The Longest Journey

1999 Funcom
Designed by Ragnar Tørnquist, Didrik Tollefsen
Reviewed 2001 March 6

Rating +5 Linearity narrow, segmented
Reasonability reasonable Connectivity moderate
Difficulty challenging Relevance strong
Interface 3rd paned simple Real-time minor

April Ryan is a would-be painter in a prestigious arts college in the big city, fleeing a miserable home life back in the small town. She isn't quite the anonymous nobody she thought she was. Her bizarre dreams of a magical fantasy world start intruding on her mundane reality. A crisis threatens both worlds, and it's up to April to save them.

The short summary sounds generic, but the beauty of The Longest Journey lies in the details, in the depth of the story. The story starts out very slowly, fleshing out April and her friends. Eventually, the rolling snowflakes turn into an avalanche, with April in the thick of world-hopping action. There is a rich mythology underlying the two worlds, presented in a fashion that suggests even greater depths than those shown. This is an epic fantasy on par with the best fantasy literature.

There are dozens of characters, each a natural part of several well defined social environments. Some are humourous, some are helpful, but they all feel like they belong wherever you find them -- they are not gratuitous obstacles or clue-providers. Similarly, the challenges are natural parts of your adventure, not gratuitous time-fillers.

The challenges are the typical inventory based problem solving, with lots of character interaction to provide clues and direction. Most of them are fairly easy, but a few are difficult. Most are also reasonable, a few are a bit bizarre, but nothing to get upset about. Easy or hard, they tend to be fun and relevant to the plot, not just make-work. The challenges are enough to make you take good notice of the world, to see its detail, to force you to immerse yourself into the mythology.

The game is presented with 3D manikins over a drawn background. The backgrounds are richly detailed, as beautiful as anything ever done in an adventure game. The characters are well done, too. Their movements are restrained, giving them a more human appearance, eschewing the usual exaggerated body movements that make such manikins appear unnatural. The voice acting and music are also top notch.

There's a coherence to The Longest Journey that sets it apart from other adventure games. The locales fit their worlds, and the characters make sense within their locales. Everything, including the challenges, works to further the story. There's no feeling of rushing from challenge to challenge, and, conversely, no feeling of the story grinding to a halt while you overcome some obstacle. In the end, though, what stands out is an epic mythology and a fascinating tale.

Beware! Here are some spoiler-ridden notes on the game. They're only recommended for people who have played the game and want to see some of my rationale for my evaluations.
David Tanguay's Game Reviews
Here's a description of all the gobbledygook in these reviews. It's also a bit of an essay on the nature of adventure games.