Jenova Chen and thatgamecompany have created a masterpiece. That much is certain. I don’t want to mince words here. Anyone who is not struck by the beauty, ingenuity, and delicacy of Journey is either a troll or just doesn’t understand video games. The story, the gameplay, the whole experience, are compressed into a little diamond, one that you can play over and over again.
Anyone looking forward to playing Journey should probably stop reading. It’s hard to spoil the narrative of something as straight forward and linear as Journey, but the game is not played, so much as discovered. That sense of discovery is critical to the game’s enjoyment. The best way to play Journey is to know nothing going in.
For a long time, the video game industry has operated under the assumption that longer is better. There is a fetch quest infestation in most titles. Codices of 100,000-word info dumps are commonplace. Games are bloated and padded with crap, which serves to do nothing except extend a game’s duration. Why does this appeal to gamers? So many critical darlings are brief, wondrous experiences, like Braid, Bastion, Limbo, and thatgamecompany’s past projects, Flower and Flow. If Mass Effect is a Hollywood blockbuster, and Final Fantasy a door stop epic novel, then Journey is pure poetry — a game condensed to haiku.
The lush visuals and vibrant score carry you through the game beginning to end, meant to be experienced in a single sitting, like you would watch a film, or read a poem. In the game, you play a cloaked wanderer, who traverses a vast desert, a ruined city, and a snowy wasteland, all in an attempt to reach a glowing mountain peak far away. As you walk, the mountain rarely leaves your sight. It is your quest, your journey, to reach the mountaintop. It is a simple story, but imbued with great meaning.
Whether you reach the mountaintop in a literal sense is open to interpretation. In death, your character achieves nirvana, and ascends to the promised land. That is my take on it. The message of the game is that life is not about the destination, but about the journey, and the people you share it with.
Indeed, of all the things that make Journey unique, its multiplayer gameplay is the most memorable. You do not choose your companion. Instead, the game randomly pairs two strangers, who can communicate only through musical tones. The point is that even though communication in Journey sounds something like THIS, you still develop deep emotional connections with the strangers you encounter on your journey. After one particularly epic playthrough, I exchanged several messages with a more experienced player who had escorted me through the game. He was from Japan. I made a pen pal over power ups.
Try talking about Gears of War 3 this way.
If you haven’t played Journey yet, get off the internet and go live it.