Genre: Adventure, Art
Original Platform: PlayStation 3
Original Release Date: March 13, 2012
Current Platform: PlayStation 4
Current Platform Release Date: July 21, 2015
Date Purchased: January 21, 2017
Date Started: February 11, 2017
Date Finished: March 22, 2017
Play Duration: 39 days
This wasn’t just a video game; it was an experience and the retort to any fool who claims that video games cannot be art, because that’s all Journey was. I’ve upheld the claim of games as an art medium for at least two decades. Art is anything that evokes an emotional response; therefore, art can be anything. Of course there are things that evoke emotional responses that aren’t considered art. A particular door may cause an emotional response in a particular individual due to history fair or foul, and this portal if plain wouldn’t be art, but it’s safe to say that a creative work that evokes a general emotional response certainly is.
Like my Final Fantasy reviews, this will be broken up by Gameplay, Story, and Music.
Journey is an artistic adventure. You control a robed and scarfed character as you traverse a vast desert landscape.
Nor is the scarf just for show. You can use it to fly and float momentarily through the air, and the longer your scarf, the farther you can soar. There are places with similar looking cloth scraps set in the ground where you can recharge for future flights.
The game is broken up into undefined chapters and each has a scarf upgrade, which lengthens it and your flight ability. I, alas, only found one of them near the end, so I traversed the barren landscape with a woefully short scarf and very little flying ability.
While Journey is not a collaborative effort, you can still be joined by other travelers along the way.
Each traveler has their own symbol that appears when you “call,” and this calling is integral for progression. There are only two actions you can do in Journey: jumping/flying and calling. Calling will “awaken” certain parts of the landscape, streamers, bridges, shrines, and others that will allow you to continue on your way.
The goal is to reach that far mountain of light in the distance, and the closer you come to your destination, the harder the path grows. There are only a few enemies in the game. They won’t kill your character, but they will take away segments of their scarf.
I’m unsure if you can replenish what you’ve lost, since I only had one augmentation. I did arouse the ire of one of the guardians in the snow as shown above right when I was on the edge of the area. It. Was. Terrifying. I thought I’d have to start the chapter over again, but the monster only stuns you for a moment before you can continue on. It didn’t remove the one scarf augmentation I’d found so I’m wondering if it has to be of a certain length before you lose it.
-William Butler Yeats “The Second Coming”
********SPOILERS TO FOLLOW*******
The Traveler exists in what can only be considered a desert wasteland, and all implications point to the dark truth that the entire world is like this now. There is nothing left but sand, snow, and the remnants of civilization.
There are also shrines containing ancient glyphs, which you must call to wake. These are scattered throughout the wasteland, and each one you awaken reveals a piece of the story.
Because Journey is up for interpretation, I can only give you what I took from it in the hopes that it will spark a lush discourse/discussion in the comments. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a comprehensive collection of all of the ancient glyphs, nor are there any YouTube videos that show them alone, so you’ll have to rely on my words and the few pictures I was able to dig up.
This first glyph confirms that the markers you see throughout the journey indeed cover graves. The entire civilization is dead, and all that remains are the headstones that guide your way.
The next glyph goes backwards in time from the first, showing what appears to be a flourishing world around five individuals dressed as the Traveler. This is the world at peace/in balance before the cataclysmic events of the fall.
This is the people building a great civilization. Growing in technology and knowledge, reaching above the rude depths of the ground. This could also show where a divide might have occurred as only two of the original five are ascending, leaving three of their brethren on the ground. It is arguably a progression, though considering what happens letter, the (early) divide assessment isn’t farfetched.
Unfortunately, these were the only good screenshots I could locate
The civilization is prosperous, but as humans do, dissension leads to war. Machines are crafted for the latter, and eventually everything is destroyed. The wasteland the Traveler traverses is all that’s left. The sand has buried both human and the majority of their works. Even the sea has turned to desert, as shown in the dark, watery looking chapter where you first meet the guardians.
There is also a “keeper” of the glyphs in some instances, a white robed figure with a stone monument that must be awoken before she appears ( I don’t know why I think of the white robed one as “she,” I just do). It is also very difficult to find a picture of her since googling “white robed one” garners you walkthroughs on how to obtain a white robe for your character.
The temples glyphs are surrounded by grave markers, too, which leads me to believe white robed keepers are buried there, and they were the keepers of the history when the civilization was still alive. The one who manifests is your spirit guide to the lost past. When you awaken these, the Traveler sits as a brief snippet of history plays out.
Eventually, the sands give way to snow, and you’re forced to traverse an icy terrain with a buffeting wind that attempts to blow you back. The only way the Traveler can push forward is by taking refuge behind the grave markers until the wind dies down, and they can move forward again. There are winged guardians in the snow, hunting for you with terrifying searchlights, but there are also the “bodies” of fallen guardians for the Traveler to hide in.
