The Longest Journey  A Different Kind of Computer Game
Reviewed by Barbara Manning
Quite possibly The Longest Journey was in getting the game installed, but that's a whole 'nother story. This one's about the game itself and playing the game.
I'm not a big computer game person. I haven't played many -- just enough to know that the "crash 'em, smash 'em, beat 'em up or kill 'em" type of games are not my cup of tea. I tried Age of Empires II and found that I liked it a whole lot better if I could make allies of the computer enemy, but even that was hard given the propensity to attack.
I started out with Sim City and graduated to Sim City 3000, which still holds my attention. I moved on to Tomb Raider 3 and Tomb Raider 4 and enjoyed them, but got thoroughly pissed off when Lara (presumably) died at the very end of TR4. What a dreadful way to leave a game. I picked up The Longest Journey because a computer game site had it as it's recommendation, and it sounded pretty good. Of course, I also sought advice in the TPC games newsgroup, where the reviews were also favorable. But don't go to the thread now unless you want to whine along with me on the never ending saga of computer failure.
The next time I had a chance I bought it, and installed it. And uninstalled it and reinstalled it for quite a while before my computer was able to be repaired so that it would stay installed and play. With 4 disks and about a 30 minute install time, this was no small matter. However, that's all water under the bridge now.
The game opens with a longish scene of "grandma" telling two young adults a story as they sit in front of the fireplace. Very 17th century. Well, as the gamer you sit and listen to that until if fades out to another long sequence that makes no sense at all to the first time player. Then, our Heroine, April Ryan, makes her first appearance, but as she appears to herself in her dream. She certainly does not look 17th Century and she certainly doesn't speak that way either.
Standing on a precipice, looking out at a deep chasm and some seriously lethal looking landscape, she begins to talk to herself about this dream she's in. She's not a happy camper about it, that's for sure. Your control over April is with the mouse and keyboard, and given that she's standing on the edge of a cliff, there is only one way she can walk, so that's what you do.
The scenery scrolls out. The graphics are quite detailed and nicely rendered. April has few choices to make but the choices at this point are relatively easy. One of the game options that I liked was that you could turn on subtitles, which allowed the dialog to display as you were playing. I liked this because I could read faster than the characters spoke and I could "escape" to the next line of dialog. Parents of children learning English will like it because the kids can read along with while the character speaks the lines. Proceed with caution though. There is one unsavory character who uses the "F word" a lot in one sequence.
The pointer changes shape when you position it over a point on the screen where you can "do" something with an object or a character. I found that in some scenes you had to let the pointer 'rest' on an object though, before it would change. It took me a long and frustrating time to figure out how to get the clamp off the machine in the one of the early chapters because of this little snafu.
The story line goes something like this. There are two worlds, one of science and one of magic that are held in balance by well, by a whole bunch of stuff really but the key is this one Guardian who, for reasons that are not named, decides to go for a walkabout before his thousand years of Guardianship is over. Who knows? I'd certainly get bored after say, 999 years myself, so perhaps he did as well.
April, as it turns out is a Shifter - one who can move with ease between the two worlds and those in favor of maintaining The Balance between them need her help to sort things out and return the Guardian or find a new one, whichever comes first. Those In Favor Of The Balance (Tifotb) of course are not in favor of telling April the whole truth right away, because she may then make an informed choice, which to them would be the wrong choice, and end the game right there. "Say, April! What are you doing for the next thousand years?" So they entice her into it with promises of greatness and sympathy for the real- life feeling of her dreams.
April lives in Stark (the Science world) in a neighborhood called Newport Beach. She's a art student attending college there, although being a college art student is not germane to the story. You can view some screen shots of Stark here: http://www.longestjourney.com/stark/menu.html It's too bad that the story tellers didn't use her art to develop the character, because once she gets over to the Magic world - Arcadia - it would have been nice to see her use that talent in some magical way. Instead she gets the coin of the realm the old fashioned way - she earns it as a bar maid. Yawn! http://www.longestjourney.com/arcadia/menu.html
As you play there are objects that you can pick up carry with you. Some of the objects are useful, others are not, but it's advisable to pick up everything you can. In addition, you can take a closer look at some of the items, and break them apart, which you will probably need to do to complete all the tasks in the game. I found that some of the logic puzzles were lacking a hefty chunk of logic. Or for those of you who know me better, you can claim with confidence that it's me that lacks the logic. I was happy to find the hints http://www.longestjourney.com/hints/english/index.html in six languages no less, and when desperate measures were called for, the walkthrough http://www.gameboomers.com/wtcheats/pcLl/w01.html
Perhaps it's ethics that is lacking. In one sequence (skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to know the clue) April has to drag a piece of candy through the liquid dregs that have leaked out of a garbage can and then offer the resulting goo to the cop in front of the movie theater to make him run away before she can complete the next sequence. True to cops everywhere, he gratefully accepts it and eats it, gets sick (what a surprise) and runs away. There does seem to be an underlying current of disregard for the law in this game come to think of it. That's not the only time April has to mess up a cop to get what she needs.
Arcadia is where April spends a lot of her time and except for one very, very long and very, very boring History Of Arcadia lesson, where I used the escape button more than I care to admit, Arcadia is a pretty cool place to be. Talking birds, and smart-mouthed Map sellers, Shifty eyed gamblers and stony faced sailors, the requisite wizard other talking beings all play a part in this tongue in cheek romp through the worlds attempting to find all the pieces and parts so necessary to saving the worlds.
The longer I stuck with it, the easier it became to understand the controls and the play logic and the more interesting it became. Unlike Lara Croft, April doesn't die so you don't have to be worried about constantly saving the game or worried about trying something. April won't do things that are too dangerous or too stupid, and she'll tell you that - as only a 23rd century young woman can. There are no ghoulies - ok, there is one ghoulies - and I had a hilarious time attempting to stay out of his clutches while simultaneously pushing buttons and throwing levers in the Hall of the Bad Guys. At one point Mr. Ghoul and April appeared to be waltzing or maybe it was a jitterbug they were doing, but there she was, pressing her body up hard against him while he tried to walk through her. I should saved the game at that point, it was too funny.
And in the end, she does what every good heroine does and that's save the world, ah worlds. But there is an interesting twist to it that allows the play right up to the end to remain entertaining. And at the end of it all, you get to join the fun had while recording it all in the Book of Secrets - unavailable until the game is played through, you get to listen to the sound outtakes - flubbed lines, crashing equipment, sneezes and yawns and some stuff that is pretty amusing in itself.
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