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The Longest Journey


Release date: 2000

Developer: FunCom

Publisher: Egmont Interactive

Game language: German

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Age restrictions: 6 years and older


A review by  MaryScots   20th July 2005

 

Wow! Isn’t it amazing how time flies? Has it really been 5 years since Ragnar Třrnquist invited us to accompany his heroine April on her longest journey? Then it’s about time for us, too, to review ‘The Longest Journey’, isn’t it?! Make yourselves comfortable and reminisce if you already know the game and in case it happens to have evaded your attention until today for some ominous reason let me entice you now. ;-)

‘The Longest Journey’ is a very special adventure game for more than one reason. First of all, it has been developed and published at a time when our favourite genre had been declared dead. Nevertheless, the developers bent over backwards in their efforts to present us a game which has been sumptuously designed and for that alone must have cost loads-a-money. Whether it has or has not been a financial success I cannot assess but it did set high standards which many fans still deem valid; and it was and still is successful enough that we may look forward to the release of its long awaited sequel ‘Dreamfall’ by the end of this year.

 

Story

For 1000 years the Guardian has watched over the Balance of Stark and Arcadia – two worlds complementing one another like Yin and Yang. While Stark portrays a clinical, engineered and frighteningly conceivable future-vision of our Planet Earth, Arcadia is a world of magic inhabited by humans and fancy creatures alike. Very few denizens of both worlds know about the existence of the other but now the Guardian has abandoned his place without his successor standing by. The Balance is at risk and the boundaries of the worlds become thin and permeable. Chaos and destruction impend because magic and technology can exist side by side but not together.

The fate of the twin worlds now lies in our hands or rather in the hands of April Ryan, a pretty 18 year old art student-to-be at the VAVA, the Venice Academy of Visual Arts in Newport, Stark’s biggest city. She moved there only a few months ago and earns her living working as a waitress at the Fringe Café. April likes it here and has already found good friends but for a couple of days - or rather nights – her sleep is disturbed by strange dreams. They take her away from her rather clinical and technological 2209 metropolis to a totally unknown world with strange creatures such as talking dragons and tree spirits and to places the like she has never seen before. Her friends cannot help her, how could they? These are only dreams, right?

Soon, April will discover that fate has intended her for an important task. She is a Shifter and she alone can travel between the worlds. The Balance has to be re-established but this endeavour will not be an easy one as a powerful organisation wants the Chaos to reign in order to gain control over both worlds. Thus, April embarks upon her search for the Guardian and also for herself – it will become her longest journey.

 

Graphics

Time to gush and I will - oh yes! – as the pre-rendered 2D-backgrounds in ‘The Longest Journey’ have set benchmarks regarding attention to detail, imaginativeness and expressiveness. It would be mean and unfair to allege that games which use a similar graphical style simply imitate TLJ. For me, personally, it’s a big asset for an adventure if it graphically follows TLJ’s example, whether coincidentally or on purpose. At once, the spectator is drawn in by the settings. During the course of the prologue I already wanted to scramble into my monitor to feel the fresh green grass under my bare feet, bask in the beams of the setting sun and let the crystal clear spring water trickle over my hands. From this moment on I was April Ryan, 18 years old, and stood on a cliff set within a surreal backdrop, dressed only in my – erm – cotton underwear. I talked to a cranky tree spirit and a white and nacre shimmering dragon, then woke up in my room at the Border House a short time later asking myself whether the experience has only been a dream. No, it was the overture for a graphical treat.

Each of the more than 150 locations seems believable and lifelike thanks to the changing illumination of the scenery and the use of real-time light and shadow effects which lend authenticity to the environment.

I have no difficulties trying to imagine today’s New York looking just like the future Moloch named Newport in Stark. Everything is yet again bigger, more progressive and in some places even more degenerated. The district of Venice where April lives reminds me of Greenwich Village, it’s cosy, decayed in some places but as well as possible looked after by its inhabitants. In Arcadia, on the other hand, we will experience an explosion of imaginativeness around each and every corner – a village square lined with timbered houses in Arcadia’s capital Marcuria, a gloomy forest with talking animals and even an enchanting underwater world. It would go beyond the scope of this review to go more into detail.

