Journey and The Multiplayer Co-op

I don't often play games with others, and I very rarely play games with people I don't know -- especially if it's online. After hearing so many horror stories about the vile things people say in Grand Theft Auto Online or Call of Duty and other similar modern first-person shooters in multiplayer matches, I'm happy to just play single player games. Thatgamecompany's Journey was my first experience playing a game with strangers online, and it may be one of the few.

In a mistake that disabled my PS3's internet connection, the first time I played Journey was offline and therefore alone, giving me a different but equally satisfying experience that I will address later. For my second playthrough, I fixed my PS3's connection to the internet and started Journey like usual. I encountered a white robed character by the time I reached the second chapter. They led me from symbol to symbol and found the glyphs for me. I already knew where some of them were from my previous playthrough, but I went along since I didn't know how to communicate that I knew how to get these things.

This person would both rush ahead and hang back for me to catch up. With their white robe, they could fly around and then recharge their scarf before taking off again. Without that ability, I could only fly for short periods of time and then catch up to this person who could regenerate my scarf. They flew ahead to what I thought was the edge of the map. There they stood by a waterfall of sand, pressing the O button to send out a symbol above their head until I got close. They ducked past the sand and revealed an Ancient Glyph to me. As soon as I got it, they took off again, and I followed as close as I could.

I quickly found myself in what felt like a mentor - mentee relationship. This person was eager to lead me to find everything in the game and I just had to keep up. I relied on them to show me how to best reach difficult to grab symbols and to avoid the aggressive Guardians that threatened to rip our scarves. The most poignant moment for me was when we went sandsurfing together with a sunset in the background painting everything orange.

We stuck out the game as long as we could, but before the end I had to stop playing. This was the moment I was most frustrated I couldn't put my feelings into words. I pressed O three times -- not too fast and not too slow -- before I quit the game. Thank you, stranger. We'll never know who the other was, but thank you for your guidance.

In one of my subsequent playthroughs, I encountered a fellow red robed fellow in the Tunnels. (After encountering so many helpful white robed players, donning the white clothes is too much pressure for me!) Neither of us guided the other, but we would occasionally try to ping each other when finding a symbol or ancient glyph. We weren't walking close together like I often did with white robed players, but we didn't stray too far from each other. Suddenly, a Guardian awoke and was coming toward us. Like I remembered doing with other players, I darted toward the left side and pressed O quickly. I managed to get out of the way fast enough to stay out of the Guardian's sight, but my fellow traveler did not, and we frantically ran in different directions. I didn't see them again (and if I met them later in a different level, I had no way of knowing), but I knew they were somewhere in the Tunnels. Occasionally I would press O to indicate, "Hey, I'm still here! Where are you?" but I never heard or saw a reply.

Journey's multiplayer experience is executed perfectly. Thatgamecompany has said the multiplayer aspect of the game can be compared to hiking with strangers along the same trial. You move at a different pace, but when you come across each other, you at least nod and acknowledge them. You might not be experiencing the journey at the same time as each other, but you're still having a shared experience.

On the opposite side, I also had a fulfilling single player experience. In this case, instead of lighting up with joy upon finding someone else journeying, I felt less alone when I completed a chapter and had a brief encounter with the elder characters. They were much larger than me and wore white instead of red, but in this first playthrough they were all I knew about the people like me. By the time I reached the mountain and trekked through the snow alone, feeling the controller rumble each time I limped a step forward, I was lonely. There was this huge expanse but it did not appear inhabited except by creatures that wanted to attack me. When I fell and everything turned white, these elders appeared in front of me as a group for the first time. I had never been sure if it was this one white figure or a group of them, but seeing so many people similar to me wordlessly encouraging me forward invigorated me. I skyrocketed forward and flew through the mountain's clear skies to the top to meet the others. And then I cried because the experience was so beautiful thanks to the beautiful art, Austin Wintory's beautiful music, and the simplistically beautiful story.

For someone who is often quite lonely in reality, I'm not someone who seeks the kind of interaction people get from online multiplayer video games. I still prefer that first playthrough alone in Journey over the co-op playthroughs because that's the kind of gamer I am. However, each multiplayer experience I've had with Journey has been meaningful to me. It makes me feel like I've forged some friendships with new people even though I have no idea who they are. For all of you people still playing Journey and guiding new people from start to finish, I salute you.

Review: Eternal Sonata: The blue-haired poet of the piano

Years ago, before I had seen a bunch of weird games, if you had told me there was an RPG in a dream world of Frederic Francois Chopin, I would have called bullshit. I'm not so surprised about it anymore. So after a couple years of seeing cosplays from the game and noticing that fellow RPG fans had played it, I figured it was about time to learn about Chopin and his unrealistically blue hair.

