Dreamfall Chapters: The Final Cut (2017, original 2014), directed by Ragnar Tørnquist, written by Ragnar Tørnquist and Dag Scheve, developed by Red Thread Games, published by Deep Silver
Back in the late 1990's, in 1999 to be more precise, the Longest Journey was released, a game I consider as one of the best adventure games ever made and one of the last good games in the genre for nearly a decade. That was the period, when the game developers noticed, that point 'n' click games had lost their appeal and the future was free roaming 3D. Later in 2006, a sequel to the Longest Journey was released, this time called Dreamfall. While it did continue the tale of April Ryan, the protagonist from the first game, the focus shifted to a new character, Zoë Costillo, who found out that she was a Dreamer, a person who could dream herself from one world to an another, thus travelling between Stark and Arcadia, where as Zoë was a shifter, someone who used portals to do the same.
Dreamfall wasn't a point 'n' click game, but a 3rd person action adventure, as the developers assumed that was what the players wanted. But it wasn't and it didn't sell enough, which was frustrating, as the story ended in a cliffhanger. For years the fans wanted to know what happened, but it took 8 years before Dreamfall Chapters (2014), a crowdfunded sequel was released. And now, three years from that, a Final Cut, a definitive edition of Dreamfall Chapters has been released.
This review will have spoilers, especially towards the first two games in the series, so be warned.
Chapters begins from where Dreamfall ended: April Ryan is dead, killed by the Azadi soldiers, who raided the resistance camp, Zoë is in a coma and trapped inside story time, unable to find her way out and Kian Alvane, an Azadi Apostle turned traitor is in a jail, waiting to be executed. As April is no more, the story continues from the perspective of Zoë and Kian. The game itself is divided in, as the name suggests, chapters, which are divided between Zoë and Kian, taking place in Stark and Arcadia. The third playable character is Saga, a girl whom we see grow up from a toddler to a young adult during her interlude segments. The segments of Saga take place in a house between, an abode between the world, a shelter her parents have built to keep her safe.
From the get go Chapters teaches you that choices matter. Unlike the previous games, which were story heavy as well, Chapters borrows from Telltale games, providing story branches, which go in different directions depending on what you choose. For an example, Zoë is employed in a different place, depending on how she wakes up, which means that you'll see different people and even have some variation in the puzzles you encounter. Things you do and don't do effect on how the story flows.
Unlike Telltale games, Chapters does have a bigger emphasis on puzzles as well. Many Telltale games are merely checkpoints, where you press a button or move a cursor in order for something different to happen. Chapters manages to feel more like a genuine game in many places, despite it still is a story heavy game. And as I'm comparing it to Telltale games, it's also fair to point out, that Chapters is far longer than anything they've produced, clocking around 19-20 hours of playtime. Even more than that, depending on your puzzle solving skills. A lot of it is the story, but there's a decent chunk of a game there as well. The playtime actually correlates pretty well on how long it takes to play through the Longest Journey and it's also a bit longer game than Dreamfall was.
At first, Chapters feels a bit slow. While the writing is pretty decent, the first part with Zoë, living her life in Propast, is a slow burner. Depending on the choices you've made, she's either continuing her biological engineering pursuits or is employed by a foul-mouthed Indian techhead Mira. But the things you do here and now carry over, changing the structure of the rest of the game, so again, choices matter, be it what happens to Zoë and Kian, or who lives and who dies during the story. This all comes nicely together later in the game when the storylines start to tie up. At first it feels almost impossible to see how Chapters would conclude the story of Zoë Castillo, but in the end, it manages to do so. But the world of the Longest Journey is a huge, sprawling place and as far the story goes, even these endings leave room for more stories to be told.
Kian and Saga are, overall, contenders for more story to be told, despite even they get a conclusion of their own. But in their case the conclusion happens in the future, leaving a lot to be explored if a potential game about them is ever made. And then there's the girl who died, April Ryan. Yes, there's even a resolution of sorts for her, but in that resolution lies yet an another twist, an another path for her and what she really is.
Ragnar Tørnquist was up to a monumental task with Chapters, when he started to tie up the threads from his two previous games. The stories he spun were dense, but in many ways, Chapters is even desnser. We see more people, play in a longer span of time, dig up old threads that were left open in the previous games. Some get tied up, some still open. But thankfully the big lines are tied up, especially what comes to Zoë and her journey, as that one feels more complete than some others. While there's is no cliffhanger at the end of Chapters, at least not in the same magnitude as it was with Dreamfall, there is room for more there. A lot more. Tørnquist himself hinted, that he might do an another game, focusing again on April Ryan, as her story was left open more so than with any other characters in the story.
The last chapters does, however, despite the massive length of the game, feel a bit rushed at places. As the story is winding to its conclusion, it's evident that there was a feeling of pressure to tie up things, so there's a heavy feeling of fast forwarding. Saga especially comes out a bit like a Deus Ex Machina solution, as when she finally emerges fully grown, she also knows things the player doesn't. But then again, that's the nature of the character: someone who makes sure that the things happen like they should.
Dreamfall Chapters is, just like Dreamfall was, a 3rd person adventure game. But unlike its predecessor, it doesn't have any combat in it, but it does have some, rather poorly done, stealth sequences. The Final Cut version has removed one stealth sequence and interestingly enough, two scenes that were cut out since the original release are still left in as a bonus content. Another big addition to The Final Cut is a game map, that eases up navigation in the open areas of Propast and Mercuria. In the original version, the only maps you could use were info map spots located in the game world itself.
The puzzles range from your standard "get a right item and use it in the right place" to environmental puzzles, where you need to use things to proved you cover for an example so that people won't see you doing something you're not allowed to do. Some puzzles require you to give simple commands to characters you can interact with and in some cases, you can use Zoë's dreamer powers to affect the surroundings and the people. This latter part is sadly underused, as it is a system that offers a lot of potential that isn't fully realized. The most annoying puzzle in the game is one of Saga's though, as at one point her father orders her to clean up an after herself by clearing out 9 pictures she has left all around the house. This whole segment is an annoying little treasure hunt, where you need to explore each nook and cranny of the house while using a camera system that isn't necessarily the most suited for the task. I don't mind the puzzle that comes after that though.
Dreamfall Chapters: the Final Cut is not a perfect game, far from it. It has its own share of technical issues like at times its movement system and camera controls aren't the most responsive things in the world. And at times it has some severe pacing issues. But at the same time, it does finally provide some amount of conclusion to a story that could have been left unresolved. after Dreamfall's cliffhanger was left hanging for nearly decade, it seemed very unlikely to see any conclusion happen. But then crowdfunding happened and Chapters was made.
As I said though, it's evident that there's still more story left in the worlds of Stark and Arcadia. And if the fates are willing, perhaps we will see more of it in the future. Then again, even if we don't see more, we can be happy that there was a conclusion of a sort at least, even if it wasn't the conclusion. But that is the nature of good stories, they always leave you hungry for more.
Dreamfall Chapters: The Final Cut can be bought for PC from Steam and GOG. Unlike the original version of Chapters, The Final cut is also available for Xbox and PS4.