But no matter where I was, there was so much to discover, whether or not it helped with solving the puzzles – each of the many hotspots added to the depth of the story and locations. Sometimes when clicking on a hotspot April gave comments which made me laugh out loud or inspired some thinking.

In comparison to the detailed backgrounds the 3D characters in fact appeared a little coarse though due to motion capturing their movements are very natural. Well, the game’s resolution is only 640 x 480 pixels but measured against the fast-paced progress of today’s technology it is almost an oldie.

 

Voice-overs

An equal amount of time and effort has been put into the voice-overs. Not only regarding the localisation which I will get back to later but first and foremost the dialogues. I know only few games which are almost as heavy on dialogues as TLJ and this aspect of the game should definitely be mentioned. I am one of those who enjoy this because I believe that the conversations enhance and deepen the story. Those who are annoyed by the ‘drivel’ can activate the subtitles and read along, then skip the rest of the spoken dialogue with the ESC-key. The latter does affect the overall fun-factor, though, and that’s why I wouldn’t recommend it – but as always this is a matter of opinion. It would be a pity, however, to miss all those jibes and sometimes rather frank subjects because you gallop through the texts.

Almost all of the voice talents hired for the German dubbing of the approximately 70 (speaking) characters are well known to most of us German players for their participation in popular audio plays like ‘The Three Investigators’, ‘A Case for TKKG’ or ‘The Famous Five’. Meeting Brian Westhouse in the game some of us might also listen up and ask themselves: "Wasn’t that Jack Nicholson?" Yes, that’s him – or rather Joachim Kerzel, Nicholson’s (et al.) "German voice". Further voice-actors are actors Till Demtröder (‘Großstadtrevier’) and Eckard Dux (various TV series and senior dubbing artist, i.e. for Steve Martin).

Whether the ‘real-time lip-synching of dialogue’ has been achieved I cannot tell for sure as the characters are usually not presented close-up – but I can say for certain that professionals have delivered very good work with this localisation.

 

Sound

The soundscape is at least as detailed as the graphics. Those who have already been to New York for example will know the constant howling of the police cars, the humming of the air condition, the traffic’s noise, the music which drones from all kinds of sources and will be reminded of all this in Newport. In Venice alone the metropolis falls silent a little. We only hear the ripple of the water in the canals - which probably inspired the district’s name - and sometimes a diffident bird-chirping. In Arcadia we are teleported to another world also regarding the sound. There are no machines, cars or trains but a vibrant marketplace with lively music and puffers, the roar of the surf and the sounds of the forest in the Northlands.

In addition to all that – and we can rightfully say ‘of course!’ - great care was exercised in creating the ‘small’ noises. No matter what we touch it answers with a matching sound and has its share in letting these worlds appear as close to reality as possible.

Then there is the music, accompanying us almost constantly, sometimes so subtle that we hardly notice it consciously. Bjřrn Arve Lagim has composed a soundtrack for TLJ which optimally complements the epic story and the gorgeous graphics. The tunes never interfere but they supply the background for and enforce the course of the events. The music accompanies us jauntily through our explorations, subliminally warns us of dangers and dramatises thrilling moments. By the way, the soundtrack is also available on CD or can be downloaded from the official website and all I can say is that the purchase or the download is worth the money/time.

 

Puzzles

All in all TLJ provides a lot of freedom in our modus operandi. Though a certain degree of linearity is hardly evitable in a game of this size we can solve a lot of puzzles when we want to do it like procuring some of the items. Usually we can take them when we trip over them and not only when April discovers the spot where they have to be applied.

