Journey is a truly beautiful game, something that I would show off to anyone if I wished to demonstrate to them the raw power of emotional storytelling a videogame can possess. It fits very much in the same category as Child of Light, in that the traditional roles are reserved, and now story is king, instead of actual gameplay.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing Journey for a lack of effective gameplay. I was more than happy to get swept along through the endless desert atop various creatures made from cloth, but the story is where Journey really hits home, and I’d pay ten times the game’s price tag to have this experience all over again for the first time.
The game begins with the silent traveller arriving in the seemingly endless desert, with a large, foreboding mountain in the distance. The traveller is then tasked with reaching said mountain by an angelic figure that appears to the player in visions, and so embarks on the titular journey of the game, traversing the desert with the help of cloth creatures that can be freed from their decrepit state.
As far as gameplay goes, that’s basically it for Journey, and simplicity of the entire thing only heightens the beauty of the product. At various points the player may encounter other travellers who are similarly embarking on their own Journey’s, and while I’m not particularly opposed to this, it definitely would’ve been nice to have had the option to turn this feature off, as Journey is a game that undoubtedly performs better and has a larger impact on the player when experienced alone.
Speaking of said impact, it’s the elegantly woven story that really is the selling point behind the game. The traveller’s goal is to get to the mountain, and the titular journey on which it embarks takes it through a multitude of locations, including a long lost civilisation buried deep within the sand, dark hallways in which robotic sentries patrol, and mountain paths with strong winds and weather which threaten to derail the traveller’s journey entirely.
The traveller almost meets its end on the mountainside, struggling on until it collapses in the snow. The angelic guardians gather around it, pulling the traveller back up onto its feet and giving it one last boost to get to the crevice within the peak of the mountain. Once there, the traveller walks into the white light, with the camera eventually loosing sight of it. The white light bore clear signs of the afterlife to me, especially since in the ensuing credits sequence, a star is shown traversing the desert from the mountain back to where the traveller began its journey, with it coming to rest in the exact same place.
I’d argue the story leaves much to the player’s imagination, and that’s why Journey succeeds in being so effective. We’ve actually no concrete idea of why the traveller is trying to get to the mountain, or who the guardians are, or what actually takes place once the traveller reaches the mountain. Therefore I’d argue that the artistic style of the game is what made me latch onto Journey the most, and as I also experienced with Child of Light, is what supported the subtle story throughout.
The game may take place almost entirely in a seemingly endless desert, but it’s the pure fascination of experiencing the journey of the traveller within its own shoes that stood out to me the most about the game. The art style of the game could’ve languished in the traditional desert colours of the dry brown, but instead chooses to go for vivid colours and landscapes that jump out of the screen, giving the game that edgy impact that most have come to experience upon playing it.
Journey is more of a fantastic experience than an actual game, and that’s not bad thing. Just seeing the titular journey taking place from the point of view of the silent traveller had a huge impact on me, making me pause and think about what I was actually witnessing. What was the purpose of the guardians? Why was the traveller so eager to reach the mountain? It’s these questions that drew me into Journey and never let me go until the final credits rolled. Journey may only take a few hours to complete, but there’s no experience quite like it.