Both The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto 5 conducted a hard fought battle for game of the year 2013, and for many the former won out on the strength of its story. In fact, developer Naughty Dog can add a Writer’s Guild of America award to their already well decorated game, as particular means at their disposal were used expertly to achieve an unprecedented depth of emotion in their narrative.
Excellent scripting, dialogue and characterisation combined to achieve an experience that will live long in the memories of gamers that were privileged enough to play it. However, this is not the only way of creating a truly affecting game, as veterans of the indie title Journey can attest. Journey proved in March 2012 that there are other ways of composing a narrative, and squeezed into a two hour story one of gaming’s most powerful experiences.
thatgamecompany’s Journey introduces you to your diminutive, maroon-cloaked protagonist with no narration, no speech or dialogue, nor even a HUD to give you your mission objective. What the player does have is the imposing mountain peak sparkling at them from a distance, inviting them to begin their unforgettable adventure.
What follows firstly is a remarkably rich colour palette, as the player travels initially through yellow desert wastes, then on to vivid orange slopes at sunset, deeply melancholy blue caverns to treacherous, white mountain peaks.
The score in combination with the game’s presentation is spectacular, varying between the optimistic, orchestral music of the opening, to no music at all to emphasise the unsettling spookiness of the world’s oceanic depths.
The player will inevitably feel the emotion of the situation without the need to be explicitly told they should feel this way. They will feel joy and hope, basking in the bright sunlight of the opening stages, but will also naturally absorb the hopelessness of the caves and mountain peak.
Not too shabby when you realise you have no idea of your little avatar’s name or even the particulars of his story, which is ambiguously but delightfully conveyed through a series of interpretative moving graphics and storyboards.
Journey’s ability to grip the player emotionally extends beyond its presentation and sound, as its idiosyncratic multiplayer impacts in a very different way. Earlier this year I introduced a friend to the game which previously I had experienced alone, yet this time round it couldn’t have been more distinctive. In certain respects, Journey borrows from FromSoftware’s infamously challenging Demon’s Souls, as players can spontaneously join in your game, but in Journey’s case to help as opposed to potentially hinder.
While my friend was playing, she pointed out another similarly clad figure helping her in her journey. From this point onwards, her and her new friend became inseparable, and by the game’s end she was demanding that I help protect this other person from the evils we encountered, when I could successfully wrench the controller away from her. The fact that we were undertaking this journey together only made the experience that bit more powerful, despite the fact that this was a total stranger that we had only just met.
Video games like The Last of Us succeed through their wonderful characterisation and particularly memorable scripting, but Journey doesn’t need this as it tells its story through its art style, music and multiplayer and for this reason is my favourite video game.
Gaming therefore can tell us the most memorable stories but in vastly different ways, proving then, that it can be the most dynamic and exciting medium to be a part of.
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