The graphical point and click / puzzle-adventure genre of video games has certainly had its share of hit games over the years. Titles like those in the Myst series were extremely popular during the mid-90‘s on the PC platform and set the standard for any similar games that would follow. The genre still sees a steady flow of releases, particularly in the PC market, but rarely do the titles make as many waves in the industry as Myst and others did back during those times. During those couple of years, the graphical adventure was “the” genre of game to play. The mentality of the mainstream gamer has changed though in the years since; most players seek games with infinite or at least extensive replay value and often frown upon titles that offer a brief, straight forward gameplay experience, regardless of the quality offered during that experience. That doesn’t stop companies from making them though and it also doesn’t stop the genre’s fans from buying those titles. One of those titles is KatGames’ Dream Chronicles.
Dream Chronicles was originally released on the PC back in 2007 and was heralded by numerous publications and industry figures for its achievements in the genre. The game spent quite a bit of time at the top of numerous game charts such as MSN Games and Pogo. The game would go on to spawn numerous sequels that have spanned across numerous platforms including the PC, iPhone, Nintendo DS, and PlayStation 3. Hudson has recently brought the original, now classic PC game to a new audience with a release on the PlayStation Network.
The game puts players in the midst of a fairy tale of sorts; Lilith, the Fairy Queen of Dreams, has cast a sleeping spell on the entire town in order to abduct a young fairy named Fidget. While he was being taken, Fidget left a string of clues to lead his wife Faye (the player) on a quest to find and rescue him as well as lift the spell keeping the entire town of Wish asleep. During the course of your adventure, you will not only track down your missing husband, but also discover the secrets he and his family have been hiding from you for years.
Players assume the role of Faye, a mortal woman, who awakens to find herself trapped in her bedroom and her significant other missing. Using a cursor that is controlled with the left analog stick, you will need to closely examine the room and everything in it for clues and tools to help you solve the puzzles and riddles left for you by Fidget and open the passageway(s) to the next area. This same mechanic is used throughout the entire game, using a wide range of puzzles that range in complexity and length. Some puzzles are short and sweet, while others will be drawn out into multiple parts and require you to do more than one to reach a single goal. Nearly all of them require the same thing though: a keen eye and deductive reasoning.
The game and its premise are simple and the story is a rather entertaining one, but unfortunately some of the execution within those details makes for an extremely frustrating experience in the long run. There are a couple of puzzles throughout the game that either don’t make much sense in terms of their solution or fail to give you enough information to solve on your own. For example, on section requires you to place a series of fallen books back in their appropriate categories within a library. The puzzle sounds simple enough until you realize that a couple of the books just don’t make sense in the category where they are assigned. Can someone please explain to me what “Red Hot Tips from Time in a Volcano” has to do with travel? In the end, this puzzle and a couple of others, force the player to resort to simply guessing and hoping for the right answer. This takes away any enjoyment and satisfaction of solving a puzzle using your own skill.
A similar frustration can be had with an earlier puzzle that requires you to find a key buried in a yard, only this one is caused by an unresponsive cursor / control system. The cursor of the game is ridiculously slow... to the point where gameplay often becomes monotonous. The developers try to ease the pain of the crawling cursor’s speed by allowing players to quickly access items that they have collected in their inventory with the press of a shoulder button. That is greatly appreciated, but you are then forced to slowly move the selected object across the screen back to the desired location. In the puzzle with the buried key, the game provides you a shovel and infers that you need to dig around the yard but nearly every place that you move it to on the screen registers as hardened ground and will not allow the shovel to be used. There are supposed to be places on the screen that read loose dirt which indicate where you can dig; for some reason, there is no graphical indication to where these sections are and the cursor seems to jump across these patches as you move it along. Because it “jumps” across the said patches, the game rarely notifies the players when they are over top of the desired area(s). Just like the guessing game mentioned above with the books, I found myself resorting to simply spamming on the X button while I moved my cursor all over the screen, hoping and waiting for one of the loosened spots to become unearthed. This particular puzzle becomes even more frustrating when you realize that you don’t just have to do this once, but eleven times before you will unearth the object you are seeking. This is the sort of thing that takes any and all fun of a graphical adventure game right out of the equation. I don’t want to play a puzzle game where I can be just as effective taking shots in the dark or spamming on a button as someone who is intellectually quick and sharp-witted.
In addition to the standard puzzles and story experienced in the game, Dream Chronicles also gives players a chance to collect various “Dream Stones” that are scattered throughout the game. These stones, which vary in size and color, are scattered throughout the game’s various settings and are used to increase the score accumulated upon completion of the game. The more stones that you manage to collect, the higher your score will be when you complete the game. The time that it takes you to complete the game and the individual puzzles within it will also be factored into the equation. This makes for a nice little distraction from the main game but ultimately becomes annoying after a while as the game often limits your ability to collect these stones. One of the early rooms gives you only a brief chance to collect some of its stones and does not give you a chance to go back and pick them up once you realize that they are present. I guess that some would argue that this is a part of the intended experience, but I found it more frustrating rather than anything else.
The game makes a couple of attempts to add some replay value to the package but unfortunately none of them really succeed in that aspect. There are online leaderboards which rank you based on your completion time and the amount of dream stones that you collect during the story; these scores can be compared against the standard worldwide and friend-only leaderboards which is the status quo for most downloadable titles these days. Dream Chronicles also includes the ability to play the game cooperatively with a friend, both locally offline and online. While I can appreciate the gesture of supporting additional players, in this case it really defeats its own purpose as it only serves to shorten the overall experience as two minds often think a lot quicker than one. You cannot fault them for adding the modes though as it does enhance the overall package.
Dream Chronicles is an enjoyable adventure / puzzle game, but unfortunately it doesn’t last long enough to leave an impression on the player. The game can be completed in as little as a half an hour, even offering trophies for finishing it in that time frame. Some of the puzzles included throughout the game will make you think, which is nice, but others just don’t make much sense at all. There are too many points in the game where the player is almost forced to resort to trial and error for my liking. If you are into this type of game, you will undoubtedly like what Dream Chronicles has to offer; unfortunately, everyone else will be completely unsatisfied.