The lion’s share of the tasks consists of inventory puzzles but there is enough variety to satisfy every taste such as mechanical puzzles, code puzzles, combination puzzles and the well known acquisition- and dialogue puzzles. All of them are very well and logically integrated into the story and environment. The overall level of difficulty varies but with the exception of two nasty brain teasers all of them are solvable even for adventure newbies. Many of the inventory-based puzzles require thorough examination of our findings which we can do inside the inventory – as always we should of course collect everything which isn’t nailed to the spot or maybe even those things. The inventory is also the place where objects can be joined or disassembled.

For many gamers one interesting aspect of ‘The Longest Journey’ is the delightful fact that you can’t do anything wrong. No matter what we want to try we can do it because it will never result in a ‘Game Over’. Whoever might deduce now that the thrill gets lost by this errs. I for one did at some points forget that nothing can do me any harm and therefore became a little anxious to find a loophole out of my currently unfortunate situation.

All praise left aside for a minute, it is only fair to mention that the stunningly detailed backgrounds do involve quite some pixel-hunting. There is no doubt that exploring the worlds with your cursor is a lot of fun but if you get stuck just because you have overlooked a very small item perpetually, you can only try asking in a forum or resort to a walkthrough in order to not let frustration ruin the great story for you.

 

Installation/Technical issues

My copy – the German "original"-version - presents ‘The Longest Journey’s 13 chapters on 4 jewel-cased CD’s packed in a cardboard-box along with a detailed manual. It ran smoothly on my old WIN98 machine and also worked without any problems after installing it in compatibility-mode for WIN98/ME on Windows XP. The program offers three installation methods depending on the available hard drive-space. The smallest one needs 300 MB, the largest 1 GB. The full installation, however, is recommendable as it cuts down on the loading times and the video-sequences run as smooth as they should. By the way, don’t worry about disc-swapping as each CD is needed only once during the course of the game although it has to remain in the drive while playing.

 

Menus/Controls

Before we start playing graphic and sound settings can be adjusted in a launcher window but we will also find all the known options named to match the story in the pretty designed main menu. From here we can start a new journey, continue or quit the journey, change settings and after we succeeded in saving the worlds we are rewarded with some great extras in the ‘Book of Secrets’.

While the bottom area of the screen is reserved for subtitles and dialogues the top holds the icons for April’s journal which also provides access to all functions of the main menu. One more feature here is the possibility to watch cut scenes and read conversations again. 99 slots for savegames are available and will be provided with the current screenshot, the chapter number, time and date.

This 3rd-person-adventure’s handling is a prime example of intuitive gameplay – to be more precise, we don’t have to learn the contents of the manual by heart to become familiar with the controls. In ‘The Longest Journey’ we can navigate solely by mouse but we don’t have to. Usually the cursor is a blue arrow which lights up when it hovers over something we can examine. In this case a left-click opens an elegantly designed context menu. We now can choose between an eye-icon which triggers a comment from April, a mouth-icon which orders April to speak to another character or to eat/use her mouth with something and the hand-icon to collect or manipulate objects. Sometimes only one option is available. Then the cursor appears in the shape of an eye to look at a hotspot or it changes to a hand when we can only take/touch something. Lastly the colour of the arrow changes to red to show us an exit from the scene. And if we still can’t find it we may press the X-key to see all possible exits marked on-screen at once.

A chest in the top left corner of the screen depicts the inventory. By left-clicking we select one of our findings and drag it over a hotspot/another item. If it’s the right one, our item will start glowing and can be applied with another left-click. If it’s wrong the developers have integrated the use of the A- and S-keys to help us scroll easily through all our inventory items for trial & error.

Last but not least I was particularly glad that a double-click makes April run while exploring the port area because even the most beautiful background can get boring when you have to wait too long for your alter ego to trot from one side of the screen to the opposite and sometimes not just once or twice.

