Jusant, the latest offering from the imaginative minds at Don’t Nod, is an adventure game that eschews the conventions of modern game narrative in favor of a more meditative and introspective climbing puzzle experience. Jusant doesn’t just ask you to scale a beast of a mountain, but to uncover the crumbled stories of an ancient civilization, using the language of environmental narrative to weave its silent tale.
A World of Show, Not Tell
Jusant’s protagonist has no name, voice, or dialogue. There are no chirpy NPC companions or a band of allies, each with their own backstory. Instead, you find yourself in the shoes of a lone climber, whose silhouette casts a small, moving shadow across a monumental and decaying spire – an environment that speaks volumes more than any scripted conversation could.
Within the vast, yet stark storytelling canvas set before us, the developers challenge the player to learn the art of acute observation. From the lower echelons of a tiered society marred by dilapidated farming infrastructures to the opulence suggested by remnants in the higher echelons, the world is a silent teacher. It becomes a narrative device, expertly placed to be as vocal as any character – if one is willing to listen and watch with intent.
The journey of the player mirrors the narrative itself, beginning desolate, barren, and parched at the base of the spire where the civilization’s darkest secrets lie buried beneath sands that were once a vibrant sea. As you climb, the spire’s meaning unfolds in visual and interactive storytelling chapters, showcasing a society that valued the verticality of both their architecture and societal structure, with water as a central, now lost, source of life.
Mechanics of Climbing and the Art of Survival
Jusant’s gameplay is where the true character of the game is realized. Don’t Nod’s unique take on movement and interaction with the game world is cleverly distilled into a climbing puzzle that demands physical and mental engagement. Climbing is methodical, requiring deliberate contemplation and execution that builds tension and a relationship with the environment you’re grappling with. Each hand is independently controlled, requiring a rhythm and thoughtfulness to proceed, unlike the mindless wall-scaling seen in more action-oriented titles.
The stamina system adds a layer of urgency to each movement. With a stamina meter dictating how long you can cling to any given ledge, players find themselves constantly evaluating their next move, rhythmically progressing and occasionally pausing to shake out an aching grip. As new mechanics are introduced, like perilous jumps and a watery companion capable of environmental interactions, Jusant displays a knack for keeping the gameplay fresh without ever losing sight of its core climbing mechanics’ immersive attraction.
The Vertical Panorama and Its Inhabitants
Jusant rethinks the role of a vista in gaming. Instead of presenting a broader view to transfix the player, it focuses your gaze firmly on the mountain face –it’s ledges, crevices, and the perilous drop below to expose the grandeur and fear intertwined in your ascent. The shifts in ambience from sedimentary earth tones to iridescent caverns and the biting cold of high-altitude winds aren’t just visual treats. They embody the chapters of the spire’s narration, revealing cultural and societal shifts – all without uttering a single word.
Not entirely alone, the ecosystem of the spire plays an interactive role in your journey and the environment itself. Bioluminescent fungi and friendly, crab-like creatures sometimes become part of the climbing puzzles. They offer gentle assistance and demonstrate a symbiotic relationship – a remarkable contrast to the decrepit manifestations of humanity’s once-grand but now lost endeavors.
An Elegy in Exploration
Jusant’s environmental storytelling truly shines when exploring the abandoned pockets of civilization. From boats tied up with nowhere to go, to the quiet repose of workshops once alive with the hum of industry, these intimate spaces are constructed with an authenticity that resonates deeply. The game’s wonderful use of sound through magical shells lets you eavesdrop on history itself, surrounding you with what once was and imbuing the journey with an aura of poignant nostalgia.
Punctuating these wordless narratives are the letters and remnants of communication that point towards a failing society. They lend an undercurrent of melancholy to the experience, perhaps made all the more haunting considering their placement within such carefully rendered locales.
A Climbing Metaphor and a Missed Opportunity
The absence of life-and-death stakes is where Jusant breaks from the mold, and where it slightly falters. The climbing ordeal, while gripping, lacks the final pinch of danger since falling is but an inconvenience, leaving some yearning for the high tension a risk of ‘death’ in a game can bring. This is where Jusant’s design choice is both its strength and its slight weakness. For a game that implores you to reflect upon each handhold and crevice, knowing the absolute worst outcome is a simple retreat robs the ascent of some gravitas.
Furthermore, the game’s themes of environmental collapse and restoration beg for a collective solution rather than the solitary savior’s journey it presents. While the game’s solitary nature is appropriate given its setting, this narrow narrative focus feels like a missed opportunity to engage with cooperative, community-driven narratives relevant to the real world.
At the end of the six-hour journey – one that may feel short in length but not in depth – Jusant leaves you with more questions than answers, asking for your interpretation to fill the vast negative spaces left by its minimalist approach.
Jusant is a climb that many will find endlessly fascinating and deeply affective – a game that rewards patience and curiosity to an almost meditative degree. With a silent protagonist engaging in a search for a lost past, the game resembles an archaeological exploration, encouraging players to draw their own conclusions from the cultural debris scattered across this world.
Don’t Nod invites us to leap into Jusant with both hands, grasping the crumbled edges of a society fragmented by time and forgotten by history. While its climb may lack the peril of true danger, there’s something stunningly arresting about the meticulousness of this ascent. Jusant isn’t just a game. It’s an experience in resilience, a test of endurance, and a beautiful, albeit silent, scream into the depths of forgotten time. It’s an invitation to listen attentively to the quiet – for it has much to tell.