Words cannot adequately describe my experience with Journey. This is easily one of the best video games I have ever played, due in no small part to the score. This is a shining example of the heights interactive entertainment is capable of, and how the score of a video game can transcend that of most major motion pictures. This is true art, and those of you who believe that video games cannot be such should do yourself a favor and rent this title over some weekend.
Before I get to the score, I must describe the nature of the game itself. Most games, like most movies and dramatic works, have a Dramatis Personae – clearly defined characters with motivation. This game is quite abstract as far as the identity of your character. You aren’t really anyone in particular. You are simply a little red guy in a cloak with a scarf, and that’s the point. However, you do have a motivation: your goal is to make it to the summit of a distant mountain peak. This is demonstrated without a single line of dialog, just like the rest of the game. If brevity is the soul of wit, this is the sharpest story I’ve ever seen.
But the amazing thing about this game is that the plot, characters and even your goal is rather abstract. Yes, it is a physical location within the game world that you are trying to reach, but what does it MEAN to get to the peak? Why is it important? To me, this is what all great art does: it allows you to assign your own meaning. As the title suggests, it is simply a Journey. We embark on them all the time in our lives, whether that goal is to graduate college or get that dream job, or even something more inward-focused. The entire game is an extended metaphor for how we live our lives, and how we assign meaning to things.
Now that alone should be enough to entice you to play the game. But that’s not even mentioning the unbelievable musical score that accompanies the imagery. It is penned by Austin Wintory, a name I’ll be following closely from now on. The entire score is based upon one of the most inspired leitmotifs I’ve heard.
This is a representation of the Journey, as this is in some variation present in most all of the tracks. Most games, movies and TV shows devise themes for characters in the story. But seeing as how there really are none in this game, it makes sense to only have one truly constant musical idea that shifts and evolves, just as your own perspective does on journeys you experience.
The emotional journey is perfectly matched by the score. It begins with a cleansing of the emotional palate, in the composer’s own words.
We are given simple tasks that allow us to test the waters…the first steps are always the easiest to take. Then, we build momentum and find ourselves giddy with the rapidity of our progress. Interminable trudges on foot are replaced with downhill slides and grand leaps over structures that were once a chore. It seems nothing stands in our way!
We find other companions on similar journeys along the way, as well as enemies and wise elders to admonish us.
And finally, the true struggle is found. We find ourselves closer to our goal than ever, but the last leg of the journey proves to be the most difficult. Our character trudges through a cutting blizzard on the very slopes of its goal, steps becoming more laborious until finally, it collapses, prostrate. And that sets the stage for one of the most uplifting cues I think I’ve ever heard.
I think you’ll agree that there is something profound and universal about this game and its score. Do yourself a favor and play through it whenever you get the chance. It will only take you two hours at the most, and if you are anything like me it will affect you far more than most games that are 100x the length.