Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is Funcom's sequel to the 1999 cult hit The Longest Journey. The game is set 10 years after the events of the first game, though playing the first game is not essential to understanding the story of this game, which retains the high standards set by it's predecessor. While it retained the feel of the first game successfully and continued to tell a brilliant story with interesting characters, it was unfortunately let down slightly by lame fighting and stealth sections, a cliffhanger ending and, for lack of a better phrase, not enough gameplay. It was also released on the original Xbox, at a time when the Xbox 360 was barely a few months old, and so didn't sell particularly well, though PC sales were slightly better.
The music for this game was given glowing praise from many reviewers upon release. Despite the fact that this was composer Leon Willett's first professional project, the score was nominated for seven different awards (six for best original score) in 2006 an d 2007, of which it won two. Selections from this score were also adapted successfully into a concert performance medley for PLAY! A Video Game Symphony. A real orchestra wasn't used for the game, which disappointed Willett initially, but the audio is so realistically constructed and engineered that most won't be able to tell the difference. The music of this game has a much more broad cinematic approach than The Longest Journey, and is in many ways very inspired by Star Wars, thus reflecting the change in the style of the game and the storytelling. As well as Leon Willett's orchestral score, the soundtrack contains two electronic offerings from the games lead sound designer Simon Poole, a piano solo track by the audio director Morten Sørlie and a few other tracks from various other musicians. The game also contains some other songs, not featured on this soundtrack, written by Norwegian singer Magnet, which were released on a separate EP sold as part of the limited edition of the game.
The soundtrack opens with the "Dreamfall Theme", which starts off very reminiscent of the music of the first game, featuring quiet strings and ethnic flute writing, before building up into a sweeping string melody. This dies down into atmospheric writing with flourishes from various instruments before building up to a dramatic loud climax, after which string tremolo's close the track. This track is very attention grabbing and immediately striking. The main melodic idea for this soundtrack is then introduced in the absolutely beautiful track "The Hospital Room". The harmony is played by subtle major chords in the strings, with some flourishes from the xylophone, while the melody is carried by a female vocal. The melody for this piece speaks for itself, and therefore the sounds "mmmm" and "ah" are the only lyrics to speak of. The piece starts off quietly before building into a louder repetition where the singer's line is up the octave and the orchestral accompaniment more elaborate. This melodic idea is heard again in the next track "Casablanca", this time instrumentally on the xylophone, before the melody develops further with the strings carrying the main line. Subsequent sections focus on the oboe and strange wailing vocals. All of this adds up to make a very engaging main melodic theme.
Things start to get more cinematic and dramatic in the vein of John Williams with the next track "JIVA". The action within the music heats up here, with fast 6/8 rhythms in the strings and woodwinds, and loud hits in the brass and percussion. These ideas are hinted at in the next track "Reza's Apartment", which goes through a wide variety of moods, from intense shimmering strings to laid back chords. This cinematic nature carries on into many of the location themes, for example "Northlands Forest", which starts off very slow, then the tempo picks up and we get a section almost straight out of Star Wars, and it's fantastic. I particularly like the low brass tune here. "Newport" starts with shimmering, quiet mysterious percussion and echoing footsteps, before entering into a choir passage, giving the town an appropriately eerie feel, "The Underground City" has a similar vibe but without the choir.
The changes in character don't occur so often after this point, and when they do they're more progressive than sudden and dramatic. This allows for some more focused harmonic material. "Marcuia" has a very grand, epic feeling, and some very clever harmonies, while "Necropolis" starts off with a similar feel, but progresses towards a climatic high trumpet chord. "Sadir" meanwhile is a piece that focuses on whaling instruments before developing into a percussion focused section, with some very clever and impressive rhythms. "Wati-Corp" brings back some of the material heard earlier in tracks such as "JIVA" but with a less forced feel, this descends into very atmospheric material towards the end of the track before crescendoing up into some action music before ending with some understated choir. Later "The Swamplands" introduces us to some militaristic triplet rhythms at the end of the track, which is great.
The character themes have a more understated vibe. "Meeting April Ryan/April's theme" is very melodic, with the melodic focus being in the vocals and the woodwinds, yet it also has some sad undertones suggesting that she's lost something that was perhaps important to her. Meanwhile "Kian's Theme" is appropriately militaristic, yet gives a sense that the character is more three-dimensional and understanding than a generic video game soldier might be. My favorite of these character themes is definitely "Zoe's Theme", which for some reason is a bonus track on the album. The theme is a piano focused tune that convey's the character's personality really well. All of these tracks are so well constructed and well written that if you didn't know already that a real orchestra wasn't used, you might well have been fooled into thinking one was used.
After all of that cinematic orchestral writing, the other musicians who worked on the game offer their compositions. Simon Poole's tracks are interesting synthetic representations of various places; "St Petersburg" offers a very grimy urban soundscape to represent the city, while "Factory" has a very mechanical feel to it. "Lana & Maud" is a very strange quirky vocal and electronic offering from Slipperhero with some nice orchestral touches, while Octavat offers a vintage sounding synthesizer based track with some interesting drum sounds. However the last two tracks in this selection are my favorites. Ingvid Hasund sings the song "Rush", which is a well written, beautiful, sweet and memorable song. Ingvid has a very unique and suitable singing voice too that complements the piano and orchestra very well. Last but not least is "Faith" by Morten Sørlie, a beautiful and almost minimalist piano solo that rounds up the soundtrack really well. The last thing that the listener hears at the end of this track and the end of the album is an eerie soundscape and the phrase "Find April Ryan..... Save her", which those who have played the game will understand and recognize as a key quote.
The official soundtrack for Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is the best video game soundtrack you've probably never heard of. This is some of the most dynamic, dramatic and well written orchestral writing that I have ever heard in a video game, and the additional tracks at the end of the album complement this writing really well. The orchestral music is very cinematic in its nature, but this is to the benefit of both the game and the soundtrack. The only thing that could have made this soundtrack any better is the use of a real orchestra, though despite this the samples are so well engineered that the difference is very minimal, and even the brass samples sound pretty authentic. This stands up there with some of the best video game soundtracks out there, and I hope we hear a lot more from Leon Willett in the future, because if this is his first professional project, then the potential that this man has to wow us even more is astounding.