The Longest Journey is proof that with enough inspiration, games can become an art form.
But in the evolution of gaming some games have transcended that barrier, games that go beyond just being a toy, games that bring characters and worlds to life, games that serve as a medium for a person to share ideas, tell stories, express their emotions. Games that become art. And while any great game, regardless of genre, can (and should) aspire to becoming a work of art, not all do. The Longest Journey is a work of art. This game is the pinnacle of adventure gaming, a game that served as the canvas for designer Ragnar Tornquist to express his vision and create the most memorable gameworld (or worlds in this case) ever created, filled with incredible characters and littered with detail, and tell the greatest story ever told in a game. The story of April Ryan and the ancient Balance.
Before giving a brief summary of the story I'd like to say that this is a game where you want to discover everything by yourself, so if you decide to embark on the journey, make sure no one spoils it for you. The game takes place in the year 2209 and you play as April Ryan, a young woman who was just moved to the fictional city of Newport, Venice. April escaped from her turbulent family, and is an aspiring painter. However she's lacking direction, both in her career and life. Her friends are there to help her, but that's not enough. April still feels lost. And on top of everything, she's being tormented by a series of bizarre dreams that feel too real.
Eventually she meets a person who tries to explain the meaning of those dreams and convince April that she has a very important task ahead of herself. April is reluctant to believe or cooperate at first, but she soon discovers that there's indeed a lot she doesn't know about herself. She discovers that the world is divided in parallel worlds, Stark and Arcadia, the world of science and the world of magic. She also learns about the ancient balance between the worlds, the balance that maintains order and prevents chaos. But this balance is threatened by people who wish to reunite the worlds, regardless of the chaos this would bring. It's April's mission to help restore the balance between the worlds and find out the truth about herself. To do this, she embarks in the longest journey of her life, one that's filled with discovery, danger, humor, sadness, and virtually every emotion that there is.
The Longest Journey is a traditional point and click adventure game, where the gameplay will consist mostly of solving puzzles, be it by interacting with the environments or the items in your inventory. Most of the puzzles in the game are fairly logical, and can be solved through some careful exploration and interaction with the gameworld. But there are a few puzzles that have little logic behind them (be wary of the rubber ducky), and they can become potentially frustrating as you fail at trying to solve them. A word of advice, experiment with every item in your inventory, even when it makes no sense, and you may find the solution to the puzzle. And if all fails, there's no shame in using a walkthrough (I had to resort to one on a few occasions).
You will also be presented with decisions to make as you are listening to the dialogue, or better said interactive dialogue. And while there's usually no wrong decision to be taken, the ability to alter the dialogue or in some cases change a cutscene, is one that allows you to fully immerse in the experience and relate more directly with the characters.
Despite being an 8 year old game, TLJ holds it's own in the visual department, thanks to it's incredible art direction. The fact that the game is capped at the low resolution of 640 * 480 matters little, as both Stark and Arcadia are vibrant locations, filled with an astonishing amount of detail. The backgrounds are 2D, while the characters are 3D rendered, and while there's the occasional visual weirdness, it all blends in perfectly. The game's interface is also very intuitive as it makes it easy for you to identify interactive objects as well as find out what you're supposed to do next.
But above all else, it's the voice acting that brings TLJ to life. Every character is masterfully voiced (and considering the amount of characters in the game, that's no small feat). They all convey their emotions in the way you'd expect a real person to do, and it's impossible to find a flaw in their performances. Considering the amount of dialogue in the game, poor voice acting would've killed the experience, but thankfully, that's far from the case. It also doesn't hurt that the music of the game is beautiful and fits the gameworld perfectly. Every piece composed for the soundtrack is amazing, from the music playing at the Fringe Cafe, to the ominous music announcing the arrival of the Tyren army, to the folksy tunes playing in the forest, it all enhances the amazing journey.
There's so much to say about The Longest Journey that I could go on rambling forever, but the best way to find out about the greatness of TLJ is by playing it yourself. Provided you're a patient gamer who actually cares about the story in a game (and is willing to explore the gameworld to the fullest as well as sit through long sections of dialogue), there's simply no way you won't enjoy this game. The Longest Journey is the pinnacle of story telling in gaming, and a perfect example of how games can become art. Don't hesitate to take a part of this journey, for it's a journey you'll remember for the rest of your life.