All joking aside, Eternal Sonata taught me as much as a video game can about music history. But more than that, it inspired me to find parallels between the game and Chopin's life. It's amazing how video games can inspire you to learn more about a subject.

As you can see from the game's cover, this is a Namco game, and the English localized game has a lot of voice actors commonly found in another Namco franchise, the Tales series. I highly recommend this game to all Tales fans, especially ones who are interested in music. The game cover is also for the PlayStation 3 version; the game came out for the Xbox 360 first one year before the PS3 version. Eternal Sonata on the PS3 has additional content, a more fleshed out story (and apparently a more fleshed out Allegretto, one of the main characters), and a costume for each Allegretto, Beat, and Polka that you can find in-game. The PS3 cover features an angry Frederic Chopin and the other characters ready for battle whereas the Xbox 360 version's cover should prepare you more for the cheesiness of Eternal Sonata.

But even with the amount of friendship and happy themes, it's not a happy game overall. After all, this game reflects Chopin's life. Each chapter has a period of exposition where one of Chopin's pieces will play in the background as the narration informs you of when this piece was written, what it means, and how it may have spoken to Chopin. Thanks to Eternal Sonata, I learned about Chopin's Polish background, his relationship with George Sand, and why he couldn't return to his home in Poland all the while getting a crash course on the same pieces my sister was studying in her music classes!

The world in Eternal Sonata largely takes place within Chopin's dream as this is happening on his death bed. When he meets a young girl named Polka who reminds him of his deceased sister Emilia, he confesses to her that this is all his dream. She doesn't seem bothered by it, and we're led to believe that it's rather strange that her life and everyone else living in that world would be a product of his imagination.

This theory of escapism for Frederic makes sense at first, but as he becomes more attached to the characters -- primarily Polka -- and involved in saving their world from the stereotypically evil Count Waltz, it becomes harder to tell what's real and what's a dream. The ending of the game, unfortunately, does not wrap this up well. Instead of a well-written build-up to Chopin's decision to stay in this world or pass away, we get a sudden final fight and a character's suicide, except just kidding there's some weird time thing going on, so that character doesn't end up dying to save the world because that's no longer necessary. However, the final song, Heaven's Mirror, is a beautiful song -- and it's an original composition. If only the conclusion of the game had been less out of nowhere.

Eternal Sonata looks like it has a stereotypical world. It's got the trope of a young girl needing to sacrifice herself, magic, and an evil ruler trying to take over the world. It's a clear cut good vs. evil kind of game. However, the addition of magic was written into the most interesting use of magic I've seen so far. Only characters who are near death are able to use magic, so being able to use those powers is terrifying. More and more people are near death from the side effects of mineral powder, the only medicine Count Waltz allows his people to use. This powder has severe health and environmental problems, whereas the floral powder Polka tries to sell does not.

The majority of the characters meet up as a result of the different problems of mineral powder as they are united by their wish to speak to Count Waltz and appeal to his better nature. They'll soon find out that he has no better nature. He's not an interesting antagonist with few complexities, but Liam O'Brien gives him a fantastically nasty character in a great show of his voice acting. The voice acting is excellent. As I mentioned before, most of these voices will not sound strange to any JRPG fans. And here's a huge shout out to Cam Clarke for his role of Prince Crescendo! It has been far too long since I've heard his voice in an RPG.

Eternal Sonata is both a turn-based fighting game, but it also demands your full attention. Characters' turns occur depending on their speed stat. In the beginning of the game, you have tactical time, giving you a few seconds to figure out what you're going to do with your turn. You then have a few seconds to run around the field, attack, or use items. By attacking, you build up echoes, and once you have at least 24, you can use a powered up special attack. During the enemy's turn, you can guard when attacked. Guarding is essential for your survival, but you can't just hold down O and expect to take little damage. For your guard to be effective, you must do it at a precise time. A second too soon or too late, and you won't reduce any damage. Like playing music, you must be precise and on time.

And because this is a game about Chopin and music -- complete with musical terms and styles used for characters and dungeons -- this game just wouldn't be what it was if it weren't for the fantastic score by Motoi Sakuraba. As much as I love his work for Tales and Golden Sun, I don't think there's any game that's expressed his creativity more beautifully than Eternal Sonata.

The game's graphics are beautiful as well. They're sometimes hard to see as the camera is often zoomed out, but on close shots like the one above, it's easy to see how much detail went into the graphics. I wish there was an adjustable camera because I would have loved to see more of the world.

Eternal Sonata sparked my interest in a historical figure, plays beautiful and original music, and has a battle system I had not experienced before. (I became well-acquainted with that O button.) For that, I have to love it. The story was good, but could have been much better near the end, but the music is what made it a beautiful game. I wouldn't expect less from a great game loosely about Frederic Chopin.