Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Played on: PS4
Release Date: July 21, 2015 (PS4 Version)
Played with: DualShock 4
Note: The following article contains spoilers for Journey.
The first time I played through Journey, I cried. It was – without a doubt – one of the most emotionally moving gaming experiences I had had up to that point, and it’s held a special place in my heart ever since. However, when I mentioned to my friend Matt that it might find its way onto my “favourite games of all time” list, he made an interesting remark: “Have you replayed it?”
Of course, my answer was, “No”. I finished my first playthrough at 2:01 AM on January 11, 2018 (thanks, PS4 trophy list); not exactly a prime, “Let’s do that again!” time. Yet that question stuck in my head: how would I feel after a second playthrough? For that matter, did I care? If an experience loses its lustre the second time around, does that tarnish the magic of the first?
Seeking to answer these questions, I dived into Journey for a second time. As the menu appeared with its simple, “New Journey” label, I felt a smile creeping across my face. Like sitting down for coffee with a long-estranged friend, I didn’t know what exactly would be in store, but I had high hopes that it would be great regardless.
However, a bit of anxiety sat in the back of my head. My memories of the first playthrough were so vivid. The opening scenes in the desert. Sliding down the shimmering sand hills. The treacherous mountain pathways. And of course, the demise and rebirth at the core of the game’s climax. There would be no surprises this time around; it was all down to the sheer emotional power of the moments.
Well, there being no surprises turned out not to be strictly true. As I roamed through the desert, I came across the first set of ruins where the game really starts kicking off. I got my first scarf upgrade, snagged one of the glyphs, and then noticed a shining pedestal that I hadn’t seen before. Curious, I wandered over, and was engulfed in a white light.
When the light faded, I was in the tower. To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t remember at the time whether this was where I was “supposed to be” or not; I recalled the events, but not the order. However, as I ascended, I quickly began having my doubts, and I realized I may have just skipped a large chunk of the game. I was dismayed, and not just because it meant I’d miss out on some of the trophies I was gunning for on this run.
And then it happened: as I continued my climb, I heard a delicate chime off in the distance. Looking down, I saw an object making its way towards me. A scarf trailed behind it, and foreign symbols appeared above its head as it let out call after call. It was another player.
In my first Journey playthrough, I also met another player, and I have no doubt that it was a major factor in making the experience as affecting as it was. When I fell behind, they waited up for me. When I let out a cheerful chime, they responded in kind. We even meditated together on the final platform of the game. Such simple, impersonal interactions, and yet they felt like a cheerful smile from a good friend, or a hug from a loved one.
Believe it or not, it felt the same this time around. Sure, I pretty much knew what to expect: we’d continue our journeys together until we either were permanently separated or reached the end. Yet something about the unexpectedness of it all just gets me every time. One minute, you’re exploring in solitude, and the next, it’s like you’ve been spotted by a friend in a crowd and are dashing to meet up with them.
As it happened, the two of us did get separated, though I ended up meeting someone else for the dreaded mountain climb. Again, even though I knew what was coming, I still hoped it wouldn’t. I found myself audibly muttering, “Come on, come on; you can do it,” despite understanding failure – however temporary – was imminent. Maybe it’s the music, and how it manages to both impress the severity of the situation upon you while giving hope that things can change. Perhaps it’s the gentle crunch of footsteps in the snow, convincing you that if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, you’ll make it eventually. Or maybe it’s just the presence of another; a friend by your side to guide and support you.
Regardless, there’s something almost intangibly magical about Journey. The vibrant scene above the clouds is a magnificent emotional climax to the feelings of hopelessness spurred on by the mountain trek. Meanwhile, the final walk into the ethereal whiteness is still utterly gorgeous, and the credits song overlaid with a flight back to the start is a flawless way to end the experience. On this second playthrough, I found myself noticing certain things more, like the intricate beauty of the instrumentation or the fact that seemingly every player’s “chime symbol” is unique. Plus, the abbreviated nature of the run put into perspective just how well-crafted and seamless Journey’s progression is.
Overall, Journey is an awe-inspiring, joyous experience, and while I can see how it might not be for everyone, I have no problem saying now that it’s one of my favourite games of all time. Everything from the music to the visuals is so cohesive and immaculate that I’m amazed it doesn’t all fall apart as soon as players show up to muck around in the sandbox. And when it comes to replay value, well, let’s just say that – if I had the time – I’d be more than happy to go on another journey tonight.
And in case you were wondering, I cried again.