In Journey the player controls a robed figure in a vast desert, traveling towards a mountain in the distance. Other players on the same journey can be discovered, and two players can meet and assist each other, but they cannot communicate via speech or text and cannot see each other's names. The only form of communication between the two is a musical chime. This chime also transforms dull, stiff pieces of cloth found throughout the levels into vibrant red, affecting the game world and allowing the player to progress through the levels. The robed figure wears a trailing scarf, which when charged by approaching floating pieces of cloth, briefly allows the player to float through the air. The developers sought to evoke in the player a sense of smallness and wonder, and to forge an emotional connection between them and the anonymous players they meet along the way. The music, composed by Austin Wintory, dynamically responds to the player's actions, building a single theme to represent the game's emotional arc throughout the story. Reviewers of the game praised the visual and auditory art as well as the sense of companionship created by playing with a stranger, calling it a moving and emotional experience. Journey won several "game of the year" awards and received several other awards and nominations, including a Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media nomination for the 2013 Grammy Awards.
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(This review was originally written for my Retrorendum blog, so it is a bit dated in some areas but the review still stands true)
Available On: Playstation 3, Playstation 4, PC
Reviewed On: Playstation 3
Info: Thatgamecompany, 2012
WARNING SPOILERS FOR JOURNEY
Story: Journey is a game about visuals, through and through. There isn’t a clear story or even a narrative, as the game shows progress through the level and world design as well as a set of short clips between levels. The “story” as it is follows a wandering nomad placed in a barren desert as they try to discover the nature of their existence and the destruction of an ancient group of people with incredible magic and technology throughout the varied levels of the game. The “cutscenes” between each of the levels has your character interacting with the spirits or deities of the lost civilization, and they describe the history of the world you play in through wall carving pictures and hieroglyphics.
Visuals/ Music: The art style in journey is one that is almost completely unique, it takes aspects of cell-shaded graphics like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and also a more realistic approach at times with high definition textures for the sand, rocks, and sky. The quality of the graphical engine really shines its brightest when there is a lot of sand or snow in the air, because the detail in the wind effects and how the particles float really makes the game become an immersive world more than anything. The music consists almost entirely of orchestrated pieces, and although you won’t catch yourself humming them later on or even placing them on a list of great music, each piece is epic, heartfelt, and really is what makes the game become so touching, by adding swells in the sound or changing the mood as you progress. This game can give you a wide range of different emotions through all that it does. It feels adventurous and carefree when you’re gliding along the sand or soaring through the sky, but it can feel stressed and intense as you reach the climax of the story.
Gameplay: Journey has some of the most fluid controls you can experience on a Dualshock 3, and although your character’s abilities are extremely limited (walking, pinging, jumping), you learn to control all of what you can do very quickly. Your main source of movement comes from your scarf, which grows longer as you go through the levels. The scarf allows you to fly, and the more scarf you have, the longer you can stay afloat. You can’t fly forever though, as you need to pay attention to the glowing glyphs that appear on your scarf because the amout of glyphs indicated how many more midair jumps you have left. The focus on this game is the ribbons, which is what your robe is made of as well as all of the “wildlife” you find around you along your quest. There are kite creatures which fly alongside you, bits of ribbon which can recharge your scarf’s glyphs, ribbon jellyfish that are used as floating platforms, and monstrous ribbon whales that you can ride on top of. All of these can be interacted with by using your ping ability, an area of affect that allows you to interact with your environment as well as the creatures. The main gameplay here is 3D platforming through the open levels, to find shrines and collectibles, but mixed throughout there are also downhill sliding stages where you glide smoothly through canyons to reach the bottom.
Verdict: Overall this game is such a unique experience, or at least for it’s time, and it is almost unfair to compare it to any other game. This epic experience shouldn’t take you more than a few hours to complete and is easily done in an afternoon, but the effect a wordless adventure like this one has on your perception of the world will last you a lifetime. In a world so oversaturated with explosive first person shooters and perfect graphic open world RPGs, this game deviated from the norm and showed us that video games as a medium can be so much more than just games, they can become life changing experiences. I give this game a 9/10, a must buy for any PS3 or PS4 owner.
Sidenote- This game is available primarily on the online Playstation store, but was also released on a physical disc called the Journey Collectors edition which also includes two other small games, Flower and Flow, both of which i might review later on.
(Reviewed on June 1st, 2017)
The closest I‘ve ever come to a spiritual experience. I still vividly remember one playthrough I finished with the same partner all the way to the end, at which they showed me how to draw hearts into the sand, which we then both did for at least 5 minutes. That was like 5 years ago.