Jusant Review: Onward And Upward

It’s only been a couple of months since I went hands-on with the first chapter of Jusant. The opening’s meditative atmosphere, thoughtful exploration, and distinctive approach to traversal propelled me to finish the journey. Climbing is the undeniable star — though my adorable watery companion comes in a close second.

The puzzle-like action took me through wonderous caves, abandoned villages, scorching crags, and tempest-touched cliffs. Each location adding its own unique challenge to my steady, but always smooth, ascension. The storytelling, collectable-focused filler, and even technical integrity didn’t reach quite the same heights, but the ending is well worth reaching past any rough patches.

In my first Jusant adventure, I discovered a world menaced by an inhospitable climate. Notes, workshops, and artwork hint at a time humans lived here, but my character was the only person I’d set eyes on. Walking through a graveyard crowded with earth’s dried bones and man’s seafaring transportation, I arrive at a towering wall of rock. My quest: Get to the top.

I’ve never appreciated the kind of world-building that requires players to read handily-placed letters, and there’s a lot of that in Jusant. However, the ends help me overlook the means. It quickly becomes clear I’m following in the footsteps of an expedition long-past. They, like me I realize, are determined to help save the world. They didn’t succeed.

The oceans receded so long ago only the oldest members of a now-lost populous even remember what it was like. The sun has grown so hot that nothing can grow. Raging winds cut villages off from supplies or aid. And drinkable water is a memory. This is why I’m climbing.

There’s a lot of telling instead of showing that goes along with this backstory, coming, as it does, from scraps of journal entries. However, every once in a while I stumble over shells that seem to have preserved the sounds of a once-bustling life — dishes clinking in a busy restaurant, machinery pumping through industrialized rooms, a kettle screeching on the stove. This is my favorite collectable I come across in my adventures, with the rest, like frescoes or rock cairns, adding little to my experience besides giving me something to find.

I can’t praise climbing enough. While I could get snagged on geometry while walking around in the world, I never had a single hitch while pulling myself upward. This is astonishing, considering how involved the climbing is and how much traversal freedom I have.

It quickly becomes second nature to grab handholds using the trigger buttons, pressing them down like my life depends on it. And I love the generous nature of checkpoints and stamina depletion. Only during the final climb did I ever find myself worried about running out of rope or losing my grip.

Each chapter is crowned by uncovering a mystical horn, which, when sounded, triggers a cutscene that never fails to mesmerize. I watch the screen as increasingly fantastical creatures, as well as the next step of my quest, reveal themselves. And I relish the moments when my small, extraordinary ally — a tadpole-like creature called a ballast — chirps optimistically along, aiding the magic.

The adventure all go by at a fair clip as well. I rolled credits after about six hours, meaning each chapter takes roughly an hour to complete. A clear and satisfying end point to every sequence makes Jusant a great game to jump into for an hour, leave for a bit, then boot back up to see what’s around the next precipice.

Transforming environments and climbing mechanics keeps Jusant from sagging in the middle of the adventure and the ending had me hurling urgent encouragement at my screen as I frantically scaled the final heights. The meditatively-paced action throughout the rest of the game didn’t quite prepare me for the finale’s surging stakes, but I’m glad I stayed the course long enough to see it.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

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