Too Long; Didn't Play: Journal

Sponsored By: Chumpy

Time Logged: 53 Minutes

Jot Review

If you liked Strange Days, I’m guessing you’ll like this, as they are both story-heavy games with unlikeable teenage protagonists and minimalist gameplay.

And with that particularly saucy bit of hot-takery to set the tone, let’s move on to the review!

Opposite of Jot review

I cannot relate to teenagers. I couldn’t relate to teenagers even when I was one. From my experience, teenagers are cruel, immature, venal and ignorant creatures whose only saving grace is their unparalleled lack of motivation. (As a rule, if you’re going to be cruel and venal, its best for everyone if you’re disinclined to act on anything)

Not all of them – I hasten to add in the usually disclamatory fashion. There is no single or set of adjectives that applies universally to all members of any group save for maybe “carbon-based.” But enough of the people I knew fit that description well enough that I feel justified in my misanthropy.

Even so, I can understand the appeal of games which revel in teenage exploits. In the first case, most people are not me and are therefore able to enjoy a shared experience, even if that experience was of being a wishy-washy reprobate. One hopes that they look back on those years with some amount of remorse or, at least, regret. I don’t like to think that people play a game in which the main character lies to get a friend in trouble and then pulls a prank on the quiet kid while thinking “ah, the best years of my life.”

The Journal follows the life of a teenage girl who does both of those things, and worse, but doesn’t remember any of them. The pages of her titular journal have been mysteriously erased, and she must walk all over town to figure out what happened – at least until she gets distracted by something shiny and goes to do something else. There are a lot of adjectives that can describe the main character, but “consistent” isn’t among them.

Gameplay-wise … well, let’s just say the game leans heavily on the story, shall we? It’s got some basic side-scrolling controls, and a jump button for no apparent reason, but none of that is the point of the game. The real draw is, apparently, the story of this horrible teenager and the lives she ruins.

Ok, so it hasn’t got a story that appeals to me, and the gameplay is barely worth mentioning, so what’s left? Well, the art direction is, if not exactly good, at least interesting, which is sometimes better than good. The whole game plays out in the blank journal of the main character, so everything looks like it was drawn by a high school student who would get better grades in art class if only they applied themselves. You start out in a cheery, green place with parks and trees, but if you try to venture further out, you’re hemmed in by things like post-it notes and thumbtacks. Later on, those obstacles are removed (through no action of the player, which feels like a missed opportunity), and you encounter the wider world, which is decrepit and tumbledown. For me, that’s more of a hook than any of the dialog trees or the choice-and-consequence gameplay. I want to know what’s up with this world. Why is the city so dingy, but the park next to it is vibrant and clean? Why does the school look abandoned even though it’s full of horrible people? If I had to lay my bets down, I’d say the world is meant to be a metaphor for the main character’s loss of innocence, or her anxiety or something. It’s too bad I find it so hard to care about her.

Wait, maybe that’s the point.

After you complete the bit of story for the chapter you’re in, you’re treated to a puppet show that’s probably a metaphor for what you just did, or what you’re about to do. For those of you keeping track, remember that the entire world is a metaphor for the main character’s state of mind, so the cut scenes are rocking a metasixteen.

Will I keep journaling?

Eh, I think I’m done. As I’ve been so coy about mentioning, I don’t like any of the characters, which makes the game hard to get into. While I’m interested in seeing what’s going on with the world, it’s nothing I can’t get from a wiki in a fraction of the time, and I’m just not invested enough to spend more time on it than I already have.

Is it the…

No, it’s not.

Look, I’m sorry to interrupt the question, but there’s virtually no gameplay. You walk to places, you talk to some people, you have foibles and choose which lies to tell, and that’s about it. There may be some grander scheme where you have to make all the right choices at the right times to get a “good” ending, but even that isn’t difficult, just repetitive.

I’m sure this is a game for someone, but it’s not for me, and it’s not for people who care about the answer to whether something is the Dark Souls of its genre.

Also, I’m sorry I was such a jerk during this review. I just wanted to apologize and own it, because it’s more than the main character ever does.

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