'The Longest Journey'
Video Game Review: 'The Longest Journey'
Due to the
I picked the game up a few years after the 1999 release so I was still somewhat unsophisticated in my ability to pick apart the good and bad of game design; I knew what I liked but I didn't always know why. Also, at the time, games were just starting to introduce cursing, adult themes, sex and heavier topics than "kill all the demons placed before you." Quite rapidly, there was a growing, stark contrast between
So upon playing the first few hours again, I quickly realized why this game had left a positive mark on my memory. After a short dream sequence, you, as
Up to this point, gay relationships were unheard of in all of gaming. Bioware was still years away from their "Mass Effect" lesbian sex nerd-pandering and even then, there's a giant glowing neon sign that screams "Check this out! Gayness in a video game! Aren't we naughty?!" But here, the information is simply inserted into a random conversation as casually as talk about the weather. April doesn't hesitate or call attention to it; it's simply a fact of her landlord's life, like the color of her hair. And also unlike "Mass Effect" and "Dragon Age," we aren't hit over the head with it. There are no scenes of lesbian sex or even make-out sessions. Sex is talked about, but in the same way that any two adults talk about sex: fun but not fetishized.
Another standout example of these adult themes is found in April's diary. Like most games, there's a journal which records what you are supposed to do next, in case you forget. But since this is April's diary and since developer
As it turns out, April has not lived the standard adventure game character life. She fled (sort-of) from home due to an abusive father. She feels bad for her mother, who is now alone with that horrible man -- and also her younger brothers, whom she predicts will turn out just as mean as her father. Heavy. To this day, I have never played a game that even comes close to broaching the topic of child abuse. And even though it isn't a major plot point, it does come up here and there in conversation with her friends and she's clearly still struggling to work through the past trauma.
The fact that these, and many other, adult themes are hit upon is impressive enough. The "trendiness" of gay tolerance is still very new and 10 years ago, it was barely in its infancy. Child abuse, while a very relatable and, sadly, commonplace experience, is just not something that most game developers have the inclination to touch upon. But the real art here is that they are referenced in such an adult way, drawing the player into a sci-fi future world but keeping it all completely grounded. Spending one hour in
The same holds true for the story in "The Longest Journey." For the first few hours of play, April is responsible for nothing more grandiose than living any given day. She worries about her friend's risky dating behaviors, has to haggle a paycheck out of her boss at the bar she works in as a waitress and, stressing about an art deadline, talks herself into grinding out a painting that she has no inspiration or motivation to produce. All of this may sound boring, but it's the mundanity of the first few hours that not only help you relate to her as a normal, late-teen college student, but also serve as a wonderfully textured backdrop for the strange happenings that are about to occur. When a friend's holographic statue suddenly comes to life for a brief second, the reason it's so creepy is because you've gotten comfortable in April's skin and universe. As more and more strange, otherworldly things start happening, they actually feel out of place because April's world is also your world now too.
From my vague memories, I know that things eventually become pretty fanciful and even somewhat absurd, but "The Longest Journey" does in its opening hours what only the best books, television and movies have managed. And it did it in a time when the medium was still enthralled by the first three-dimensional Zelda game. "The Longest Journey" was ahead of the curve in storytelling then, and I would say it still is. Here's hoping the sequel is just as engaging.
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Video Games: 'The Longest Journey'
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