Personal Rating: "Grab it during a sale"
Traditional Rating: 5.5/10
Genre: Indie Adventure
I am not really sure what to make of indie darling Richard Perrin's (the maker of the wonderful puzzler Kairo) latest game - Journal. It's clear from the ending that it must have been a deeply personal project, but I am still not entirely convinced the adventure game medium was the best way to tell this tale. First things first - Journal is not much a game, but more an interactive choose-your-own adventure kind of experience. How you view this in relation to what you consider constitutes the act of gaming will greatly affect the way you will probably feel about the title. Most are probably going to be dismissive about it and that is perfectly fine since Journal exists in a tightly sealed niché vacuum. I am all for games expanding beyond the traditional shoot-to-kill or might-and-magic tropes that have become gaming's hobbyhorse of late but I am not convinced that Journal is going to be the one to breach those shores.
The game opens with an unnamed girl whose diary seems to have lost all its pages. Interigating friends and family on the various topics that crop up or situations the young girl finds herself in will result in her journal once again fleshing itself out. These engagemets will also start to give you some context into this young girls life. We soon learn that her parents are seperated but we don't learn the truth behind this seperation until the final stages of this brief adventure. The games central themes of loss and grief are slowly recorded within the journal but the problem here is that the journal, a central plot-device, is often left on the sidelines as we endure one too many angst-ridden teenage growing pain moments (the Diary of Adrian Mole this most certainly ain't).
Maybe I am just too old and I have forgotten what it must feel like to be a selfish teenager and all the drama that accompanies those evolving years, but I found I cared less and less about stolen snow globes, broken windows or cheating on math tests and even more so when I was trying to do good by helping a pair of school friends fall into love when beneath the surface of this action it did nothing but cut and scar my young protagonist's heart. There is a bigger theme at play here that eventually gives rise to the reasons why the young girl is behaving the way she is and I am not going to reveal it for those still interested in playing Journal. This late game reveal does try to ground the actions that preceded it, but in the end I found it didn't really move me.
There are some striking things to be found in Journal though. The carnival puppet show that moves each chapter along is engrossing and very well told, eventually tying into the games main storyline and one can't deny it does exude a certain British charm, even if that charm feels as though it has come direct to us from the 1950's. There is a human beating heart at the core of this game - it's just a pity that it's all so surface-level philosophy (ripped straight from psychology 101) than the actual tapping into of one of life's realities - that life can often be a tangled mess when concerned with the likes of human emotion. The game is accompanied by a lovely piano score that while often depressing to listen to suits the tone of the game quite well.
Journal asks that its user be a bit more introspective, but in the end the message it conveys is something one would more likely find written on a milk or cereal carton and that ultimately diminishes its power. Try it - if you dare to be different - but just don't expect your indie world to be spun off its axis.