VAVA, The Venice Academy of the Visual Arts. Everything seems to resemble the normal student life of a typical teenager, except that April is more than she think she is.
The story sets in a near future city called Newport. In the beginning, April appears to be living her life normally, dealing with everyday common problems. The dreams she has at night, though, are not so common. Before long, these dreams begin to show up even in the daytime and are becoming more and more real. She dreams about a strange beautiful world that is in danger. At first she chooses not to pay much attention to them, but soon these dreams begin to literally merge with reality, changing the real world in where April lives.
It is at this time that April meets an old strange man with a spanish parlance who calls himself Cortez. After overcoming some initial distrust from April, Cortez explains to her what really is going on. The world April now lives in is called Stark, and Stark has a twin world called Arcadia. Whereas Stark is a world ruled by logic, rationality, and science, Arcadia is a world governed by mythology, faith, and magic. Long ago, Stark and Arcadia have existed as separate worlds. For centuries these neighboring worlds have lived in harmony, all because of the Balance that maintains the equilibrium between these divides. However, the Balance is now in danger. April, who is able to shift between these worlds, must help Cortez to save the Balance for the good of the twin worlds.
The graphics in The Longest Journey are simply stunning. The game features a nearly uncountable number (over 150) of imaginative locations, from the dark streets of the futuristic city of Newport that resemble the post apocalyptic world seen in Blade Runner, to the fantastic world of Arcadia that is full of nature, magic, and strange creatures. It also spans across many exotic places, from undersea cities to even outer space. Despite the limited resolution of 640x480 pixels (though the game supports both 16- and 32-bit color depths), the game still looks top notched. The pre-rendered 2D backgrounds are vividly colored and are amazingly detailed. The 3D characters (which are drawn using a skeletal animation system) are probably the only weak point in the graphics. Although the character model for April is very detailed and her movements in the game are pretty fluid (due to the use of motion captured animations), the character models for the other game characters (particularly those who are transient) clearly show the age of the graphic engine developed for the game. Contrasting against the backdrops that are all beautifully pre-rendered, the character models are all rough edged and the lack of anti-aliasing is readily noticeable. Still, the fact that this game remains a joy to look at even after so many years is testament to the general quality of the game's graphics. The cinematics (over 20 minutes in total) are truly incredible. They are so vivid and powerful to watch.
The sound in The Longest Journey is very well done. The musical score perfectly matches the scenes. The background music is never prominent but just enough to effectively support the mood. The voice acting is simply outstanding. All the voiceovers (more than 70 speaking roles) are greatly acted. April's voice (acted by Sarah Hamilton) is among the most heartfelt voices in adventure games. The dialog is pervaded with humor (though some contains sexual innuendos and references to adult subject matters), making the voice acting even more enjoyable to listen as the story develops. Interestingly, the game menu contains a backstage access to many recording outtakes from the voice acting in the game.
The Longest Journey is played from a third person perspective. The game is divided into 13 chapters, a prologue, and an epilogue. The interface is very clean and intuitive. The pointer turns automatically whenever it passes over an object that can be picked up or inspected. The pointer also lights up to indicate that you can interact with a character. Using left mouse button, you can then click to choose to observe or talk to the person. The right button is used to open the inventory. The game is released originally in only CD-ROM version. It is later re-released in both CD-ROM and DVD-ROM versions.
The Longest Journey has a great variety of puzzles. Unlike other games which feature only a single kind of puzzle so that once you have figured out how to solve a particular puzzle the other puzzles often fall quite flat, you will find in this game logic puzzles, inventory based puzzles, and a combination of both. Sometimes you have to discover an item or trigger an event. Every puzzle is perfectly coherent and fits well to the world around April. Whether you are in Stark where logic rules or in Arcadia where magic is common, you have to think in the way according to the world you are in that moment. Every puzzle must be understood entirely in the context of the world around it before it can be solved. April is capable of shifting between Stark and Acardia, but she cannot shift at her chosing. Instead, April can shift only after completing a task or solving a puzzle.
The Longest Journey is a long game. It easily makes for more than 30 hours of gameplay. April's journey is long voyage. Often you will have the feeling that you are almost at the end, but you will soon find that there is still a long way to go. You will travel between many worlds, completing numerous tasks in different places in order to reach your final mission. This not only brings longevity to the game, but it also adds an uncommon depth to the story.
The characters' personalities in The Longest Journey deserve a special mention. Not only April has been given a strong and persevering personality which makes her a truly positive heroine, every character that you encounter in the game (such as April's friends) has also been given incredible depths. All the characters in both Stark and Arcadia have their own and different personalities. This minimizes the feeling that these side characters exist only in the game to give you hints. Rather, to get pass many situations in the game, you have to interact with them or accomplish side quests for them. Many of the characters have recurrent roles throughout the game. This way, all these characters grow to become part of your journey.
To conclude, it can be said without hesitation that The Longest Journey is among the best and most beautiful adventure games ever made. What makes this game really special is the fact that it is made to be experienced and remembered like a great book. The suspense and the curiosity it raises are captivating. There is also an enchanted feeling that there are many stories within the main story, and not all of the stories have yet to be told. The places and the characters are unforgettable. The game truly offers an incredible gaming experience, an immersive gameplay, and a wonderful story waiting to be revealed. The ingredients for the perfect adventure game are all present. With all these, you can surely bet that after many years you will still remember young April and her quest to save the Balance!