That Game Company is best known for releasing games out of the ordinary, such as Cloud or fl0w. They aren’t the typical games found in the shelves in stores, but they all offer something refreshing, abstract, beautiful and, more importantly, meaningful. Some people consider them screen savers, but I agree more with those who refer to them as interactive poetry.
For quite some time, I thought Flower was the main masterpiece the team led by Jenova Chen had produced. It is, indeed, a brilliant game, where we play as the wind from the dreams of a bunch of flowers from a dark city, gently moving the petals through wide grasslands. Its beauty is undeniable, relying on a carefully selected colourful palette to make the player feel part of the environment. It’s a minimalist experience that is perfect for both newbies and experienced players. And it is thanks to that minimalism that the game achieves its beauty, as it delivers a touching narrative through its visuals, turning itself into a wordless poem before our eyes.
Enter Journey. Due to the brilliant memories I had from Flower, my expectations were incredibly high when I first approached the latest creation from the mind of Jenova Chen. However, those gigantic expectations were not only met, but left small all of a sudden, as Journey delivered the very best gaming experience I’ve ever had.
Journey takes us in an incredible adventure through an endless desert, an adventure that leads us to a high mountain, always visible in the horizon. Once again, no words are needed to empathise with our character, a nomad whose objectives, motivations and feelings we will be able to understand without the need for explanations. This game achieved a milestone in the videogame industry we have seen accomplished in very limited occasions: narrative through gameplay, without any dissonance between both elements at all.
It cleverly depicts the different ages we go through in life. It starts with the childhood, a period full of discovery and fun. We will then find the first closed environments, difficulties and enemies, since we discover our own limitations as we arrive to the adult life, in which some external elements will be challenges in our day to day. Finally, as we arrive to the base of the mountain, we’ll feel weak and our journey will take a lot of effort to complete. During the last moments of the game, our character, and as a consequence, we, are going to feel how everything is coming to an end, and the weight of that knowledge will be greatly noticeable.
The design of the environments is, simply put, flawless. It is composed of mostly simple shapes and features an excellent use of colour and lighting. It achieves a sense of quietude that evokes peaceful feelings in the player, thanks to a surprising harmony between the character and its surroundings. Austin Wintory provides an unparalleled soundtrack which fits the situation every single moment. In fact, this was the first videogame soundtrack ever to be nominated for a Grammy, for good reason. Animations have been carefully developed and rely on natural motions and simplicity when seeking for elegance, and the transitions between them are seamless. However, the artistry is not achieved through these separate features, it is the combination of all those single notes what forms a never before seen symphony in which gameplay, music, design and narrative form a single unit. A unit that is capable of delivering a spectrum of emotions, a unit that turns into a demonstration of what videogames can achieve through its unique features, a true masterpiece.
Every journey is better with company, and this one is no exception. Therefore, there’s a chance of meeting other players throughout our experience, even if we won’t be able to communicate with them, know who they are or where they’re from. However, seeing another being in the same situation as ours the feeling of empathy will be almost immediate. With company, beautiful moments will be even prettier, and the most bitter ones, not as difficult. Just as it happens in real life… That is the message Jenova Chen sends us through the screen, after all.
In a giant desert with nothing but obstacles, ourselves and our companions will be the only oases. What else do we need in the journey that life is, though? 10/10