Adventure games have always occupied a weird netherworld between movies and actual “games.” That’s because the level of interactivity and actual gameplay in most adventure titles is actually pretty minimal. They are, after all merely a collection of brain teasers and often-arbitrary and maddening puzzles that act as roadblocks between cut scenes. Despite that, the best adventure games offer incredibly compelling experience despite their inadequacies as actual “games.” Maybe it’s because as crude as they are, they come closest to the now-scoffed at idea of “interactive movies,” in which you actually get to live through a well-told tale. Maybe. I haven’t thought about that deeply actually but that does seem like a good idea for a future “Angry Bear” column.
This is about GoG Thursday and one of the finest examples of adventure games in our hobby’s brief history — Ragnar Tornquist’s the Longest Journey. If you’ve never played it, head over to Gog.com and pick it up. You won’t be sorry.
The Longest Journey is the story of April Ryan, a young woman at a crossroads in her life who discovers she’s a “Shifter.” Shifters are a very rare breed of human that can shift between our technological Earth and it’s magical twin that exists in a parallel dimension. The two earths were split thousands of years ago to prevent humanity from using the powers of both magic and science to destroy themselves. To keep the two worlds apart, a series of Guardians were set up to keep the worlds separate and monitor the balance between them. Now, however the twelfth Guardian has gone missing and the 13th Guardian must be found before the balance between the worlds collapses and the magical and scientific Earths reunite — violently.
The journey that follows is an amazing trip into two separate worlds that ask some pretty profound questions about a lot of stuff. Is science just magic that works? Is there a destiny for all of us and can it be changed? Does free will have any meaning at all? It also does a lot with the theme of duality and unity. It deals with the clash of faith and reason, logic and instinct and order and chaos and why they’re opposite and whether they can be combined in a single healthy universe or person. Indeed, if there’s one thing I love about this game, it’s how often it chooses to take the unexpected path in its storytelling. The character of April Ryan is really on two quests — one to save the world, one to discover herself. She succeeds at the first but utterly fails at the second, something that has profound consequences in Dreamfall, the second game in the series.
In fact this is one of the few stories of this type I can remember that doesn’t end with some preachy homily about “coming together” and uniting the disparate halves of our souls. It points out that certain things are diametrically opposed for a reason and that attempts to unite them may be an example of human hubris. Perhaps it is better to leave magic and science in different universes. Being a grown-up sometimes means we have to make agonizing choices and decide what we’re going to leave behind. The Longest Journey doesn’t shy away from that nor from showing the consequences of those people who insist on having it all.