Dreamfall: Chapters is an episodic game adventure game by Red Thread Games. It is very story-driven with a choice-and-consequence system, and these two things are certainly it’s main selling points because they are its best features.
I enjoyed Dreamfall: Chapters mainly for the story but the game was inconsistently built which made it a bit of a pig in places. Some areas were polished whilst others were not. So if this review seems a little bit bi-polar (excuse the use of the term) it’s because that is what the game is: at times wonderful and at times terrible depending on what section you are in.
As a newcomer to the series reviewing it is tough. It seems like it somewhat relies on the player knowing things from the previous games. Admittedly that is my own fault for playing the last game in the series before it’s predecessors. It would probably be better to play The Longest Journey & and Dreamfall first to fully understand and appreciate this game as a conclusion to the series, and the cliff-hanger it resolves. (Fans of the series were waiting for years for that cliff-hanger ending to be resolved)! But as a cold-start that resolution is a bit of an odd beginning. However it does give you enough of an idea to get the gist, my point is you will not get the full, emotional pay-off unless you know the full story. There’s also some decisions you’ll need to guess because they are based on knowing what characters are like who you would have met in the previous games (and, yes, there could be consequences for ‘misjudging’ them).
The graphics are very pretty and do a great job of creating the characters and the worlds they inhabit. The lip-synching, however, is appalling! It really takes you out of it and is a shame because the voice acting is well done. You get used to it, and we used to see bad lip-synching like this all the time on older games (Oblivion springs to mind), but it definitely jars.
Dreamfall: Chapters takes place in multiple worlds, mainly Storytime, Arcadia and Stark. You play as different characters, mainly switching between Zoe and Kian and sometimes playing as Saga. Now, it could be that you find the idea of switching characters and places a little disorienting. To be honest it’s not. Even playing Saga at different ages is not too bad (although I’ll come back to that) because it’s like reading different chapters in a story. What is annoying as hell is that the gameplay in each section is inconsistent, introducing new gameplay elements without explaining them. These are often crucial for completing a particular section, but unlikely to be used ever again. Just… why?!
Sh*t-bot is the best character, possibly because, being a robot, he has no mouth to animate. But aside from that he has funny dialogue and his missions are fun and not annoying! (Which is weird because I kind of think they were supposed to be). I really wanted this character to appear a lot more as a primary sidekick. I think possibly the idea of Sh*tbot is he’s a tutorial version of a later sidekick, Crow. They do similar things and guide you to quest objectives, but Sh*tbot does it better! Crow has an tendancy to say “Follow me” then fly off so you have no idea where he has gone, whereas Sh*tbot is not only slower moving but you are given an arrow to where he is. Sorry Crow, but you suck as a guide. I’ll take Sh*tbot any day!
There are some puzzles that are polished and work well, but this game is a Jekyll and Hyde so you know it’s going to have an ugly side, right? Well, as wilth many adventure games there are some silly solutions. This is par for the course. What was hair-pullingly dreadful was the puzzles where I was not allowed to pick up objects until I had the previous object I needed, despite the fact that in other sections they actually utilized a normal inventory system perfectly well! There didn’t seem any logical reason that you could not collect items out of order. Game-wise this meant remembering where things where you had looked at that you might potentially need and an awful lot of back-tracking. And the only reason I can think of for the designers making it this way was to spin out the game-play time. Also: invisible walls are stupid.
The Saga puzzles also did not seem to serve a lot of purpose besides introducing her as a character and giving you fairly pointless things to do. Unskippable object hunting to be specific. Maybe include it and maybe have an achievement for getting all the objects, but don’t create an excuse to quit the game. I would have liked to see more interesting sections with Saga. The idea of showing her at different ages was imaginative but that’s where the creators imagination seemed to end as far as she was concerned.
The decision-making mechanic does work well though is perhaps not as significant as they intended. The story explores important themes, prejudice being a strong one, that are very mature (FYI, it’s an adult game, not for kids). The characters have depth and are well-written so you feel invested in them. Zoe is pretty awesome female protagonist and I may well Cosplay her sometime. She is a ‘Dreamer’ and can use the power of dreams but she has amnesia and needs to regain her memories. Kian is an Azadi known as ‘the Apostle’ who is considered to have betrayed his own people, but is very honourable. For his character it seems family is very important and as though, having lost his old one, he is trying to build a new one (possibly a little subconsciously).
Overall it feels a bit like a novel that could have used a better editor to make it all it could be. Yet Dreamfall: Chapter’s story and characters that makes the bad sections worth getting past. It’s satisfying how the interwoven story’s eventually come together in the end.