Technically, Journey is a PlayStation 3 game that will receive a PlayStation 4 release. You may also wish to think of it as an interactive film. What it undoubtedly is, aside from great, is an experience. Journey tells a story via images and short sequences you see as you make your pilgrimage. The story is open to interpretation. Because Journey is such a personal experience, rather than claim to tell you “Journey’s Story”, whatever it may be, I will tell you mine, as I trekked across its vistas. Do get it, if you can. Watch it, if you cannot.
I crested a great sand dune. I hovered. I explored ruins, until I came across her. Her, I said, but that’s a decision I’ve made in my mind. Swathed in a robe from head to toe, this other figure was identical to my own. Were I the female and they the male? Were we both of the same gender? Did we even have a gender? I recognized that my decision to assign genders in such manner, and to have my avatar be my avatar was an arbitrary one, but I was fine with it.
But I was charmed, almost immediately. I came across a valley, with would-be fabric bridges, and flying pieces of fabric, and the figure was there, flying between the scenery, and singing to it. Clearly showing me via clever game design what I’m supposed to do – run around and sing to the bridges, which would release the fragments of fabric as well, and let me advance.
After we let forth all of the fabric-bridges, I wanted to look around the valley, to make sure there aren’t any “special” markings, which are necessary for achievements. After a quick look around, I surmised my partner wouldn’t lead me elsewhere before I was ready, or would wait for me, and joined her.
We traveled together, me and my cowled partner. Every so often we’d come across a mural, and when we’d sing to it, it’d light up and tell us the story of this world we found ourselves in. The best way to describe this world of sand and rundown buildings, this world whose past we’ve observed, a past of greatness, would be a term I’d take from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, the world moved on.
Speaking of my partner and I, when we’d sing, we’d recover our ability to fly, but also of the other’s. When we’d touch, we’d both recover our flight ability as well. As a couple, we could remain airborne considerably longer than alone, and doubly so when we’d let our chirps reverberate between us.
So, where was I? Ah, yes, the story of the world that moved on. We’d see how an empire of people of our kind came to be. Thinking of the game mechanics that kept recommending and requiring me to work alongside my partner, I’d see how there’d be more than one man in the pictographs. And fabric-pieces would go from one cowled figure to the other, creating vast rail systems, and grand architecture, out of the magical clothes. An empire that reached out to the stars, until loneliness had struck, and the red and warm tones had been replaced by white and cold monstrosities. The fabric connecting one figure to the other had been torn asunder.
The message was clear – united we stand, and in separation, we turn against one another. That was the message I felt the game was transmitting to me, in how it prodded me to work alongside the NPC partner, and then gave supporting evidence in the form of these cutscenes.
The vistas across our travels, oh my. A river of sand. I reached a zone where great music played as my avatar would surf down the river of sand, and after a couple of minutes I realized my thumb moved him gently, going in the shape of a slalom amidst the remnants of my civilization’s past glory. Until I’ve reached a cave, and here I was alone. I signed up for a light atmospheric journey, and suddenly there was an sense of menace in the air. I’ve seen it, a great mechanical flying sharp-serpent, which seemed to cherish tearing apart fabric, of the sort I was made of. The gameplay that followed was more stealth oriented, as I skulked from cover to cover as the creature‘s headlight-eyes sweeped across the cold catacomb. The colour palette at this stage changed from warm reds and yellows to cold blacks and blues.
After I made it, I was joined by my partner again. Sometimes we’d have to run in the open to hide from those serpents, and even when I saw the ground was clear, I’d wait for my companion to go forth, and thus signal to me that they won’t double-back or something. I trusted in the game-given NPC, even when it seemed to be tardy to me. Finally we reached a column. Actual platforming seemed to be necessary. I needed to get to higher ground, but the amount of floating time I could manage wasn’t enough. So I’d fly up, and sing as I slowly sunk, to bolster my companion’s flying, who will then sing in turn, and so in a game of “leapfrog” in the air, we went up, together, a feat we couldn’t succeed on our own. This is a game that takes roughly 2-3 hours to complete, so that this section took me 10-15 minutes was frustrating. It wasn’t fun, especially as I had to wait for the NPC to get to where I was, get what I was trying to do… sometimes only one of us would make it through, so the other would have to go down and start it anew – because we still needed one another to continue.
Thankfully, though the tower was tall, after the first two sections, I managed to flip a switch that made an area allow me to “swim” through the air, and regenerate my flying powers, so I managed to make it on my own each time to the next section’s switch, of roughly five in total.
I won’t belabour the rest of the journey, except to say it was beautiful, and with music that sometimes brought me to tears. The journey spoke of success, and failure, of death, and rejuvenation. And then it ended, in a manner that made me think of Haibane Renmei’s opening, with a light in the sky that is seen by all. It made me think of the finale to J. Michael Straczynski’s Midnight Nation graphic novel, and how interesting they both showcase “angels”. And yet, that wasn’t the great surprise.
Alongside the game’s credits, the game showed me a screen, telling me, “These are the people who accompanied you on your journey,” and the names were very clearly gamer-tags. Astounded, I went online, and found out that if you play the game with your console connected to the internet, you get a dynamic “hot-seat” of players, and that otherwise the game is a solo experience. I looked back at all my interactions, feeling as if I’m Bruce Willis in M. Night Shymalan’s The Sixth Sense. The story I constructed, which I pinned on the game forcing these moments of “togetherness” on me? All me. I checked how I were supposed to scale the tower, with the annoying “platforming”, and turns out there was a simple solution, one I did not look for, because my companion, whom I trusted to be an NPC to show me how things should be done, went straight to the tower!
There are no NPCs in Journey, it’s all people. I loved the experience of playing Journey. It was haunting, beautiful, and moving. And then the post-game realization added even more to the whole experience. Journey is short, but I recommend it to anyone who can play it. And if you can’t play it, I suggest going onto YouTube and watching people play through it. I’m told by friends it’s actually worthwhile, and I can easily see why.
Journey… is it one of the best films I’ve ever watched, or one of the best games I’ve ever played? I’m not sure, but it was the best something, alright.
This is a very different entry from the sort I usually write. Any feedback would be welcome.