Joy is in the Journey
- Monday, May 21, 2012
Beautiful in its simplicity, simple in its masterful storytelling, and sewn together by a gorgeous musical score, Journey is proof that the joy truly is 'in the journey' and not always the destination. Journey is a masterpiece of storytelling, without words.
Your "Journey" begins in a mysterious land of sand dunes and ancient ruins. The setting resembles that of possibly ancient Egypt, but it could really be anywhere in the Middle East, combined with a few obvious science fiction nods. As you look around, you see a streak of light, falling from the sky and your character arises from the sand. It wasn't obvious to me on the first play through, but it struck me on the second that this is the origin of the character. The first step that you are about to take are the first for this character.
The world of Journey is mesmerizing and simply stunning. Through visuals, enchanting music and wonderful sound effects, you are sucked into a truly immersive experience. Each stage of the journey is equally amazing and the climax of the story is some of the most exhilarating scenery and game play that I have witnessed. Words really do not do justice to what you see, hear and feel as you explore this world and its worth playing for that reason alone.
Once you have gathered your bearings, you're left to figure out where to go on your own. As this is central to the experience, I won't go into detail, let's just say that it's obvious where you'll be heading. The world here is open, you're free to roam around and discover the beauty, but there is a destination and you'll eventually want to make your way toward it.
Journey is very simple to play. There are some basic motion controls but everything can also be handled by the control sticks. Other than movement, there are only two additional actions: Jump/Float and "Interact". This is game about what you're about to see, not how you're going to do it.
Very early on, you will acquire a scarf. This scarf is central to your experience and I am blown away by what the designers did here. Not only is scarf central to the game play, it is absolutely central to the story. How the scarf comes into play is very difficult to describe, but in the simplist terms, it harnesses the power that allows you to jump/float/glide through the game. The scarf's powers are recharged through various ribbon type... things... throughout the game as well as through what is probably the most brilliant aspect of Journey: Other players.
I really don't want to give too much more here because everything feels so central to the story. In truth, the scarf represents the soul of the character. It grows in length over time to show that your character is developing and becoming something more than it was when you started the adventure. Your soul needs to be replenished in order to have an easier go of certain areas, the scarf really is a story telling masterpiece… and it's done without words which adds to the brilliance.
At this point, I have to offer my interpretation of the story. At its core, Journey is about the spritual journey from birth, to death, to rebirth, to eternity. There is beauty, there are challenges, there is exhileration, there are moments of sheer drudgery, however the mystery of your destination keeps you moving. As your "Journey" progresses, check points provide you with a glimpse of what the big picture is here, but it's really left open for interpretation.
Depending on your world view, you may take something different away from this than I did... and that's really what makes this game incredible. At each check point you are met by some sort of cloaked figure in white. This is either a deity of some kind, an angel or perhaps a previous traveler sent to direct you. In over simplified terms, it appears that the journey that you are on is a mission of enlightenment or salvation. No matter what your personal beliefs are, Journey will speak to you.
As amazing as the game is, there is one simple aspect that really makes Journey special. There is a multiplayer component that I have never seen the likes of before. As you embark, another player may show up. There are no identifying markers, no "gamer tag", no voice chat... they're just there, on the same journey as you. This could be their first time through the game and you'll both be experiencing something new together; or this could be their third or fourth time through the journey and they're there to lead you and help you along YOUR journey.
Whatever, the case, this person is vital to your experience. They can direct you or you might direct them, they can recharge your scarf or you can recharge theirs, all by simply standing near them... the fact is, you NEED each other. Sure, you could complete your journey alone, but it's not the way the game was meant to be played. Plus it's a whole lot harder alone (just ask my wife).
At its core, I would consider Journey a mini-game. It costs $15 on Sony's Playstation Network Store and it takes two to three hours to complete. However don't let the short nature of this game drive you away. I view this game much the same as I would a record. I've seen it before, but the scenery is breathtaking and the music so relaxing that there's no reason to not revisit it.
Journey is one of the best games that I have come across in the past 12 months, and it really must be seen to be believed. I love that there are people out there that are willing to put together something that speaks so eloquently to the gamers without trying to drive the story through more traditional means. Journey is different and I hope that it paves the way for more things like it, because there is a lot here to like.
Language: There is none so fear not.
Violence: There are some enemies. However, aside from knocking you around a bit (which can, and should be avoided) there's nothing to be wary of.
Theme: This is open for interpretation. I took the game as a wonderful Christian allegory however I have seen other reviews pointing to Hindu, Buddhist, Ancient Egyptian and other religious themes. That said, the game doesn't have an agenda and you will get out of it what you put into it.
*This Review First Published 5/21/2012
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