There are many immense and action-packed games at our fingertips in 2023. You have Marvel’sSpider-Man 2or Final Fantasy 16, for example. They’re filled with great character moments, but they’re also filled with some louder and more bombastic sequences.
Every once in a while, a quieter, more straightforward, more serene experience is precisely what you need, even if you don’t know it yet.
Jusantwas that for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m having a great time with the long list of excellent games released this year, but Jusant is likely one of the few that will stick with me for quite some time. From its gorgeous score, charming art style and characters, easy-to-understand controls, excellent mechanics, joyful discovery, and more, this is a title that is special in a multitude of ways.
A Clouded Mystery
Let’s start with the word, Jusant. It means ebb and how the tides move in and out to sea.
Jusant starts at sea level, but there is no sea or water. Things have dried out, and a civilization lies in ruins with ships and artifacts strewn across what used to be a sea with plenty of action above and below the surface. Within minutes, you are dozens of metres in the air as you climb an incredibly massive rock structure that reaches into the clouds.
Why are you doing this? That question is answered throughout the game’s 4-5 hour runtime, and the best experience is with a controller in your hands. The story follows a nearly silent protagonist who is on their journey upward. As you enter the clouds and caves, you’ll find many clues about this world’s past that lead you to discover what happened and why you’re venturing into the sky.
Most of these findings come in letters and other correspondence you’ll find lying around. Yes, we’ve seen this idea countless times, but Jusant isn’t placing these strictly to build out a PlayStation trophy collection or Xbox Achievement list. Each and everyone is written with meaning, has heart, and often follows a story of family and love. Even though I never met any of these individuals, I cared about them. A sign of excellent writing and world-building. It helped present an emotional journey that wasn’t only happening to your controlled protagonist but the culture that grew throughout this towering world over what seems like centuries.
Time To Climb
Jusant doesn’t waste any time getting you on the move. You’re always on the move in this game as you try to find out the most efficient way to keep your journey going.
The main mechanics focus on using the left and right triggers as your left and right arms. Reach up with the left joystick, let go, press down the right trigger, and you latched onto a ledge with your right arm. Repeat this basic idea, and you’ll eventually layer it with a jump, massive swings across monstrous gaps, and impossibly fun ziplines.
The climbs are engaging and have just the right amount of difficulty and tension. The expansive level design in Jusant shines because it makes an open area feel like it’s been crafted just for you. It contains clues and hints about where collectables and the aforementioned world-building notes and discoveries will be.It’s all gratifying and a whole lot of fun.
As you traverse upward, you’ll work through several chapters that take you from the lowest point on the rocky tower to dimly lit caves, a desert-like environment, windy fields, and more. Like classic franchises like Super Mario Bros., new biomes and “worlds” come with new challenges and interactive surroundings. Jusant does this every hour, keeping things fresh. It also doesn’t feel forced. There are different conditions throughout, and they all have a reason for existing; they all work within this massive, abandoned society. It feels natural and well thought out.
There are also ample opportunities for fun, to take a breath, and get in touch with the past. These hidden treasures are presented in beautiful motifs of faded sounds from the past. Waves crash, people chatter, saws and hammers build a new structure, each one with a chance to feel what was left behind all those years ago.
On your climbs, you must also manage your tethers and rope to help keep you from falling. That and a simple stamina metre are balanced through several well-placed areas where you can rest or re-adjust your approach if you’ve gotten yourself into a pickle. This resource management is engaging and just the right amount of challenge.
And I can’t forget about your little blue friend. This creature is along for the ride as it sits on your shoulder or backpack, using its ability to interact with nature. A simple button press will bring branches, vines, and flowers to life. These lovely moments of discovery always felt meaningful and added another layer to this puzzling climb.
In a refreshing take, Jusant isn’t interested in seeing you fail. In my entire playthrough, I didn’t fall off a cliffside or stumble to my death due to low stamina or because I jumped across the wrong chasm.
This doesn’t mean the game is without challenge; it just does a great job of communicating where and when to make your next move. I always felt guided in the right direction, but my hand wasn’t held on the way there. It’s all about paying attention, looking for details, and managing your energy and items. It is an increasingly rewarding experience as the climbs become more complex and varied as the game progresses.
Jusant’s Beautiful Journey
I’ve already mentioned the various biomes and settings. They’re all beautiful in their way. Even the barren desert-like chapter’s sharp beauty sets itself apart. Whether you’re dealing with extreme heat or the darkness of massive caves and caverns, Jusant portrays a wonderfully realized world I was excited to explore no matter where I was.
Its small roster of characters is also animated and well-realized. With no words and just a few sounds, your lone wanderer and their little blue partner convey a sense of partnership and camaraderie. In the end, it’s a relationship that had me tearing up.
This accompanies a fantastic soundtrack inserted into your adventure at just the correct times. It was swelling at monumental discoveries or vast open spaces that feel extra special. My eyes were wide open throughout that game, and thanks to the music and sound design, so were my ears.
There are long stretches of Jusant where the soundtrack is absent. While I thoroughly enjoy the music, I think this was an intelligent decision by DONTNOD. It gives you a real sense of atmosphere, hearing small gusts of wind or simple echoes of your characters as they leap and climb to their next ledge. When this happened, I felt connected and more in tune with the surrounding areas.
Jusant is another indie game that has jumped out and climbed to the top of my favourite games of 2023. Its simple yet engaging mechanics kept me hooked from the start. On top of that, its quiet and meaningful storytelling lured me in the higher I climbed. I had difficulty putting this game down, playing through it in just two sittings throughout the weekend.
The game will sit with me for a long time as I ponder the messaging, stories, and adventures I have experienced. Jusant is a game with purpose and adventure at every turn. Each rock, ledge, zipline, note, letter, and biome is carefully crafted to create an experience worth conquering.
[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5
Jusant is a game with purpose and adventure at every turn. It's carefully crafted to create an adventure worth conquering, this is an indie title filled with emotion and beautiful discoveries.