I believe the floating machines are remnants of the wars that caused civilization’s collapse, and in fact, may very well have been humanity’s quietus. They are all that remain, and all that they know is their murderous programming: seek and destroy. Even after the years it would take to bury the cities in sand, they still fulfill their appointed purpose
The world turns to whirling white as the Traveler continues on, and the wind grows ever crueler seeking to push you back. The once red robes turn white (which is foreshadowing for later) as ice, and each step becomes agony. Not even graves dot this frozen landscape to offer a gloomy haven, but the mountain of light still shines like a beacon, and the destination is ever so near. Each step taken grows harder and harder as slower and slower they come.
Then slow turns to stop and for a moment frozen, before this term becomes literal. The Traveler falls over into the drifts, and for a second all is still. The white separates into a robed figure who looks over the frozen form. All fades to white and then afterwards you’re flying up the mountainside. Regardless the length of the Traveler’s scarf it’s long and flowing far behind.
Winter no longer grips the land, which can be seen from the flowing waters and clear, blue sky. Even if your scarf runs out of energy, the Traveler can never fall. There are plenty of revival spots so that they can journey on.
The scene changes again to far gentler snow where it lays almost like a blanket. The symbols of travelers long gone before float in the air like drops of snow..
They walk towards the light between the two rocks and there’s no cruel wind to stall them now. Though it is winter, it’s gentle as spring, and the ancestors call them home.
Once in between, light just takes over, though you can see the Traveler for moments more. The shadowy form fades from gray to white until it’s indistinguishable from the light. The “journey” ends with a shooting star from the mountain. It traverses the whole of the path once taken, going in reverse until the final screen stops at the start where the journey begins and ends.
I believe as I said prior: there was a great civilization that fell into decay due to war. The machines they built for this ruinous endeavor outlasted them all, and they still stalk the landscape seeking to extinguish all life they find. This could very well have been humanity’s quietus, but either way, we know from the first glyph that everyone is dead.
The Traveler never makes it to the mountain, because that light between is not something that can be obtained in life. They die in the snow at the foot of the peak. The white robed one doesn’t come to revive you; she comes to greet the spirit that has just departed the flesh, and that spirit flies up the mountain freed from cold, fear, and earthly bonds to be with the travelers that came before and their ancestors who in death have learned and atoned for the mistakes of the past. The symbols you see floating in the air in the gentler snow prove all the journeyers (and possibly ancestors) who went before, welcoming them in. The light from the mountain is their light, and each successive traveler adds to this, making the beacon brighter for whomever will come next. It is a tale of self-imposed sacrifice with not only the benefit of paradise at the end, but also the added bonus of shining it more brilliantly so the next travelers can witness the beckon so brightly beam.
The white robed ones have made the same journey as the Traveler. They have overcome the trial of snow (which might explain the white robes), and in doing so, they’ve become the keepers of the histories to show journeyers before them the knowledge and insight that was lost in destruction.
I believe the Traveler becomes one of them after passing through the light, someone who will guide other journeyers on their way to the mountain, because only through the trials of the traverse will they be worthy to pass through. The journey is what makes you worthy of the destination.
It’s beyond perfect for the game, but blends so seamlessly in it becomes just part of the journey itself. In listening to the soundtrack on its own though, the long bow strokes for the cello are chill inducing.
“I Was Born for This,” the only song with sung vocals is a must have for download.
Final Thoughts and Ratings
I finished Journey a few days ago, so it’s had some time to marinate in my brain. I personally had some issues with playing it, because rotating camera angles give me motion sickness, so I had to cut my journeying into manageable chunks. I noticed this issue years ago when the N64 came out, and I attempted to play Banjo Kazooie on it. It was the first time a video game had ever made me feel nauseated. Oddly enough I can watch games like this, but playing them causes the problem. This leads me to the one critique I have of the game. I wish you could’ve had some control over the camera, though this wasn’t really too much of a hindrance, and doesn’t take anything away from the rating.
Speaking of which, I’ve been in numerous discussions about how game ratings are starting to become obsolete, and I can’t say I disagree. Even though I’m going to give one, it’s still occurring at the end of my review where it won’t do you any good unless you purposely skipped to this point in order to find a number. I do still like to give a numerical assessment, though in reality since no game is the exact same as another, no rating is the same either even if their values match.
Thatgamecompany’s third work is a masterpiece and it receives a overall 10 from this Shameful Narcissist. The graphics are breathtaking; the game play is easy to master (there are only two action buttons); the music fits perfectly; and the narrative, while highly up for interpretation, still leads you along a particular path.
Journey is a must play for anyone who loves artistic beauty and wants to experience something divine. This is a game I would recommend to non-gamers, as well, because its lack of actual combat makes it fairly easy to get through. You can’t die or fail to complete your task so long as you keep going, no matter how difficult the terrain becomes. This could very well be the creators’ message to the players.