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Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Dreamfall Chapters - Book Five - Redux

Oh, hey, it's another review of a game I've just finished Let's Playing. Here's the playlist for the entire Let's Play, and here's part one of Redux.

Dreamfall Chapters
Book 5: Redux

Well, it's finally over. The Longest Journey was first released in the UK in April of 2000, and Dreamfall in May of 2006, so this has been a franchise that spanned over sixteen years - and most of those years were just development hell. I kind of thought I'd feel a bit more of a swelling up of emotion upon its close, given how much I adored The Longest Journey and even Dreamfall, but if I'm being honest, I'm just feeling kind of neutral about it all.

This is, incidentally, almost definitely the end of the franchise as a whole. Ragnar Tornquist has said that it'd take 'a miracle' to bring it back (especially given that his kickstarter campaign for retro midquel The Longest Journey Home crashed and burned), although there is always the possibility of Funcom bringing it back without him - but it's not likely, since Funcom shifted focus to online games a while ago.

Picking up where Revelations left off, Redux sees Zoe awakening in a laboratory run by her mother, Helena Chang. Helena informs her that Zoe has been dreaming for months, but all the events she went through were entirely real, as she projected a dream-copy of herself out into the real world. She also reveals her plans: She will utilise the primordial power of dreams to reshape the world into a better one, without suffering or magic. Trapped and forced to channel the power of Eingana 2.0., Zoe dreams herself into an in-between realm where Crow guides her on a journey to discover the relation between the Prophet and the Undreaming. Meanwhile, in Arcadia, Kian, Likho, and Hami return to Marcuria and lay siege to the Tower. As Kian attempts to shut down the Engine, the Arcadian analogue to Eingana, he encounters Roper Klacks and the Prophet, partners in crime, along with their mysterious ally. But for both Zoe and Kian, there may be salvation coming from an unexpected source, as Saga, the reborn April Ryan, follows instructions laid out in a prophecy to assist them.

Saga, and some gears.

So, here's the big problem with this episode: It has a lot of exposition. A lot. Zoe or Kian are constantly having things like the Prophet's backstory, the metaphysics of the world, the truth of Zoe's history, the political situation in Azadir, the future, et cetera, explained to them, throughout the episode, almost unendingly. It makes it quite distracting, because even if you're in a tense, action-heavy scene (of which there are a few or varying levels of frustrating-ness) you're never all that far from a massive chunk of expository dialogue.

This ends up negatively impacting the ending, because there's forty minutes of ending after the main conflict is done. Forty minutes. That's more ending than the infamously ending-happy Lord of the Rings films, and it's almost entirely exposition, and after a certain point I just wanted it to end. In fact, a few times the game uses exposition to replace important, meaningful plot points - the whole 'that's not really Reza' plot thread, dangling from all the way back in Dreamfall, is resolved with a short spiel on how he's brainwashed but it's totally reversible, for example.

But the parts which aren't exposition are, actually, really well done. The opening sequence, where Zoe is in a holographic hospital room with her memories altered, is pretty chilling, with Zoe slowly realising that everything around her is fake, while Wonkers calmly tells her to go back to sleep. The final sequence, where you play a much older Saga - now called Lady Alvane and heavily implied to have been Queenie, something which the game magically managed to convey without spending six minutes explaining it to us - as she wanders around her home, is actually pretty touching.

What a lovely illusory hospital room.

Some of the emotional beats fall flat, though, and that's largely because of the story's unwillingness to follow through on them. Crow is killed, and has an incredibly touching scene of 'walking into the light' with April, along with a nice callback in the form of a remark on the 'long journey' they have waiting for them - but a few scenes later, he's mysteriously alive again, thus draining any emotional weight out of that moment. In fact, Kian dies too, only to come back to life shortly thereafter, and - look, if you're going to make a big deal about a character dying, especially when you give that character a postscript and a going-into-the-light moment with their dead best friend, as they did with Crow, you have to stick to it. You can't just go 'well, that emotional moment is out of the way, time for take-backsies.' Kian's death and return was handled a little better, but Saga hints at how he'll die again, only for it to never actually happen, which was odd.

Much of the plot also progresses exactly how expected. Brian is the Prophet, as we all predicted; Roper is the host for the Undreaming, but it used to be Brian; Mother Utana is evil, and so on, so forth. The one big plot turn is that the Undreaming is revealed to not be a bad thing at all, but just one part of the Balance, and that seems - disappointing, somehow. This is the great, eldritch force that the series has been building up to, and it's kind of a let down in the end.

Kian and the Engine.

We also have to talk about the glitches. A lot of people - including me - suffered huge problems with framerate lag, crashes, and other glitches in this episode, often bordering on game-breaking, and that's not a remotely acceptable way to release the final part of your entire franchise in.

All in all, I did enjoy Redux, and I've enjoyed Dreamfall Chapters as a whole, but I feel like there's been so much wasted potential there. It was always in a position where it could probably never quite live up to the expectation it had created for itself, because if there's one thing hugely long development cycles are good for it's for making audiences expect something groundbreaking and amazing, but it still could have done better. 

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