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Graphics: Two things that will almost immediately strike you about The Longest Journey are the absolutely gorgeous cutscenes and the sumptuously rendered backgrounds. Both are truly a wonder to behold, and represent some of the finest examples of visual excellence that can be seen on the market today. Even at the sole resolution of 640×480, their beauty shines through at all times, taking you aback with wonder and awe with practically every new location or screen. It is thanks to this sheer quality that the game so accurately conveys the proper tone and feel at all times, lending a sense of rustic earthiness during an inn-based Festival of the Balance, and a feel of demented genius while exploring a mad alchemist’s lair.
Though the ambient graphics far surpass most any seen within available adventure titles, the in-game characters range from decent to sub-standard. April is well-portrayed and nicely animated, and her lips are even somewhat synchronized with her speech. This is an ability shared by a few other personalities who are close enough to the camera to warrant it, as is the endearing animation associated with each individual’s speech. Unfortunately, an element shared by all is the horrendous lack of anti-aliasing. Characters’ edges are incredibly jagged, which is in no way helped by the fact that they fluctuate with the various animations. Given, the movements and backgrounds are so gorgeous that this fault is occasionally forgettable, just as the wonderful real-time lighting can often distract you from April’s dynamically jagged form. Once in a while, though, you’ll attempt to pay attention to the characters themselves, and will be struck by the unfortunate visual results. However, GeForce owners don’t have to worry about this particular problem as the recently released driver will apparently offset this issue.
Interface: The in-game interface is really rather simple, with few details about it at all. The cursor changes whenever it’s dragged over something with which you can interact, with a few simple-to-use command icons, including Look, Grab, or Talk, appearing when appropriate. Items are very frequently required to be used with one another as well as with the environment, and so fruitless experimentation has been cut by allowing your selected item to flash whenever it is dragged over anything that it can react with. Speech has equally been simplified, as you have the option to bring up subtitles if you’re having trouble hearing the conversations. Along with the ability to lower your music, speech, and sound effects within the game, the interface is a pretty straightforward affair.
Gameplay: There is more story and character in any one of The Longest Journey‘s four CDs than any ten “regular” adventure games combined. Rather than simply laying out a series of puzzles for the player to solve, thus rolling the story forward, the puzzles are effectively and very naturally integrated into the plot, without being superficial. While some titles make a puzzle feel like one, the problems that April faces often seem so natural that you’ll forget what it really is, whether it’s something simple like trying to sneak into a theater, or something outlandish like trying to flee your carnivorous captor.
As The Longest Journey does not punish you for anything, neither killing your character nor forcing you to retrace an hour’s progress to retrieve an item, you’ll likely experience some of the most interesting and humorous conversations that you’ve ever seen. For instance, while trying to challenge an evil alchemist to a contest to keep from being turned to stone, you can propose some truly silly options. These include challenging him to recite a monologue from Macbeth, to competing in a spelling bee, to a cooking contest, or even to a game of tic-tac-toe or hopscotch. Watching the cannibalistic, malicious and simply insane old alchemist gaily hopping about from square to square in an attempt to beat April at hopscotch is simply one of the most hilarious adventure gaming moments, ever. Such incidents constantly occur within The Longest Journey, lending the impression that not only can anything happen, it most probably will.
While character development within the genre is usually largely ignored, April Ryan undergoes some significant and surprising personal changes by the title’s end. It would of course be difficult to care about this had she been portrayed as a ditzy, generic or otherwise bland or stereotypical adventure character. Fortunately, she is one of the most honest and realistically responsive characters that you’ll ever see, as she starts off as a naive, frightened and confused teenager who gradually learns to come to grips with her situation. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the norm, with her normalcy ironically making her one of the most memorable characters in recent memory.
The plot itself is so well-told, intelligently scripted and expertly crafted that you’ll often lose yourself within its many nuances and character details. Even grizzled, cynical gamers who have come to know what to expect from an adventure offering will find themselves surprised time and time again by the twists and turns that face April as she makes her way across lands both familiar and fantastical. It is a tale of countless dimensions, of inferences and silent homage, of wit and intelligence that can and should be appreciated by all.
Sound FX: After listening to the characters talk to one another, it’s awfully hard to believe that it was originally written in Norwegian. While even the highest-budgeted english efforts are often afflicted with below-average vocal stylings, the voice acting is absolutely stellar throughout The Longest Journey, instantly maximizing the believability factor of each and every character. April genuinely sounds like an eighteen-year-old on the cusp of emotional and personal maturity, and excellently conveys her various feelings at all points without ever being annoying. Each personality’s voice actor has obviously been meticulously chosen as each fits their digital counterpart like a glove. If April is the appropriate vocal embodiment of naive, frightened youth, then Vestrum Tobias’ deep and ponderous voice is wise religiosity personified, as Cortez plays the perfectly mysterious foreigner, and so on. Even the genre’s conventions are adhered to and acknowledged, as even April notes that all evil wizards, “…sound like Richard the Third on crack.”
Even the barest of sound effects is an excellent expression of reality, which is only helped along by the positional audio. In other words, a simple walk through a forested area will go something like this: as you hear the twigs and dirt softly crunching beneath April’s feet, you can actually close your eyes and hear as she makes her way from one side of the screen to the other, forest creatures chirping, baying and ribbiting in the background. It is all extremely well-done and only serves to enhance the already impressive immersion.
Musical Score: Regardless of the situation, the music never fails to suit the tone and setting of the moment. If you’re faced with a simple stroll through the city, then it’s a low beat of local tradition that will sound through your speakers. If you’ve accomplished a particularly important feat, the music will swell with resounding power to emphasize your victory. It’s almost completely orchestral, and is so excellently done that you’ll often find yourself sitting back to enjoy the audio experience.
Intelligence & Difficulty: The puzzles to be found within The Longest Journey aren’t particularly difficult, but aren’t exactly pushovers either. Whatever pixel-hunting is required isn’t so tough that you won’t be wasting all your time running your cursor back and forth over your screen, provided you use common sense and think clearly about what you need, and where you’d look to find it. Puzzles, generally speaking, are a fairly logical affair, with most presenting rather intuitive answers if you give it some thought. While some of these problems are a little too easily solved, many of the simple ones have been relegated to the first two discs, and gradually increase in difficulty. By the time you’ve reached the end of game, you’ll have seen some rather tough mind-benders. To deal with these particular ones, however, the diary, conversation log and video playback are invaluable, each allowing you to witness written or visual clues which might help you to progress to the next area or solve the next puzzle. Veteran adventurers might feel as though such aid is unnecessary, but most will probably pull a surprising amount of use from them.
Overall: Once in a while, you’ll come across a title so beautifully rendered, well-executed and fun to play that the memory of it will stick with you for years to come. These are the System Shocks, the Half-Lifes and the Myths of the world…and now, The Longest Journey can be added to the list. It is utterly rife with quality in all areas, as the graphics, sound, music and gameplay all mesh in near-perfect unison to create one of the single most immersive and addictive adventure offerings, ever. It manages to be serious yet playful at all times, capturing your rapt attention as a gamer while calling to your joyful spirit. For these reasons and so many more, it is a terrible, terrible shame that it cannot be found on American soil, as it does not yet have a publisher, and, due to the poor adventure gaming market and this title’s inherent adult appeal, probably never will. As such, The Longest Journey can only be bought at the UK-based Empire Interactive (and now at retail stores across the US), which any self-respecting adventure player should take full advantage of. As cliché as this statement may be, The Longest Journey unquestionably transcends its digital medium to become not merely a game, but an experience.
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