I had never heard of Dream Chronicles, and it seems to have barely registered as a blip upon its release on XBLA and PSN, so it comes with a great deal of surprise that this was actually an award-winning, best-selling game in 2007. Well, best-selling indie/casual game, to be specific.
Dream Chronicles could best be summed up as Myst Lite. It’s an extremely casual “adventure” game where players move from screen to screen solving puzzles by finding, collecting, and using items. If you’re familiar with any of PopCap’s successful hidden object games, then you should be well-equipped to cut through this title.
Even if you’re not, Dream Chronicles offers, at best, an hour of gaming, total. There are 18 scenes (“screens” is more like it), and if you’re persistent, you can finish the puzzles in mere minutes. There’s even a trophy for completing the game in 25 minutes, and once you’ve beaten it, there’s little reason to go back.
I know these types of games are simple by nature, but Dream Chronicles is constricted further by its own design. Players can press R2 to “step into” a room or scene, then use the left analog to move around a mouse cursor and the right analog to look around the area ever so slightly. You may need to find a saw to cut some wood and build a bridge to a treehouse, or find a key that opens to a door that leads to a key that opens a door; the problem is that because of the limited POV, the developers hid objects in locations obscured by lighting or other objects. Perhaps only a fraction of the object you’re looking for is sticking out, so you basically just have to click on everything until it’s added to your inventory. Casual gamers may eat it up, but I find it to be poor design.
Speaking of which, many of the puzzles and more so their solutions simply don’t make sense. The second scene, for instance, requires you to find small animal statues randomly hidden along a metal railing. Once you have them, you then place them in large glass cut-outs of the respective animals on the ceiling. The size of the statues you find do not correspond to the size of the holes you place them in, and this is at the beginning of the game. It only gets more obscure and annoying as you go on.
A second player can hop in and help, but they simply act as another cursor. The puzzles and gameplay do not change in any way whatsoever. There are optional colored gems hidden through most of the scenes, so I could see this as a decent opportunity for a young child to “help” mommy collect all the shiny rocks. There’s also a story that the casual audience seems to be raving about, but it’s presented via text and couldn’t be any less interesting if it tried.
It’s ironic that the plot of Dream Chronicles has everyone falling asleep, as that’s exactly the effect this game had on me while playing it. I do believe hidden object/puzzle games can be done without going to the same great lengths as something like Myst, but Dream Chronicles is too shallow to merit a playthrough. Take your $10 and buy five vastly superior adventures on the PC.
[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]