Journey opens with a red-robed figure sitting in the sand, the only immediate task climbing up a nearby dune. Making way is slow, the footing gives way and the walking arduous. The view from the top reveals the mountain peak far in the distance and reaching it is the singular goal of the title thatgamecompany has crafted, one that utilizes every narrative convention afforded by videogames to create your own journey.
Stepping off the dune, you slide down the sand, skiing to the bottom and out as far as your momentum will carry you. And then you’re back to trudging through the desert. Until you find the glyph. Growing a scarf, suddenly you can jump for as long as its charge will allow. You’ll find other such glyphs during your travels- you can jump further, glide longer. This is Journey’s primary mechanic for getting around. Interacting with the world is dictated by your voice; a communication system that becomes stronger depending on how long it’s button is held- a quick press results in a blip and a full press creates a yell that surges out from around you.
The bulk of the story is built into each locations environment so depends on what the player observes and take from it. The initial start in the desert turns into a voyage through the wreckage of a civilization swallowed by sand. To show it, each area is structured around its own theme with own implicit narrative and gameplay. The only time the game seizes control is during brief cut-scenes that offer bits of history about the world.
While that story can be yours alone, co-op has been integrated that seamlessly pulls in a random, unidentified player occupying the same area who can stay with you for the entirety of the game. This is where the communication mechanic is particularly important. At its basest level, it is used to get the attention of your companion but also recharges their scarf when they are within the range of your voice. With it, the communication has simple but profound emotional significance- it becomes a means to provide encouragement. And gives you reason to stay together and to stay strong.
Your voyage to reach the mountaintop is an emotional rollercoaster and it’s a strange and wondrous thing that the experience can be so much more powerful with company because of the limited means of interaction. It’s in small decisions like this that shows that Journey fully understands the narrative techniques videogames offer and crafts a story around them that is at once personal, unique and unable to be replicated in any other medium.