Home > Chronological Challenge > Chronological Challenge Reviews – The Longest Journey / Vib-Ribbon

Chronological Challenge Reviews – The Longest Journey / Vib-Ribbon

We are steadily coming up to the end of 1999, and in the first of three updates on the challenge this week, I take a look back at some quirky cult classics of the era. Enjoy!

The Longest Journey
Publisher: Empire Interactive | Developer: Funcom | Year: 1999 (Norwegian release)
Original System: Windows
Played on: Steam

Goal: Restore Balance

Actual Outcome: Restored Balance in Stark and Arcadia, and realised that I want to play the sequels

Just like The Neverending Story before it, The Longest Journey is a bit of a lie, as it certainly isn’t the longest journey in games at all. When games like Xenoblade offer up a journey of at least 100 hours, The Longest Journey’s fairly average point-and-click length of about ten hours is somewhat disappointing.

But of course, that’s being slightly facetious because The Longest Journey is still a fantastic game. I picked this up after hearing from many sources that this was one of the best of all time in its genre, so I had to check it out.

For those who know nothing about The Longest Journey, you are April Ryan, an art student living in the city of Newport in a somewhat dystopian future. After waking from a dream where a dragon talks to her about destiny, she meets a mysterious man named Cortez who informs her that there are two worlds, her world, Stark, and the magical land of Arcadia, and the Balance between the two is being threatened. April must shift between the two solving puzzles and conundrums in order to reach the Guardian and save the whole world.

The story is fantastic. Blending sci-fi and fantasy in a way that doesn’t cause the two to clash in horrible ways, The Longest Journey is, well, a journey through an incredibly well-realised world meeting a cast of interesting characters. The way the world unfolds for the player is fascinating, with a permanent sense of mystery driving everything along. It’s a tricky plot to follow at times, but it holds together and keeps the player engaged.

On top of this, the voice acting is phenomenal. While much of the cast seems to consist of smaller actors with minimal experience, it doesn’t suffer the problems of, say, Resident Evil, and maintains characters that are consistently being interesting and believable. April herself is a standout, of course, and her sassy, jokey nature is endearing and sticks even as she grows as a character.

Gameplay-wise, this is typical point-and-click territory, so don’t expect huge action sequences here. But in terms of puzzle design, The Longest Journey does fairly well. The puzzles don’t feel as complex as they do in other games, although on the flipside they employ less bizarre moon logic when compared to other games of the genre. They’re a nice balance, while still being challenging enough that you might spend a bit of time slightly confused on what was happening.

If I must level criticism at The Longest Journey, and I must, it’s that it’s a very ugly game. Character models are consistently weird-looking, while FMV sequences make this worse. April herself tends to look a little too spindly and oddly-animated in these scenes, and it’s sometimes uncomfortable to look at. This seems to be an issue with the game’s age more than anything else, but it’s still jarring.

Aside from this, The Longest Journey is an excellent game. I can see why it’s so highly praised by fans of the genre and why it’s endured as a cult classic. Needless to say, I may have to look into its sequels – Dreamfall and Dreamfall Chapters – so I can revisit this world again since I miss it already.

Vib-Ribbon
Publisher: SCE | Developer: NanaOn-Sha | Year: 1999 (Japanese release)
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS3 (original PS1 disc)

Goal: Play through five CDs’ worth of music

Actual Outcome: Played through about three CDs’ worth of music

Remember a few years ago when Shawn Layden, head of Sony America, walked out on stage at E3 2014 and expressed his love for a quirky little game called Vib-Ribbon? Remember how he forgot that the game had never been released in the US before that point and everyone got immensely confused and thought it was leading to an announcement, and they had to hastily arrange a PSN release? Those were good times.

Europe, however, did get Vib-Ribbon back in 2000 (although I’m counting it as 1999 because of its original Japanese release), and I remember being intrigued by it at the time and picking it up off the back of an interesting demo.

Vib-Ribbon is certainly unique. It’s a rhythm game where you control a wireframe rabbit named Vibri, who happily skips along a line across your screen. On her adventures, she will encounter shapes in her way, and she must hop, roll, skip and twirl her way over them safely. But where this gets interesting is these shapes are determined by music. Not just the in-game soundtrack, but in literally any CD you put in your PlayStation.

It is, essentially, an infinite game that can last as long as you have music CDs lying around. So, in essence, it lasts about five minutes in our modern age of digital releases so you’ll be restricted to the limited selection of in-game songs. No, but seriously, it’s also going to last about this long even if you have a large CD collection because the game isn’t the most engaging thing in the world.

Oh sure, it’s a cute little romp with a cool idea, but it doesn’t have much staying power. My experience with Vib-Ribbon, every time I’ve played it, has been putting in the disc with expectations of having a lot of fun playing my music, and then after a few songs realising that you’re just pushing four buttons periodically over and over. There’s no depth to Vib-Ribbon, no progression, and certainly nothing to help drive you to play it for an extended period of time.

And that’s all there really is to say about it, unfortunately. Graphically, it’s as simple as you could get so the whole game can run entirely off the PS1’s RAM (so you can swap the disc out, obviously). Sound design is entirely dependent on what CDs you put in. Gameplay is limited but an amusing novelty. And…that’s it.

If this had been a little more in-depth somehow, beyond the simple novelty value of the concept, this could have been great. As it is, it’s a mildly entertaining distraction for ten minutes, and then you’ll want to go off and play Parasite Eve II or something. Oh oops, I just gave away what’s coming next…

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