I don’t feel envious of consumer games journalists very often, but my what a joy it would be to be paid to write about Journey.
I’m a self-confessed thatgamecompany fan, and to see it grow through its games in the way that it has makes me grateful I’m here for this generation. Flow was great. Flower was amazing. Journey is just something else, yet still a clear evolution of Jenova Chen’s visionary approach.
There are many common themes throughout the trio. Evolution and growth, obviously. The experience of travel, too, and the evocative nature of change. The journey. But the one thing that ties them the strongest is the notion of power.
In all three games you start as something small. Powerless, relatively speaking. A single cell organism. A petal. A lone traveller.
In Flow, the game was about the evolution of power and growth enabling you to conquer what just minutes ago you feared. And Flower’s climax, which saw the player overcome weakness and fragility to become a world-changing, life-giving power, dominating all in its path.
I hate the word empowerment. It makes me feel like I’m in an executive-level content meeting. But empowerment really is the magic from which thatgamecompany draws its strength.
Although the growth of power is an obvious theme right from the start of Journey, it’s only in the final act that Chen once again prepares the ground and executes his master stroke.
It begins, almost predictably (though delightfully so) with the loss of power, with weakening. The final traverse up the snowy mountain, where the player must endure first a loss of magical power and then a lessening of physical power, is heart-wrenching. Seeing your once graceful protagonist at last seemingly defeated by the elements is a difficult experience.
The physicality, too, of that simple character (whom incidentally conveys it all without the gift of arms or facial expression). You feel the strain being placed on legs, you sense the lessening momentum and diminishing of will. And how that struggle is so masterfully conducted, until you’re pressing the stick in hope that a movement you can no longer see, preying for some sign of life.
Life returns. And at last your full potential is afforded. You’re soaring. Soaring without any restrictions. The world has forgiven you, is feeding you. That majestic sweep through the blue skies and the sun is so meaningful purely because of the struggle that preceded it.
And it’s beautiful. My god, it’s beautiful. No-one wants another “are games art?” debate but please, if you ever ask yourself that question then just play Journey. To convey the emotions of determination and sacrifice that Journey does oh so successfully can only ever be achieved like this. With a video game. It’s what we can do when we get it right.
What a very, very special experience.