I’m not usually a person who buys PSN games, but after experiencing Thatgamecompany’s Flower, I become a pretty big fan of TGC.
Now admittedly, when I first saw Journey, it came off as a boring looking game. “You’re a cloaked figure walking around in the desert”. After becoming a fan of Flower however, I knew that the game had to be more than just that.
Eventually, more details arouse on the gameplay and overall experience, and I began to see the game’s potential. The game was meant to be an emotional and immersive experience, such as Flower (of course).
To avoid spoiling myself any further, I waited until the game’s release to further analyse it. I ended up purchasing the game a few days after the game’s release, and there were already a pretty mutual agreement by gamers that the game was amazing.
I bought the game, waited for it to download, and launched.
The first thing I’m presented with is a red cloaked figure in a desert featuring the best and most realistic sand I’ve ever seen rendered real time. (sorry, my inner developer lifestyle couldn’t resist).
The sand was beautiful. I spent probably ten minutes walking around in the area studying the beautiful sand and wondering how the developers pulled it off (which I later found out about here: http://www.thatgamecompany.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=11191#11191)
So after moving around a bit and actually starting my journey, I came across what I called at the time: “Scarf Pieces”. These pieces I found out, allowed me to jump and/or glide around for a limited time. “What an interesting concept!” I thought.
A few additional things I discovered (here’s the developer in me again), is the various animations that the player avatar had when landing certain ways and when walking up slopes. It added a level of realism to me (which I’ll elaborate on a little later).
The goal of the game is a fairly implicit. You are presented with a mountain in the beginning of the game. That’s it. You aren’t immediately presented a back-story or really any hint of what’s going on until you progress in the game a bit. This is my favorite kind of storytelling because it presents a layer of mystery. “How did this world end up this way?” and “Why am I here?”.
As you trek along in the world, you discover floating hieroglyphs that increase the length of your scarf (which is something I didn’t notice until a little later on in the game). I discovered the longer your scarf, the longer you can glide.
One interesting thing is, the game doesn’t explicitly tell you what to do on each level. It adds a bit of an open world/exploration element. Each level (which I find to be the most interesting part of the game) has a particular theme and lighting to it that makes it different, but is entirely composed of either sand or snow and scarves. One of the most blatant examples of this is the reef area of the game. You feel like you are underwater, but it’s actually sand, scarves formed to look like reefs, and cool lighting.
There are a few creatures in the game that aid and direct you in the game, sometimes, you even have to help them out. Some of these creatures even allow you to ride them.
HOWEVER, there is this one serpent like creature in particular (which I call the Sentinel), that is not so friendly. I remember witnessing it for the first time. He was flying around at the exit of the reef area and had a glowing eye. I approached it assuming it was friendly or some type of milestone, and was sorely mistaken. One glance at me changed his eye red, and the next thing I know, he launches at me and rips my scarf. Not only was that scary, but kinda made me upset. Here I am slowly building up my scarf, and this creature comes along and rips it… (then I find out that there are several more later on in the game.
Near the Conclusion:
When I arrived at the ice level of the game, I noticed another cloaked traveler in the distance. I originally thought that he was there as a way to make me feel I wasn’t alone in this world (that or I was about to witness his demise). Then the figure approached me and signaled me. I discovered that he was an actual player.
Journey had no real way for me to communicate with the player other than to emit symbols and sit, but we were able to get most of our points across. I discovered after beating Journey a second or third time that your cloak gains additional symbols as you beat the game. The person I met up with had no symbols such as I, so I can assume that he was new to this game, such as I.
We made it to the mountain and had a pretty rough time. Our scarves became covered in ice, and we were no longer able to glide. Our animations slowly began to make us look like we were struggling, and to make matters worse, a Sentinel was flying around above us. To cut this part of the story short, we were attacked several times, and pretty much lost most of our scarves…
We got to a point where we were nearing the mountain’s summit, and from there, is became a literal struggle for our travelers. The snow and the wind was strong, we were unable to glide, and we were beginning to slow down. The music in the background became slower and quiet; it was as if we were dying.
Our player’s collapsed and woke up to what was an allusion to limbo or heaven. A tall white figure that we’ve seen several times in the game appears along with several others, and within an instance, my traveler sprouted a long scarf at shot towards the mountain’s summit.
Probably one of the most beautiful and peaceful game environments I’ve ever laid eyes on, the mountain summit was amazing. I was effortlessly gliding with a school of magic carpet creatures to the top of the mountain and made it to the peak (along with the other player I met earlier). There was a little pathway at the peak which was bright and quiet. The light lit the sand beautifully, and my friend vigorously mashed the signaling button several times in obvious excitement. We made it to the end.
After thoughts and Post Game:
My first afterthought was that the game was a bit short, but rewarding and inexpensive. I legitimately wanted more, which isn’t something many games invoke in me. I thought it was a masterpiece. I literally played the game again right after beating it and discovered my secrets and hidden glyph(s) I discovered that there was a area just for warping to other areas, and lastly I discovered that there was white cloak…. A WHITE CLOAK!!! That single element made Journey the third game I completely beat (Crash Bandicoot Warped and Kingdom Hearts 2 being the others).
If anything, the best part of the game is that it put me through a cinematic experience regardless of the gameplay being light. My mother isn’t much of a video game fanatic, but this was probably the first game she actually watched me play other than Flower (which I forced her to play). With both games, she believed they offered a peaceful experience (after learning the controls of course; that took a while).
Journey is the perfect example of how graphics can be used to increase the immersion a game can create.
Bonus: Here is a cosplay I created for Journey. Thank you turnonred for the tutorial!