The Longest Journey Reader Review
Does a game that is now six years-old even warrant a review? Is it still relevant to an industry full of insatiable graphic powerhouses and plots that continue to develop in depth and sophistication? In an environment that generally considers the adventure genre a dead art; something to be remembered with nostalgia but rarely a source of future hope? On every account a hearty No, because the situation was exactly the same in 2000 as it is today and The Longest Journey single-handedly steamrolled the naysayers into acceptance and reminded the loyal fans why they'll never lose faith. The capacity for good stories will never falter or wane, and the adventure game still remains one of the few genres capable of expressing these good stories with such effect.
And herein lies the reason for this review: to remind you of a game you may have played a few years ago, that's remembered fondly but you've yet to try again as a now-vintage, a piece of art to ponder the subtleties of and admire its accomplishment as a feat of storytelling. Or conversely, to convince those who have never played it to get on Amazon, FunCom's website or wherever and Buy This Game. Regardless of your tastes, and assuming you actually like games that have robust characters with wit, intelligence and endless amounts of pathos and a storyline that could stand up to literary criticism, this game could easily be a landmark in your gaming memory. Standing up there beside Final Fantasy VII and ICO; not as something to recommend as a simple game, but an experience, a journey that will engross you like your favourite book or film.
The Longest Journey tells the story of April Ryan, an 18-year-old art school student in the futuristic city of Venice. She views going away to college as a clean break from her difficult past; to serve as a means to grow independently from her parents and form a new life. She succeeds at this with a solid group of friends and a school course that nurtures her artistic talents, but then strange things begin to happen. Visions and vivid dreams signify that the barrier between two worlds, that of Stark (the world of science and logic) and of Arcadia (the world of magic), is crumbling in the absence of the Guardian, keeper of the Balance. April, life-time inhabitant of Stark (or simply Earth as she knows it), learns that she is a Shifter, one of the rare few that can travel between the two worlds at will. With this she learns that she must restore the Balance between worlds and prevent them from reunifying, thus avoiding the chaos that would follow.
April, as a protagonist, stands as a shinning example to how women should be represented in not just computer games, but literally any kind of entertainment medium. The frustrating comparisons to Lara Croft don't do her intelligence and realism justice. She isn't some big-titted, gun-totting acrobat that supposedly represents empowerment; she's placed (perhaps ironically) firmly in the real world. Her believable figure and appearance, her appropriate reactions to everything that happens to her - this all contributes to a strong-willed, intelligent character who admits to her vulnerability and powerlessness when over-whelming odds spiral things out of her control. Even her journal (that updates after every main event, predominantly to remind the player of important story info and occasionally give hints) serves as further insight into her already brilliantly expressed opinion, only the more honest thoughts of her mind, and acts as a story within itself. And this is your avatar to the story, the character that shares the experience with you, and rarely has there been one so comprehensively believable in a game.
Graphically, TLJ still stands up well with today's standards, mainly due to the beautifully pre-rendered backgrounds that are so well designed and realised they barely show age at all. One noticeably jarring feature of the visuals is the bizarrely awkward animations of the character models. Often they cumbersomely interact with the environments and rarely show much naturalism in their movement. This isn't a massive problem in the grand scheme of things, but it does detract from the overall presentation of the game, which is otherwise quite fantastic and imaginative.
These high standards translate to the audio aspects of the game as well. The music is professional, sometimes inspired with a broad range of styles and approaches that remain appropriate throughout. The voice acting is simply fantastic. I can't think of a more imperative area where the developers had to get it right to realise the ethos of the game, and they did. With honours. April can sound whiny at times but this never feels like anything less than a professional decision on the VA's part to reflect a certain character, rather than her failings as an actor.
The challenge of gameplay the game poses isn't especially high, but by no means effortlessly easy, either. By adventure game standards the puzzles are actually quite logical and only rely on a bit of abstracted lateral thinking to solve, only troubled by the foreign strangeness of the objects you deal with. While the lack of difficulty might bother the hardcore it serves to provide a much-welcomed degree of accessibility to those who aren't familiar with the genre's conventions and eccentricities. TLJ also stands up in its claim of having a 50 hour length, assuming you speak to everyone about everything. You'd be silly not to, as every line is well-written and of some value.
The faults of TLJ are relatively minor, but still enough to keep it from scoring a perfect ten. The aforementioned graphical problems are too apparent to ignore and there are a number of places where the story is annoyingly underdeveloped. Towards the end of the game many threads begin to feel too abruptly concluded, perhaps even rushed; characters you're interested in and care about are neglected as the main thrust of the plot unravels itself. And realistically, with a game having so many facets as this one, it is to be expected. The knowledge of a sequel may subdue any frustration in relation to this problem, but it can't honestly be used as an excuse.
This was a painfully bias review, undisputedly. No one can effectively review something they have so much fondness for without bias. But trust me when I objectively state that The Longest Journey has what it takes to be one of your favourites, to be a benchmark in your gaming mind. And unlike many adventure games, it doesn't make you suffer to see what makes it such an inspired, brilliant, worthy-of-endless-hyperbole masterpiece.
9 / 10