Journey is exceptionally beautiful, a true example of video games being art.
Journey has always held a place in my heart after I first played it in 2016 on the PS4 when it was free on PSN. I heard about it and figured it’d be worth a play, even if it was only a one-off experience. The game was unique and nothing like I’ve ever played before. I was skeptical when I hit download and later launched it. But, to my surprise, it quickly rose to be my favorite game of all time. This is the only game that, despite not having much replayability, I continue to go back to and head off on the journey again and again.
When I first came to the realization of it, I couldn’t tell you why I loved it. Journey was the first game of its kind that I played. I wasn’t into beauty-over-combat games. I sure proved myself wrong, though.
Art is something that is vital for almost any video game and Journey is no exception. You’d be hard-pressed to find a game that doesn’t encapsulate the “video games are art” mantra so perfectly. I love the art style thatgamecompany went with. It’s visually vibrant in areas such as the sandy dunes of what looks like a sand-covered city and desolate and bleak in others like the eerie, rundown tunnel.
It doesn’t even stop there, even the protagonist is well-designed as a robed figure labeled The Traveler. No words escape its mouth, only verbal chirps. The design of him is a simple red robe draped over a pitch-black body with pin legs. It doesn’t move fast, but with the help of its scarf, it can journey long distances in a single swoop. I find the design charming and simple. Not every character needs to have specifics, all The Traveler has is a pair of eyes, legs, and a body that is often covered by its red robe.
It’s About the Journey, Not The Destination
Journey isn’t a complex game on the surface. It looks like a simple “get from point A to point B” title. But, it gets more complicated once you observe the loose story it does tell. All in all, it isn’t a game that just tells you the story, it’s a game that gives you the building blocks to conceive a story. A story that makes sense in your head. Personally, I believe it’s a tale about the rise and hostile-driven fall of a thriving civilization. The entire time you’re playing is simply you making your way through Purgatory, the realm between Heaven and Hell.
What little we do know is your goal in Journey is to get to the peak of a mountain looming in the distance. To do this, though, you must first traverse through the sandy dunes, waking cloth fragments all the way through to the snow biome under the beckoning mountain as your scarf freezes. I do think it was for the best how they made the game short, they didn’t drag it on or try to at least. They wanted the player to sit down, play it, and win it all in the sitting. That’s what I did, I sat down, had a cup of coffee, and booted up Journey.
It isn’t just an abstract story or its less than long playtime that gives it an edge, its masterfully scored music by Austin Wintory also puts it above others. I was surprised to some extent. I’ve heard wonderful music from games, even ones like Journey, but none have been able to fully compare to what it was capable of. The ambiance, the sound effects, and the music all contribute to making it feel like its own world for you to travel through.
The music ranges from calming stringed compositions as you traverse the dunes to tension-building drum beats as you make your way through the dark tunnel. No area has the exact same music and you will hear and possibly feel the difference as you play through the game. You’d be surprised how much music can set the tone for a game’s surroundings. I absolutely found myself wary all throughout the tunnel area as the music picked up.
It Isn’t Just Walking, It’s Avoiding
Journey doesn’t like focusing on combat, its gameplay consists of leaping into the air and gliding based on the length of your scarf and chirping at cloth fragments to restore your gliding ability. This was something that made me feel out of place. You also have to go searching for collectibles that add to your scarf.
While the game falters in actual combat, there is something for you to avoid. The first time playing I was shocked to see something to actually avoid. Through the entire first chapter, you had nothing to fear, you just had to follow the path and continue on your merry way. But, as you reach the second chapter, you will run into Guardians, mechanical creatures that once were made of cloth used for war. I will be honest, I was worried about this section, you want to avoid the prying eye of its searchlight at all cost, unless you want to try to outrun them, even then, though, it’s hard. They fly and will dive, meaning they will most likely be faster than you, unless you’re sliding downhill.
Oddly enough, the game does hold multiplayer. It’s not the traditional multiplayer, though. In a bid to make it more interesting, players will be thrown into a world with other players, but no names appear above their heads or anything. You have to wait until you complete the game to find out who it was.
Scarves Are Your Friends
Journey has its strong suits in the fact it is short, sweet, and beautifully designed and orchestrated, but no game is perfect. I find the game, even with it being as short as it is, slow at times, the tail-end of the game has this problem more than anywhere else. In the homestretch, you must trek along the snowy mountains. Not only do you have to avoid Guardians, but you also have to get behind rocks and into discarded Guardian pieces to avoid the harsh wind. All the while, you cannot use your gliding ability as your scarf is frozen solid.
Would I say Journey is the best game ever and it’s for everyone? Absolutely not. I am well aware that not everyone will like the constant walking and lack of action, but if you’re looking for a game to prove that video games can be art, you don’t need to look any further. After all, thatgamecompany blended all aspects of art, from its masterfully crafted music to its ambient world design into one neat package.
Have you gotten around to playing Journey? What did you think if you have? Tell us below!
Reviewed on PS4
- Stylish art direction
- Well-composed music and sound design
- Tells a story without telling a story
- Slow at times, especially after playing many times