I breathed in the air whipping around the city, shadows lying across it from the auburn sun. But wait – this wasn’t Newport. Where was I? And who was I?
Thus began something that I had been hoping and wishing for over the past several years, but also dreading. Those who read about my prior journey into the land of Arcadia will recall how much I truly appreciated The Longest Journey. So much so, in fact, that I tried as best I could to live as April Ryan, the female protagonist, did. I ate when she ate, slept when she slept and on and on.
Obsessive? Well, duh. But through my protracted exposure, I was enriched by the experience. Ever tried to watch all three extended editions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy? That’s the filmic equivalent.
It was with this mindset that I began to play Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, the sequel to my favorite game of all time.
I decided right off the bat that I deserved to clear my schedule and play this as I had the first one. Now, of course, would be different: I would play as three distinct characters rather than one. Their lives and fates would be intertwined with my own as I traveled to the twin worlds that were both familiar yet strange.
When I first installed it and executed the program, my pulse quickened just a little bit. The music rose, the screen faded in from darkness and my journey continued …
What is it about sequels? Hell, what is it about continuing sagas? Sometimes they come to a satisfying conclusion, while other times … well, we won’t talk about them. More than what they are, however, is what they say about us.
I spent a total of six years exploring Stephen King’s seven-book The Dark Tower series. I breezed through the first four while waiting patiently for King to finish the remaining three. He started the series back in 1982 with The Gunslinger, addicting the first of several generations to the heptalogy.
When the final three were released, one by one, I ate them up. On the last book, though, I took my time; edging patiently through page after page, not wanting it to end. As it turns out, I was right to do that.
The Dark Tower had one of the most unsatisfying conclusions I have ever read, nearly leaving me with whiplash by the way it stopped me dead in my tracks. How could King have done that to me? How could I have spent all those years with those characters and be left with that?
People can get so wrapped up in characters that they want to know what happens next, even if it’s an answer they won’t like. Even though I felt the first game was perfect, I had the urge – the need – to discover more.
But why? Several reasons, I think. First and foremost, we feel that we’ve been entertained by the stories and characters before, so why not again? Second, and most importantly, we have this strange fascination with wanting to know what those characters are doing after something is over. The truth that they are just figments of an overactive imagination has no bearing on us, because we know that – somehow, somewhere – they’re real, if only to us. Finally, are they also not connected with our own destinies in a way?
After all, if those characters can so easily be gone with the turn of a page or the closing of a program, what’s stopping us from being just as insignificant?
We use these continuing stories as guidelines for our own lives: If there’s always another X-Men film being released, we are always going to be there to watch it. Or read it. Or play it.
When the outcome fails to live up to our expectations, we are left with a mild depression. We spent a portion, sometimes a significant portion, of our lives devoted to a universe that was created for us to explore and revel in. If that vision, that purpose, is shattered, with what are we left?
Philosophical rhetoric aside, what happened to me? Did I find that the second in the planned three-part saga all that I wanted it to be?
No. It’s not for lack of trying, though.
Ragnar Tornquist, the creator and writer of The Longest Journey, has crafted a beautiful and fascinating world, populated by a multitude of races, creeds and peoples. The story is obviously a labor of love, and he deserves credit for all that he did with it.
That said, I ran into a few problems. First off, the controls were clunky. After Half-Life 2 spoiled me, the facial expressions here seemed lacking, although the voice work was some of the best I’ve ever heard in a game, including the original. The music itself was a step up, actually, and the new composer, Kelly Bailey, deserves applause for that. But most importantly, the story, while interesting, didn’t live up to the epic nature of the first.
For me, Dreamfall was supposed to continue my investment in the characters and stories from the first game. I was really rooting for Tornquist to pull another rabbit out of his hat and wow me with something that would stay with me as long as his prior brilliance. What Dreamfall did, instead, was create a new and interesting setup for a conclusion, but without the same power and strength as similar Tolkien midpoints. The quintessence of this game was supposed to be cleansing and renewing, giving me a breath of fresh air that I hadn’t felt in a long time. Unfortunately, it fell far short.
In The Longest Journey, April Ryan was transformed from a confused, whiny girl into a warrior for The Balance, dealing with her difficult past and finding her way into a fantastic world. In Dreamfall, everything felt less important, less necessary, and the characters were not nearly as transformed. Not to mention that April seems like a dour goth chick this time around, which made me somewhat dislike her. April! I mean, how did that even happen?
In the end, I suppose I was hoping for too much, and expectations are what sink sequels. But maybe we all expect too much, especially when we want to relive the experience that we loved so much. It’s the reason that Kubrick never made a sequel and why J.D. Salinger became a hermit and disappeared into a farmhouse.
So, remember my words the next time you’re hoping for a sequel: The original was much better.
Tom Rhodes is a writer and filmmaker currently living in Ohio. He can be reached through Tom [dot] Rhod [at] Gmail [dot] com.