 

Summary

The sad fact that I didn’t get around to playing each and every adventure on earth and therefore cannot tell whether there is another jewel like this is the only reason for me not to award the full 100%. Those who know me might ascribe my (next to) unbridled enthusiasm for ‘The Longest Journey’ to my professional relation to Norway (although the game doesn’t have anything to do with this beautiful country apart from some more or less obvious allusions and the fact that it has been developed by Norwegians). The truth is that this wonderful adventure crossed my path at a time when what I needed badly was diversion and TLJ managed to put me under its spell and let me forget everything around me like few others did ever since.

Therefore I recommend this game to everyone from novice to pro who likes adventures with everything these games entail like an epic story, drop-dead gorgeous graphics, wonderful music and varied puzzles. You will experience +/-40 hours of fun gaming few other adventures can offer till the present day. Grab it if you haven’t done so already!

 

Rating: 97%

 

Minimum system requirements:

  • Windows 95/98 (won’t run on Windows NT and MAC)
  • Pentium 166 MMX (Pentium II 266 recommended)
  • 32 MB RAM (64 MB RAM recommended)
  • 4x CD-ROM drive (8x CD-ROM drive recommended)
  • 640 * 480 SVGA high colour (16bit) video card with 2 MB RAM (3D-accelerator (Direct3D-compatible) with 4 MB RAM recommended)
  • Windows compatible sound device
  • 300 MB free hard drive space (1 GB free hard drive space recommended)

Played on:

  • Windows XP
  • Pentium IV 2,6 GHz
  • 512 MB RAM
  • DirectX 9
  • 16x DVD-ROM SD-616 Samsung
  • ATI Radeon 9550 256 MB video card
  • Creative SoundBlaster Live! 5.1 sound card

 

Adventure-Archiv rating system:

  • 80% - 100%  excellent game, very recommendable
  • 70% - 79%    good game, recommendable
  • 60% - 69%    satisfactory, restricted recommendable
  • 50% - 59%    sufficient (not very recommendable)
  • 40% - 49%    rather deficient (not to be recommended - for hardcore-adventure-freaks and collectors only)
  • 0%  -  39%    worst (don't put your fingers on it)

 

 

Copyright © MaryScots for Adventure-Archiv, 20th July 2005

 

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Even the longest journey beginns with a main menu
Even the longest journey beginns with a main menu


In her dream April talks to a white dragon
In her dream April talks to a white dragon

Outside the 'Border House’ she meets the mysterious Cortez
Outside the 'Border House’ she meets the mysterious Cortez

April’s 'Mary-Poppins-bag’ oder rather the inventory
April’s 'Mary-Poppins-bag’ oder rather the inventory

The Moloch Newport
The Moloch Newport

April works at the Fringe Café or meets her friends
April works at the Fringe Café or meets her friends


April takes the first step on the longest journey of her life
April takes the first step on the longest journey of her life

Map of Marcuria
Map of Marcuria

The cosy 'Journeyman Inn’
The cosy 'Journeyman Inn’

No library here sports such an extravagant architecture
No library here sports such an extravagant architecture

April journeys on to the Northlands of Arcadia
April journeys on to the Northlands of Arcadia

The sorcerer seems to have a soft spot for M.C. Escher
The sorcerer seems to have a soft spot for M.C. Escher

Ahoy, Voyager!
Ahoy, Voyager!

After being shipwrecked we continue to puzzle underwater
After being shipwrecked we continue to puzzle underwater

And boy do we puzzle! This combination puzzle is tricky
And boy do we puzzle! This combination puzzle is tricky

Odd columns and a picturesque vista
Odd columns and a picturesque vista

April discovers a cave near the beach…
April discovers a cave near the beach…

…and befriends some masters of story telling
…and befriends some masters of story telling

back in her studio at the VAVA
back in her studio at the VAVA

Newport’s subway
Newport’s subway

Hope Street cathedral
Hope Street cathedral

Newport’s nightclub district - a hangout for the demimonde
Newport’s nightclub district - a hangout for the demimonde

Flipper Burns can procure everything even illegal things
Flipper Burns can procure everything even illegal things

Even the space is not too far for our heroine
Even the space is not too far for our heroine

HDoes April’s journey end here?
Does April’s journey end here?