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Journey

Everyone ready for some Journey?

Whoa, wait. Put down the karaoke mic. And you, in the corner. If you don’t stop “don’t stop BELIEVIN'” under your breath, I’m going to strangle you with this microphone cord. (Not really.) (Really.)

Journey. For the PlayStation 3. By thatgamecompany. Won a ridiculous number of awards, including Game of the Year from GameSpot, Entertainment Weekly, IGN, etc. The musical score has been nominated for a Grammy. Here’s a promo image to make sure we’re on the same page:

I picked this up from the PSN just after Christmas, when it was on sale for $7 and some change. If we’re going to be friends, there are some things you should know about me: I can’t resist the color red. Seriously, if you put anything red and shiny in front of me, you will capture my attention. I’m worse than Jeremy the crow over here. (That is an oldschool The Secret of NIMH reference, educate yourselves.) Furthermore, I have a not-so-secret yen for Lisa Snellings’ poppet figurines and this entire game can basically be construed as the universe next door to Snellings’ Poppet Planet. Except without the creepiness some people insist the poppets carry. (People who won’t let me bring any of those poppets home. Not naming any husband names here.)

I don't suppose I'm helping my own point here.

When I began my Journey, I knew nothing about the game. That’s exactly the way things should be. There are no words in Journey. Nothing written, nothing spoken. Swathed in a gorgeous red cloak edged in gold, you wake up alone in a vast desert. No one comes to hand you a quest. No action immediately unfolds to demand your attention. If you’re uncouth like me, you appreciate the beauty, notice the mountain with light shooting into the heavens from its top, and start toward it with a “what the hell.”

That’s what you do, by the way. Spoilers and all, but the only real direction for you to go here is toward the glowing mountain. Now, in real life, I typically find it’s a wiser course to go in the OTHER direction from mountains that appear to be spewing molten light from their crowns. However, this is Journey and everything is enchantingly metaphysical. The music keeps us chill, and we travel onward toward enlightenment. Or onward in bemusement. Whichever you prefer, man.

On your way, you get to absorb glowing rune-lights that make your scarf longer. I think this honestly was my favorite part – I was very vain about my scarf, and got a possibly ridiculous amount of joy from watching it light up and twine and twirl as I powered-up through collisions with various animated pieces of cloth. Also, once you were powered up, you could FLY. Or at least leap really high and glide around in gleeful patterns.

Journey by ~moosmic on DeviantArt.

I don’t want to spoil too much for people who haven’t played the game yet. So, if you care about that sort of thing, I recommend you just go to my Tumblr and look at pretty Journey art before downloading the game and playing through it. I’ll meet you back here in a couple of hours. Deal?

For the rest of you: look, the first time another player showed up on my screen, I was spooked. I had no idea if there was a real person behind the other red-cloaked fella or if it was an NPC helping me along. As the stranger proceeded to finish my bridge, I actually stewed a bit that he/she was playing MY game. That bridge was my job! Who the hell did she/he think he/she was? The temerity! The nerve! …and then I was thrown into a metaphysical quandary. Was I alone? Did anyone else exist? Were they empty constructs or thinking beings? What did they feel? How did they see me? For my sanity, I honestly chose to see them as soulless constructs of cloth, slightly more dear to me than the various magic carpets and power-up fish school cloths because they resembled me.

My whole world changed when the credits rolled and I found out they were real companions.

I still don’t know how I feel about that. Look, I floundered around a lot when learning to fly, okay? It’s like acting out the action from a story you’re writing only to realize someone has been watching you the whole time. Not that I am familiar with this feeling or anything!

On the other hand, I was strangely touched that I didn’t make my Journey alone.

On Twitter, when I finished the game, I immediately described it as “beautiful, soothing, poetic, delightful, and worth revisiting.” I stand by that. The music is mesmerizing and haunting, the visuals are gorgeously rendered, and the red and golds and blues are all a feast to my eyes. The voiceless storytelling is compelling, and the emotional resonance is boundless.

But I gotta say.

When you descend into the lightless tunnels before you reach the mountain proper, you first encounter these cloth behemoths with spotlights. If that spotlight focuses on you, it goes red and then the beast brutally rams you and TEARS YOUR SCARF. This creeped the shit right out of me, and I literally shrieked the first time my precious, beautiful scarf was torn. (I told you I was vain.) I was so despondent! And losing a companion in those tunnels is the worst feeling ever.

Everything else is beautiful, though, honest. Even at the very end when you’re toiling up a mountainside, literally turning blue from frost, your pulsing rune-call barely flickering when you call out – well, there’s a beauty in the exhaustion. There’s a solid Frodo-feel, except this isn’t Mount Doom and you know something transcendent is just around the corner.

Journey by *Ailovc on DeviantArt.

You can feel it. So you make it. And in the end, you walk into incandescent whiteness at the heart of the mountain’s crown. As I watched myself walking farther and farther into the white, I thought, “Huh. So that’s it. I fade to white, become a shooting star, and am reborn.”

And that was it. I disappeared into whiteness. A shooting star erupted into the heavens from the mountain’s glow. It flew back through all the regions I’d traveled, trailing glowing rune-lights as it went. And it returned to the hill I woke up on. I laughed at bit, both kindly and unkindly at the completely expected event.

But you know what? I can’t wait to go again.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Juushika January 7, 2013, 3:01 PM

    The game also improves remarkably with replay. Well, improves may not be the word; replay may not even be, either. It’s a cyclical experience, and the narrative doesn’t really come into it’s own until you’ve engaged with it as a cycle.

    This is one of my favorite games, was my obvious pick for game of the year, and I consider it a revolution in storytelling and multiplayer component so … yeah! always delighted to see someone discover it; it is remarkable.

    • Deborah January 15, 2013, 4:42 PM

      Though I’ve been sidetracked by Mass Effect, I’m eager to experience the cyclical nature of Journey. I’m also eager to find out what it’s like to become someone else’s companion, since I was so focused on my own experience my first time through.

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