First, comparing this game, Journal, to Richard Perrin's previously popular game, Kairo, is to compare fire to ice. Not as opposites so much, as simply defying comparison. Beyond an obvious regard for thinking-gamers, please consider them seperately when deciding on the selection of either.
If at first we think to compare this (apparently unnamed) protaganist to our own experiences, we soon find out how wrong we are. While there are, no doubt, some young lives closely matching that in this game (perhaps every life has some immediate comparisons) what makes this game MOST remarkable is that it starts out to seem anything BUT. Just a young girl, misunderstood as are most people. By gradual steps (or more frequently, sudden starts and stops), we find out she is NOT us, and therefore, if we expected validation, we may begin to lose faith in this game. But if we continue, we find out in surprising reveals (conversations, experiences & titular journal entries) that inwardly she may be almost exactly like us, no matter our age, background or gender. NO life is truly ordinary. Or easy.
But this game's real theme is regret. Choices have, not so much results, but consequences. Our "heroine" frequently laments her choices, while other characters, in word and act, confirm the irreversable, often heartbreaking, permanence of "The Wrong Choice" made. There is no SAVE.
The artwork was strategiclly minimalistic, changing to become more haunted to match our protaganist's life. I don't recall much sunshine (if any, but this IS supposed to be the UK.) Rain was part of the story, as were the gritty streets and coffee-cup rings on some "pages". Temporary barriers between locations were made "young girl's life" obvious, including a band-aid. The "busy" dialog was effective and amusing. Aesthetically, a very pleasing game.
The stories built into the game were a wonderful, welcome touch, though never explained specifically. Did they even exist "in story"? Perhaps leaving them, and their source (mostly) ambiguous, except quite probably from our heroine's subconscious, was more interesting in retrospect. Particularly if they were driven additionally by interest in her friend Trevor and his oft-mentioned comic. If indeed retrospect is to be considered in our analysis and/or appreciation, we may find this game to be absolutely filled with subtle (and not) hints and clues. Dare I say, almost in a David Lynchian sense? (Please understand, "Journal" is NO "Mulholland Drive".) This game, like many great ones, may truly be better appreciated AFTER completion.
It had some moments that, at the time, felt like minor flaws in the game. Now I'm not so sure. Is something that only SEEMS like a flaw less a flaw, despite having taken us momentarily out of the game? I can't go into detail about either of the two (spoilers) I noticed, but they were moments where cause and effect were reversed. Something happened that, at the time, made no sense. But when the reason was learned minutes later it seemed that, if characters had been encountered in a different sequence, actions would have felt to have occured normally. Having finished the game, I just don't know anymore, except that it seemed unfortunate at the time. Perhaps it was nothing more than a plot device. Foreshadowing maybe, or a jaring of our comfort zone. Or I got the game sequence reversed by selecting the wrong topics from the wrong people in the wrong order.
There was one instance that seemed otherwise flawed. The protaganist went to talk to a teacher about a family member, but when that person is selected as the "topic", there was no discussion available. But as far as I could tell it had no major impact, except to (regretably) draw notice. Perhaps the intent WAS to say nothing, but that might have been better indicated.
Also, I wish there had been a way (other than rapid spacebars) to avoid repetative dialog, if desired. (Perhaps a color change if nothing was different since prior selecting.) And I'm not sure why we were allowed to continue going into places that no longer had importance (particularly the Post Office, which had its brief moment of signifigance.) Perhaps simply to intensify the game-critical feeling of "choice". The promised opening of the package never happened, and as such felt forgotten in the story. A contrivance, essentially, but relatively minor (not even important enough to be considered "spoiler".) Perhaps other player choices would have had more satisfying, or complete, results. Another was far less minor (i.e.: "spoiler" level), but just as abandoned. Also, there may be players unhappy about the lack of a SAVE feature. Well, life is like that.
I'm glad I played it.
As with MANY Steam games, offline play and/or play-time is ignored. PLEASE offer corrections as appropriate.