The narrative delivery in Journey is one that does not meet up with the standards and norms of today’s biggest games. The blockbusters in the gaming medium tend to play out a lot like one would expect the biggest Hollywood flicks to roll.
We get a hero (or group of heroes), a set of dialogue tropes, a struggle, a villain, a climax and a resolution. In fact, games today appeal to that standard so heavily that their overall value may actually be tainted (see: the reliance on the Illusive Man as the “Bad Guy” in Mass Effect).
Journey uses an old school gaming take on narrative. Like games from the NES, Genesis and SNES era, Journey drops players on a course and urges them forward. There are subtle clues that lead close-lookers to a better understanding of the story, but the overall feel of the game is simplistic and nonchalant.
It’s deep, don’t get me wrong, but the game never takes to applying classic film rules and rubbing its audiences’ collective nose in the plot.
That leads to something original…
Avast! There be spoilers ahead!
What’s nice about the narrative in Journey is that it delivers a satisfying ending that remains open for interpretation. There’s no sense of plot-holes or unnecessary ambiguity; but, that doesn’t mean that everyone playing draws the same conclusions.
For me, Journey is the story of a never-ending pilgrimage. The cloth characters are born, sent to ascend a mountain in order to learn the mistakes of their past, die and are born again. It didn’t occur to me that the plot moved in a circular fashion until a moment from the middle of the game matched up with a moment from the end.
Towards the middle of the story, you reach one section of desert where you see shooting stars fire from the peak of the mountain in the distance. It happens over and over, and the “stars” never blast in the exact same direction.
The game ends with you being shot away from the mountain you just climbed, through the areas you visited and into the starting desert once more. You are one of the shooting stars. The shooting stars are other members on the same journey.
The game often tries to deliver the sense that you’re some sort of chosen being meant to right the wrongs of your ancestors. Instead, I feel like the game has you play through the same punishment in death. You are meant to atone for the sins of your ancestors by making the same painstaking pilgrimage for all of eternity.
It’s tremendously sad, but it makes for a completely unique perspective and story.
It’s because of Journey’s narrative style that ambiguity is okay. When a story is delivered on a silver platter by way of over-dramatic dialogue and over-the-top plot cues, it’s not okay for ambiguity to be as prevalent. The simplicity of Journey’s story not only allows pleasant open-endedness, it almost calls for it.