Frequently, descriptions accompanying new games include a good dose of hyperbole, exaggerated promises and more. Phrases like “stunning artwork, enveloping music and prose worthy of the masters” are spun by marketing mavens you’d swear have never even seen the title they’re hawking. On occasion, however, the “overstated” is actually true.
That’s the case with Dream Chronicles from KatGames and PlayFirst. In this instance, “gorgeous Art Nouveau artwork, mesmerizing music and a gripping storyline” accurately illustrate the experience that lies ahead.
So, what is Dream Chronicles? It’s best described as a casual cousin to epic, hard-core adventures like Myst and Uru. A mix of fantasy and reality, its hypnotic dreamland engages you in a larger-than-life quest, a mystery that needs to be solved one puzzle at a time as the story unfolds around you.
Lilith, Fairy Queen of Dreams, has imprisoned the hamlet of Wish under a slumber spell affecting everyone but you, a mortal named Faye. Your task is to locate Fidget, your missing husband, banish the enchantment cast by Lilith and wake your daughter, Lyra, reuniting your family in the process. But, all you have to start with is a diary left by Fidget detailing his secret past and the path to be followed. Why did Lilith cast this spell? What happened to Fidget? What’s transpired in years past? These are some of the questions you need to unravel.
In traditional adventure form, your quest in Dream Chronicles is accomplished location by location. Each scene, 32 in all, incorporates one or more puzzles to be solved, with thorough investigation crucial to advancing. Some objects are quite easy to spot while others are more subtle and require greater scrutiny (important objects “glint” after a while to help in locating them). Doors, drawers, buttons, switches, wall hangings, toys, books, keys, crystals and other items of various shapes and sizes all come into play.
Interaction is simple. Clicking items place them in your inventory at the bottom of the screen. Once there, you can use them on other objects and combine them to solve the various conundrums encountered. However, unlike most hard-core adventures, you never lug around any unnecessary inventory items here. All objects needed for a puzzle’s solution are found and used in the same scene. Solve the poser at hand and you unlock the “door” to the next location.
What kind of puzzlers can you expect to come across? A good mix, actually. Some require you to arrange objects in a specific order or follow a particular sequence, others involve combining items to achieve a goal and many entail using one object “on” another to effect a change of some sort. Let’s consider a few examples.
In one scene, you need to locate several photos scattered about a room and hang them back on the wall. Once each is hung, a musical tune is played. In traditional Simon fashion, you must reproduce each tune on a piano, note-for-note in the correct order, to solve the puzzle. In a different location, you need water to wash dirt off a key you unearthed before it can be used to open a door. This requires combining the objects necessary to retrieve a pail of water from a well. In still another instance, you must converse with a carnivorous plant and convince it to let you pass so you can continue your adventure.
You have another task to perform, as well. Besides solving each puzzle, you must also gather a collection of special Dream Pieces hidden in each scene. These sparkling gems, totaling 115, are automatically incorporated into Dream Jewels (settings) contained in your diary. While not required to complete the quest, they do add extra points towards your high score (and generate medals for registered PlayFirst players). For every Dream Piece collected, you earn 1,000 points. A built-in leaderboard lets you know how well you played compared to other adventurers locally (on your computer) and online.
Dream Chronicles has all the necessary ingredients of an exceptional game, one that lives up to its marketing hype. Art Nouveau graphics are beautifully rendered, an ethereal soundtrack helps bring the world to life, its engaging narrative draws you into the story and diverse puzzles of varying difficulty keep play interesting and challenging.
The only shortcomings in this grand adventure are the inability to revisit a previous location (in case you missed a Dream Piece or two) and a slightly too-brief encounter. The quest was so enjoyable I wish it would have lasted longer (it took just under four hours my first time through and two the second time). But, depending on your experience with adventure games, mileage will vary. Adding another scene or two, specifically with the conversation puzzle type, would have improved the overall experience and extended play. These deficiencies, however, are minor and don’t preclude awarding a perfect score.
In short, solving Dream Chronicles’ mysteries is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Place it at the top of your list of must-play games for 2007 and hope that a sequel will follow. For most casual gamers, it’s a dream come true.