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Journey

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I felt this small while playing the entire game. And it felt good.

I love playing video games, I really do. I almost always choose to play some sort of video game over watching television or reading when I have down time. However, I often feel like playing video games has lost the ability to relax me. Help me forget about my bad day at work, sure, but not relax me. With all the time management, micro-managing and skill-honing it takes to get through some games, gaming can sometimes be nearly as stressful as real life. After a terrible morning last Saturday, I didn’t feel up to the task of trudging through another tower in Pandora’s Tower (Puzzles, scarce save points and timers, ahoy!). Instead, I decided to pop in the compilation disc my husband gave me for Christmas and start up Journey. 

Journey truly is an escape. After finally dedicating the two hours to experience it, I can see why the critics raved about Journey. yes, sadly, it will only take about two hours of your time. This does include stopping to smell the flowers, which you’ll definitely find yourself doing more than once, despite the simplified style they went for. That’s because this game strives for incredible immersion. The music flows and reacts to what the player is doing. It never loops and it is never dull. Music in video games is always a feature I especially pay attention to. The incredible soundtrack is the only audio in the game, save for the adorable “chirps” the, um, cloth creatures you interact with make. I read that when you play online you can communicate with other players who seamlessly pop in and out of your game with the same sound. I never hooked my Ethernet cable into the PS3 so I couldn’t say. 

Your avatar on the screen looks like a cloak on legs with a scarf flowing behind it while jumping and soaring. Surprisingly flat colors, too; browns and blacks, mostly. The bulk of interaction (aside from the gorgeous scenery) you’ll have is with pieces of cloth, which serve to light up your scarf to grant you the ability to jump or glide and reach new areas. When resting, you witness cutscenes where white-robed figures tell a story through murals. The exposition is very subtle, and yet you can’t help but feel a grander scheme behind it all as your cloaked avatar climbs the enormous mountain on a dangerous journey. 

I say dangerous, but you cannot die in Journey. There’s no health bar to speak of. There is one enemy, but the damage it inflicts is staged and there is no threat to death. Even so, every time the big baddie appeared I felt a burst of pity for my avatar when it tumbled back down the mountain and took its time getting back to its feet. In a short two hour game, I am impressed with how quickly I became emotionally invested in a character that did not speak. I felt like I was sharing in a difficult mission against the elements with it, braving the mountain, feeling small and helpless together against the sheer power of nature. 

Journey is soothing. Relaxing. I’m sure many gamers won’t dig this game at all. It isn’t typical by any means. Artsy-fartsy, sure, but it didn’t come across as an annoying, pretentious, “artsy-fartsy just for the sake of being so” kind of game. Everything Journey does is done well, and it certainly pushes some boundaries with what we expect games to entail. I’d certainly present this game if I were ever to enter an “Are video games art?” debate. More than just art, this game proved to me that video games can take me to a calming, better place, versus the violent, aggression-releasing games that have saturated the market. 

 

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