Ninja Reviews: Journey

Every now and then, I forget what video games have the potential to be. So much shlock clogs the drains of steam and the triple-A market is mostly sterile. But every now and then something like Journey shows up and reminds me that video games can still be one of the best artistic mediums and is still worth defending.

Now truthfully I never played Journey when it came out back in 2012, once again being crippled by the lack of a PS3. I guess part of me should be a little cheesed that this game has been “remastered” only three years after its initial release, but seeing how I never got a chance to play Journey, it’s getting a pass.

Journey doesn’t offer much in the way of story, and it doesn’t have to. What is known is that you are a faceless, robed figure making your way across the desert on a sort-of pilgrimage. Along the way you’re given something that resembles a backstory, however it’s not totally clear on what events transpired. I actually really like the lack of details though. It’s not a game that feeds the player a story, rather it’s one that allows the player to create their own stories as they progress the journey. While it does give you some details, it lets your imagination fill in the blanks, and so few games do that these days, it’s very refreshing to see.

Journey takes a very minimalistic approach to gameplay while still offering a lot of variety. You can traverse the desert landscapes easily on foot, but you’re also given a magic scarf that allows you to float through the air. Along with flying, players can also chant which acts as the primary “activation” function. Throughout the game you’ll find bits of lifeless brown cloth that can be brought to life by chanting. This is the only way to deal with most challenges and the only way you can interact with most things. And I know that it kind of sounds like a negative, but it actually adds a lot of charm to the game.
Apart from gliding through the air, there are segments where you’ll surf through the sand in high-speed obstacle courses, and there are even stealth segments where you traverse ancient ruins avoiding the gaze of monstrous machinations.
Also, throughout the game there are plenty of hidden glyphs and murals to be found. The glyphs extend the length of the scarf and the length of time players can fly through the air, and the hidden murals that offer a bit more background story. This increases the replay value of the game since the world is so beautiful and fun to explore, you’ll find yourself wanting to come back to search for all the things you missed.

One of the more interesting elements in Journey is its multiplayer. As players make their journey, they will encounter other players traversing the path. No names are displayed until the very end and there’s no chat options. Your only means of communication is through chanting to get each other’s attention. It’s a very unique style of multiplayer since it’s available despite whether you’re actively seeking it or not. The developers supposedly said they wanted to create emotional connections between the player and an anonymous companion, and I couldn’t believe how well they pulled it off. I think a big part of this comes from the choice you make as a player to join another player on their journey. There’s this unspoken bond between you and a total stranger to work together and not ruin the experience, and I was genuinely surprised when I helplessly watched a companion I had been playing with for most of the game get killed by one of the monstrous machinations.
Journey is breathtaking to look at. It’s designs are range from simplistic, to absolutely gorgeous, to awe inspiring. Many of the landscapes are massive in scale and really help to invoke the feeling of wonder and smallness in the grand scheme of things. From bright pinks of burning sand to surfing through sands of gold at sunset, the game is full of color and life. And while it doesn’t look like it’s made any massive leaps graphically from the PS3 to PS4, it benefits from the same design as Wind Waker; a beautifully simple design that will only age well.

The music in Journey is beautiful, perfectly capturing the moment and invoking every feeling you get from the scene. Surfing through the sands with whimsical cloth creatures has very upbeat, equally whimsical strings and woodwind accompaniment, while the climactic finale features a booming and triumphant score that makes all the hardships of the journey seem worth it. Every moment seems to be accompanied by the perfect piece, and it only adds to the fun and wonder of the game.
Journey is an amazing game, and an experience I will not soon forget. It was the first game in a little while that actually moved me to my core. When I had reached the end, I sat, eyes wide, jaw agape and at a total loss for words. It was beautiful, breathtaking, exciting, interesting and most of all FUN! For fans and newcomers alike, it’s definitely worth a look.


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