I don’t mean to come off as pretentious, but I’d like to think that I play only the finest games that our beloved industry has to offer. My friends know this. Staying in touch with the news, reading up on upcoming titles, and having an innate ability to pick apart the games that are going to stand out and rise above the rest — these are traits of mine that are valued among my friends and peers, and I’m generally the source of information for those in my life who don’t take the time to do the research and want to know what I know.
Having said this, I feel a little ashamed that when my friends asked me a few months ago about whether or not thatgamecompany‘s Journey was worth checking out, my reply was an unfavorable “meh.”
Shocking, I know. Make no mistake about it; I think that Journey is a brilliant game, but my first post-playthrough reflection left me a little puzzled as to what the big deal was. I would have even gone so far as to say the game was “overrated.”
You see, I’d read the dozens of reviews and articles and after seeing such positive feedback, I threw down the $15 and decided to give it a whirl. Yes, the visuals were breathtakingly gorgeous and the music was wonderfully orchestrated. I even managed to meet a few fellow travelers throughout the game, but failed to make a lasting connection with any of them. They did their thing, and I did mine. I genuinely thought that this was how the game was supposed to be played.
Quickly and carelessly, I finished the game in just under an hour and a half, and after the credits rolled, I was surprisingly presented with a handful of PlayStation Network IDs of the mysterious wanderers I came across — not that it mattered. However, I couldn’t wrap my finger around why the game hadn’t connected with me on the emotional level I was expecting it to.
Did I somehow miss what everybody else was talking about?
I knew that Journey was revered not so much for its gameplay or its graphics, but for its supposed ability to blur the lines between video games and art — a topic of much discussion over recent years, and one that still occasionally drives a dividing wedge between developers and parts of the media.
But not once did that seem apparent to me. I played the game, the credits rolled, and that was it. My gut reaction told me I had wasted $15, but I didn’t want to feel that way, so I shamefully attributed my dislike to the phrase “different strokes for different folks.”
And so it was to the digital shelf Journey went, abandoned and forgotten on my PS3′s vast hard drive in an ironic desert of downloads, never to be touched again. I had moved onto other games, like Far Cry 3 and Ni No Kuni — both of which are outstanding titles that I would easily recommend to anybody, but when it came to Journey, my response was still unflattering.
Now, there’s certainly no official merit when it comes to my opinion of a game, but with my credibility amongst my friends being held in such high reverence, this “unfavorable meh” about Journey didn’t sit well with me. Journey is a voyage that, regardless of what I think, should still be experienced. However, it was too late for me to tell my friends that, as they too moved on to other games, just as I had.
A couple of weeks went by, and I decided that I needed to give Journey another chance. The acclaim it received couldn’t have been for nothing, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was truly missing something special. It was an early Saturday evening, and if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right.
I turned off the lights, cranked up the surround sound, and powered on my PS3. Hell, I even put my phone on silent.
I was once again greeted with a bright, yet gentle golden glow emanating from my television, accompanied by that lonely crooning cello. With miles of endless sand stretched ahead of me and my destination to the top of the mountain clear off in the distance, I pushed forward and began my second adventure.
I’d stumbled over a few dunes, when to my surprise, I came across a new companion, who unlike the several who came before in my previous journey, was draped in a white robe with a long, billowing white scarf and delicately golden trim.
This person clearly looked like they had a few playthroughs under their belt, and as luck would have it, he did. After a few minutes of playing cat and mouse and dancing around each other, we established a system of chimes to communicate with one another, since the game doesn’t support any sort of voice chat or standard communication.
For example, two chimes meant “thank you” while three chimes meant “you’re welcome.”
As we ventured onward, he showed me around to secret sections of the landscape and assisted me in collecting hidden items I hadn’t found before. He even helped me knock out a handful of trophies. A uniquely special camaraderie had befallen me like never before, as we enjoyed mimicking each other’s every move, experiencing the adventure almost hand in hand, and chiming every step of the way.
As we surfed through the sand, I felt a profound sense of pure joy and reckless abandon, oblivious to danger and consequence. When we swam through the dark, brooding underworld, I felt scared and we each looked to the other for guidance and protection from the massive surveying creatures that haunted us. As we trudged our way through the cold and snowy valley, we latched onto each other for warmth as the whipping winds bit at us, intent on holding us back.
And it did hold us back; we collapsed. When I hit the snow, unable to walk any further, I truly felt like I let my faceless friend down — that no matter how hard we tried, the game world was telling us “no.”
But then there was a sliver of hope.
We were given a second chance; a chance to finish what we started. The music slowly danced its way up as we were now off, soaring through the sky to the top of the mountain, weightless and free. For as many games as there have been that have featured flight, never before have I ever truly felt like I was flying.
To quote The Perks of Being a Wallflower, in that moment “we were infinite.”
The sun was bright as ever, the wind was taking us higher and higher, vibrant colors were magnificently painted on the screen, and the now triumphant musical score lifted me to pure ecstasy — it was a perfect marriage of music and visuals, intertwined so beautifully that it brought tears to my eyes.
Whatever I missed the first time I played, it had finally clicked this time. This wasn’t just a video game — this was interactive art, its peaks and valleys symbolizing so many things for me all at once that I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with emotion.
It was beautiful in every single conceivable way.
When we reached the landing near the top of the mountain, we slowly walked side by side, into the giant arms of the white abyss that welcomed us. I knew the game was about to end, so I had to show my gratitude to my fellow companion for sharing an incredible ride with me, as I felt like I would have never made it without them by my side.
*chime chime* I said.
*chime chime chime* he replied.
And with that, the game came to a close. I anxiously awaited to find out his PSN ID after the credits rolled, and when I did, we instantly messaged each other, thanking one another and chatting about how fantastic a game Journey is. As a side note, it turns out “he” is a “she.” Furthermore, I own the soundtrack and listening to it now transports me back to the game, still bringing a tear to my eye.
Anyway, it goes without saying that my “unfavorable meh” turned into a resounding “YES! ABSOLUTELY!”
I don’t think my friends ever did go back and try it out after I told them about my second experience, and it’s a shame, because they’re truly missing out on one of the best games out there, in a league of its own. My experience with Journey and what I took away from it might be different from yours, but there is no denying that it is very special, regardless of what anybody tells you.