Composed by
Leon Willett

 

Published by
Funcom (2006)

 

Tracklistings
1) Dreamfall Theme
2) The Hospital Room
3) Casablanca
4) Jiva
5) Reza's Apartment
6) Northlands Forest
7) Newport
8) The Underground City
9) Marcuria
10) Meeting April Ryan/April's Theme
11) Necropolis
12) Sadir
13) Wati Corp
14) The Swamplands
15) Kian's Theme
16) Zoe's Theme (Bonus Track)
17) St. Petersburg
(by Simon Poole)
18) The Factory
(by Simon Poole)
19) Lana & Maud (Edit)
(by Slipperhero)
20) Clay (Edit)
(by Octavcat)
21) Rush
(by Ingvild Hasund)
22) Faith
(by Morten Sorlie)

 

Extras
- Game website
- Composer website

 

Availability
- iTunes shop
- Funcom Store

 

Review by
Oliver Ittensohn

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey

When The Longest Journey was released in 2001, Norwegian developer Funcom had created a landmark of adventure gaming. Consequently, coming up with a sequel was a daunting task. The new entry in the series would be called Dreamfall: The Longest Journey and was to introduce and new main character called Zoe Castillo. With a story as intriguing as in the original, beautiful 3-D landscapes and a haunting musical score, Dreamfall triumphed on the presentational side. Unfortunately, the gameplay itself lacked depth and the puzzles were neither clever nor challenging.

The score for the original game, composed by Bjorn Arve Lagim, still stands as one of the highlights of the genre. There was some speculation about the composer of choice for the sequel. While some said Lagim would return for the job, others mentioned Tor Linlokken, who had written additional music for The Longest Journey. However, the job to score the sequel fell to newcomer Leon Willett. For his first major assignment, Willett certainly had big shoes to fill. One thing can be said right from the start: Willett created a wonderful score that seamlessly continues the musical excellence of the prequel.

When you look at the compositional approach, Lagim and Willett differ. Although both scores are orchestral in nature, Willett abandons Lagim’s subtle scoring for a more epic and sweeping approach. This becomes clear from the very beginning: The “Dreamfall Theme” opens with expectant ethnic flutes, then swells into a soaring outburst of brass and strings introducing the new main theme in a grand fashion. This very dramatic and epic melody is quoted in varying levels of complexity throughout the score: as, for example, in a straightforward way in “The Underground City” or more subtly in “Marcuria”. On top of that, Willett composed a number of additional themes: A lyrical motif for April, the heroine of the original game, a tender piano melody for Zoe, the new main character, and a heroic brass fanfare for Kian, the fighter. Indeed, one of the strengths of the score is its generous use of themes and thematic constructions, a feature Lagim’s original score didn’t build on as prominently. Also, the way to achieve the childlike and tender musical atmosphere has shifted: Whereas Lagim worked extensively with intricate instrumentation, Willett focuses more on harmonics.

To underscore the world of Dreamfall, a mixture of sc-fi and fantasy, Willett worked with a lot of different musical colours. From the creepy, modern sound design and angelic voices of “Newport” to the ethnic vocals and expansive string arrangements of “Casablanca” to the chilling and triumphant “The Underground City” to song-like vocals in “The Hospital Room”, the score adapts very well to the game’s setting. “ Casablanca” serves as a good example of how intricate many of the pieces are constructed. They are mostly built around a central thematic idea, in this case a romantic string line and then developed from there into a satisfying musical whole.

Maybe the strongest point of Dreamfall is its interactivity. The different cues blend into each other amazingly well and the score manages to underscore the actions on screen to great detail. In addition, the ambient cues give way to fierce action compositions, for example when a battle sequence on screen starts. This is something entirely new for the series. Indeed, the addition of battle sequences in the game has been rated a very controversial element. There’s one positive side to it for sure though: Willett’s action cues are fierce and exciting. The highlight is probably found in “Wati Corp” with its complex rhythms and erupting brass performances, which underline brilliantly the game’s change of pace.

Unfortunately, the budgeting wouldn’t allow for hiring of a real orchestra to perform Willet’s score. It stands out very strongly how the compositions are held back by technological constraints and some of the pieces, the “Dreamfall Theme” for example, or parts of the action material in particular would have benefited from a sweeping orchestral interpretation. For the next instalment in the series, the developers certainly should consider a greater budgeting for its music. Not affected by this downside are the six additional cues on the album composed by different artists. These tracks heavily contrast Willett’s score and are mostly electronic in nature. They are best listened to in disconnection with the original score, if at all.

There remains one thing to add. Film music fans will quickly become aware of another aspect of Willett’s writing: his strong influence by John Williams. Many of the orchestral elements Willett works with are cleverly adapted from Williams, being it the combination of blaring brass and fast-paced flutes in “Jiva” or the noble horns and use of piccolo in “Northlands Forest”. Still, only the most die-hard fans of Williams will find these influences irritating.

In the end, Willett has proven his immense talent in writing music. Dreamfall is a wonderfully exciting and captivating soundtrack and as a close listen remains highly rewarding. We can only hope that Willett will get a chance to enrich more games in the future with his musical insight and compositional finesse.