The thing about stories and settings, in modern-day fiction, is that there's very little room for innovation or unique ideas to craft worlds without feeling like it's something we've seen before but executed differently.
I'm the kinda of person who loves stories that are self-contained without being treated as a brand that inevitably needs to be pumped for money, or more sequels, faster than an OD'ing alcoholic solely for the sake of the former, and not so much for doing something new with the subject matter.
The thing is; A good sequel uses the original as a jump-point to take features, mechanics, things that worked the first time around into new and interesting directions -- whereas a bad sequel merely wallows in the original like a pig in a pond of its own feces.
Dreamfall/The Longest Journey, as a brand, with its setting, with its story, and as a sequel to Dreamfall, is dynamic, unique and breathtaking.
It's been a long in the making but the continuation of Zoe Castillo and Kian's stories of 2006's DreamfalL: The Longest Journey is finally here, regrettably in episodic format but what can you do, right? 8 years has it been since we left off from where Dreamfall ended, which ironically ended in the precise kind of manner I remotely despise about games, as I mentioned a few paragraphs above. Calling it a cliffhanger would be an understatement but it's been so long now that any feelings that have might been on the questionable ending has long passed and replaced with a sense of "Reconcilliation" or "Rebirth" as the first chapter of the overall experience is titled (or Book One if you will).
Chapters make no comprises here. It starts off directly from where the first Dreamfall left off, giving that eerie sensation that it litterally hasn't been 8 years, but both the player and Zoe seems to think so at least, judging from her elaborate inner monlogueging at least. Before we are treated to Zoe, we are presented with a summarization of what has happened, and the world itself -- In Dreamfall there exist two worlds, Arcadia (the world of magic and dreams) & Stark, our world in a distatnt futuristic-dystopian-cyberpunk-inspired-23rd-century-state. This is what seperates the franchise from truly being labeled sci-fi. fantasy, or just generally be restricted by any genre, which gives a lot of free-roam for telling a fantastical story with exostic characters.
As soon as that is out of the way we are shortly introduced to a scene that showcases the sounds of a birth taking place, a scene that will make sense if one considers the scene that came right before it, which I'll avoid elaborating on due to its spoilery content, for those who've played the previous games but not this one yet -- Let's just say that it all alludes to the title of "Rebirth" as a soothing female narration will point out.
It's interesting to note that during the story, there are words that seem to reccur again and again, like reconciliation & remembering, mostly in regards to Zoë's current condition, but consider these words and one will find they mean the same. It goes back to namely; Rebirth, the state of starting anew and building upon the old to create something new.
Book One is the story of Rebirth for both Zoe Castillo and co-protagonist Kian Alvane (now voiced by Nicholas Boulton, known for voicing Hawke in DA2), and as all these introductory scenes come together we find ourselves in the company of our heroine, Zoe Castillo -- She's still in a coma and even worse, she's stuck in a limbo called Storytime, where all stories goes to die, as does hers. Having somewhat come to terms with her dire situation, Zoe has garnered a purpose in this netherrealm between worlds, as she's gained powers to manipulate the fabrics of Dreams and thus she utilizes them to guide dreamers who's lost their way, and help them find their way back to reality.
Meanwhile, in the world of Arcadia, Kian has found himself facing execution after being convicted as a traitor to his people for things he did not commit in the last game. Memory doesn't serve me too well in regards to Dreamfall with everything, but Nicholas Boulton's voice acting adds that needed sense of despair to a broken man, who's been betrayed and lost so much. It's actually a quite welcoming take on the character with the new voice, but he's not alone, as Zoe's voice is also quite different.
Kian, however, soon find himself being rescued by an enigmatic stranger with an eyepatch, who also briefly appeared in the beginning intro cutscene -- He reassures that Kian's story won't end here as he's somehow REALLY important to a revolution that is going on in his homeland and he's the key to turn the tide. It's safe to say that while it is seemingly uncertain how this relates to Zoë's adventure yet, it mostly likely will intertwine with hers in future episodes.
Back to Zoe, after having helped a few, poor, lost souls escape their nightmares, she soon find herself being embolded to return to her world, by a mysterious being returning from the last game, called The Vagabond. He reassures Zoë that her story has not yet ended and by returning to the real world she'll have a fighting chance against whatever it is that threatens dreams and everything we hold dear.
This is where the meat of Book One begins -- Chapters is largely reflected upon the dialogue choices you makes, specifically one 'major' choice that will change the kind of person Zoe might become as she wakes up again. This is a choice you make prior to this.
Moving on from the premise and into the functions of the dialogue that I've been mentioning just now; The occasional dialogue decisions you make are rather well seggregated, and they are written as such not to cater to any pretentious moral compass. It's more or less as dredged in various idealogious, reflections of states of mind, that all seemingly makes sense in regards to either Zoe or Kian's characterization. No choice feel preposterous or even out of character which adds complexity and thus a more fulfilling and engaging experience. It's something I feel developers like BioWare, Sucker Punch, 2k or other developers who've dabbled in awful moral choice system mechanics, never seem to capture quite well.
Both Zoë and Kian each have a short inner monologue for every choice you can pick, to truly draw the player into the character's mindset and be able to pick which response seems most appropriate, considering each circumstance.
It feels more or less like a neat marriage between the dialogue systems of a few noteworth RPGs like Deus Ex or Witcher, where the moral ambiguity of the Witcher and the easy-to-monitor paraphrasing of Deus Ex's systems come great together. It's gratifying to see that the quality of The Longest Journey franchise's writing is still there, and it shines just as bright with the new addition of a dialogue system for the first time ever in the franchise.
The writing being solid as it is only helps complimenting the ongoing process of bringing life to the world of Stark, as you're in the position to roam around the city of Propast -- A cyberpunk, dystopic, metropolitan, totalitarian soceity, where the affluence of Cyberpunk & George Orwell really kicks in -- Corruption, conspiracies, surveillance everywhere, guard operatives enforcing their authority, junkies, the scum of the underworld, political intrigue etc. It's all of the things I really love from dystopic/cyberpunk/noir narratives mixed into one delicious cocktail.
I'm running short of characters, so I'll sum up some thoughts here -- Chapters is what I'd consider a successful kickstarter that delivers, and only truly fails with it being an episodic game, puzzles being a bit simple and choices more or less feeling like a retread of the pretentiousness of Telltale that amounts to nothing. Each dialogue option however feels intuitive, the world feels alive, the characters are great, writing solid...