There are some experiences in gaming that cannot be explained nor duplicated. These experiences are often the ones you are most likely to remember. Aerith/Aeris from Final Fantasy VII, Joel’s life in The Last of Us, or even John Marston’s journey from Red Dead Redemption are some of the mere examples of satisfying and emotional experiences in recent gaming history. Some games, however, can be emotional without dialogue, story, or supporting characters. Journey, in my eyes, is one of those games. The premise around Journey is simple: travel to the mountain and hopefully uncover the mystery behind what happened to this race of robe wearing beings. The abundance of emotions I experienced during my first play in Journey is one I haven’t been able to duplicate, even after multiple play throughs.
What I am about to say is slightly off topic, bear with me. I love Mass Effect. I love Mass Effect almost too much. For example, I own the trilogy twice on PlayStation 3 and once on Xbox 360, with hopes that it will be brought to PS4 and Xbox One. However, to bring this back to topic, Mass Effect 3 launched the same day that Journey was released on PS3. Journey had grabbed my attention since the day it was announced. As I waited for Mass Effect to install, I started the Journey download. Anyone who has played on PS3 knows that downloading in background has a tendency of taking its time, this wasn’t a problem. I started Mass Effect and was instantly sucked into the beautiful vastness of space. This had caused me to lose all track of time and knowledge of the outside world. Seemingly, about five hours passed since I started Mass Effect and I was down the rabbit hole, until the familiar sound rang and the complete download placed the alert on my screen. Journey was done downloading. Now the dilemma, keep playing one of my all time favorite game series or take a break and see what Journey was all about. I decided to take the break, the universe would still needed saving in an hour, right? Little did I know I was going to be playing one of the most powerful games I have ever played.
From the very start of Journey, something had me hooked and I still cannot grasp what that is. The controls are very simple. The left analog stick controls your red hooded hero, while the right controls the camera. The game also functions like Flower and Flow, so if you are inclined you could control the camera with the motion sensor in the PS3 and PS4 controller. When you first wake your only thought is to head to the only object you can see in this sea of sand, which is the mountain. You start to notice this world seems to have died, although, with the appearance that it was once full of life. Many tomb stones are placed in your path along the sand filled ruins. Yet among this dreary yet beautiful site, you find hope in the mountain. The game, without prompts or dialogue, urges you to tattered gray streams of cloth that can be found rising from random sand hills and buildings. When next to these streams you hold in circle and your little robed character jumps and spins in place. As it does this it lets out a very welcoming call, much like the sound a small whale would make. This call is also the only way to communicate with the online community. Yes Journey also has a very unique online feature. While playing the standard game you may see another hooded being, almost identical to yourself, running around. There is not a gamer tag above this character, there is no party, or even a invite system, yet I have never been so attached to a stranger.
The bond you make with another player is unexplainable, but I will try. In Journey if you find yourself in the proximity of another online player the game will automatically pair the two of you. This sounds worse than it is. If you, at any time, decide to experience the Journey alone all that is required is for you wait for them to move on or for you to not wait for them to catch up. The further you get from the other player, a white glow on the side of your screen will show the other players location. This is the only way to know where your companion is if they are off screen. Although, you will find yourself caring for this person you have never met. As I continued forward to the mountain with my new found companion I began to feel fear as if they where in danger, sadness if I couldn’t find them, and excitement when I found them again. My Journey became our Journey. The other player and I helped each other along the way. Much like the cloth streams swimming up out of the sand, if you hold circle next to your partner an let go you will fill up the stream flowing from the back of their red hood. This ribbon will glow white, showing symbols in this race’s language. As long as the ribbon stays full of the white light it would grant you the ability to say afloat and fly through the air. In many cases you will need a partner to find and collect relics of light to make your ribbon longer. The duration of flight depends on how long your ribbon is, or how well you and your partner communicate to keep each others ribbon full of the white light. Without realizing it you’re building a relationship with this fellow Journey player. Trusting them to have your back and always be there to back them up. Unfortunately separation is inevitable. There will be times when one eyed rock snakes will attack you. Their only job is to seek out this red cloth that you, your partner, and all the cloth in the game is made of. These evil creatures, that as you play you learn why they exist, will attack you and a choice will have to be made; stick with you’re partner and risk both of you getting attacked, or split up and hope to fine each other again. This choice will be different for each who play and so will the outcome.
The experience with Journey, for me, was one of the greatest I have ever had. The bond I had with the second player was as deep and emotional as one I would have with a person I knew personally. I felt pain with them, I felt happiness when completing the game with them, and I felt accepted by them. I felt all of this without a word ever being said between us. Never, have I been able to say I learned how to be a better person through the course of a video game, but Journey is the exception. Journey is exactly as the title suggests: a journey of life, of loss, of a relationship, and of accomplishment. I felt as though I was in a relationship with the second player, and that I was going through life with this person; a person without gender, words, or race. You quite literally go through Journey with somebody’s soul. This is a game I will never forget and never take for granted. It will be one will never be able to duplicate, I’ve tried, and will never want to. This journey for me is and will always be mine, and I sincerely hope everyone is as moved by it as I was. This will be your own journey that no one will be able to take away from you.