Review: When I played The Longest Journey in 2003 I had not experienced an adventure game since the advent of 3-D rendered graphics, a little turned off by the early efforts. Since I could not find a single person who said they disliked this game, I was giddy diving in. And I remained for the most part dazzled throughout the month or so it took me to finish (a long time by today’s standards). After some time to reflect, I came to realize many of the game’s flaws. But I still love it.
You play April Ryan, an art student in the 23rd century, who is more or less drifting through life, unsure of herself. It will come to no surprise to any seasoned adventurer that some really bizarre things happen and April will get involved in the middle, eventually realizing her important place in the world after solving many a puzzle. What makes the plot compelling is that the learning curve is steady and slow, while April receives only bits of information at a time. At no time during the game does the player know more or less than April.
What holds the plot together are the characters. Near every primary character is thoroughly developed with extensive conversation topics, mannerisms, and diverse personalities. The voice acting is solid, the only problem being the use of the same actors for multiple characters. The primary humans you meet curse, talk about sex and their personal lives, and may go on forever about their own eccentricites. Sometimes they will even bore you, irritate you, or both. In other words, they act like real unenlightened people.
The puzzles cover nearly every conceivable kind, though most are inventory-based. Many are heavily contrived, but nearly as many are fun and intuitive. Regardless, I rarely became stuck for a significant amount of time.
But for a game of this magnitude that seemed to attempt being all things to all things, there are a few glaring faults. For starters, you cannot die, erasing all tension from what are supposed to be some tense moments. There is more than one scene where the music becomes frantic and eerie while April tries to escape her ominous predicament. However, with no time limit and no threat, the intense situation simply dissolves into an infantile annoyance.
Secondly, the linearity is sickeningly tight. Though I may be wrong, I cannot remember a single puzzle that can be solved in more than one way. April also cannot make her life easier or more difficult by how she interacts with people. Characters will treat you the same no matter how you treat them, and everyone will talk and talk and talk until you’ve exhausted every possible conversation topic. The Longest Journey cannot even create the facade of playing in a real-time environment.
Despite these faults, the stunning production values, combined with the fairly compelling story and characters, created a mesmerizing escape that is at the core of the adventure genre.
Contemporary Rating: Medium. A few obnoxious puzzles (hello, rubber ducky!) and some endless talking would annoy some modern gamers.
Cruelty Rating: Merciful. If there was a higher rating, this game would get it.