GRIS – a journey through the pain
Have you ever felt a pain so deep you lost your voice? Have you ever felt like you lost the ability to move, that you were swept away by even the smallest winds? Have you felt so alone and anxious that the world was grey and empty and everything important seemed to crumble away beneath your very touch?
Then GRIS is the game for you.
Those who have lost someone or gone through a phase of depression or anxiety, those who have felt the nagging black feeling of Fear and Sadness chasing you wherever you go, will find in Gris a game that takes you an a journey that couldn’t feel more personal.
I played GRIS last week and it still stays with me. It’s not a long game, it has no dialogue or great plot, no historical world or background story that you can find out – but it is about you. Well, officially you of course play as a woman, also called Gris, but really it is about the journey into the depth of your self. In the beginning, the world is grey and scattered, pencil-drawn with water-coloured shadows. You are alone and have lost the ability to sing, even to move. Every step is hard and painful and you drag yourself up only to fall down again.
But that is only the beginning.
With every step, every new frame you detect, every new level you discover, you gain back something. The ability to stand strong, to walk, to move, to not be blown away, to soar on the winds that in the beginning were an obstacle. But it is a gradual journey, slow and beautiful, oh, so beautiful. Every level brings back a new colour and lets you discover something new… only for you to fall down again in the hand of the statue that is a constant in your journey, and cry. Black birds are haunting you, flocking around you and at one point, coalescing into a big demony thing that hunts you – but you keep going. And you find back another part of yourself, another colour that is added layer by layer, building the world around you in patterns and shapes and adding depth the farther you go.
And it is this that makes this game so powerful. There is no “go there and everything will be fine”. It is a journey and it doesn’t sugarcoat the struggles you have to go through to get to be the mobile, graceful, singing person Gris is in the end – not different per se but having gotten something back that she had lost in the beginning. You can feel the process, the fallbacks, the pauses and moments when, despite the progress, not everything is fine.
This is wonderfully underlined by the incredible art of the game, that, as I have already mentioned, becomes more complex and layered the farther you get into the game. The art is also an integral part of the gameplay, playing with colours and shapes and surprising, brilliant changes-of-view that add incredibly to the experience. It works with tiny symbols that, once recognized and considered, grow into strong metaphors that make you not only look for more, but also invite you as the player to pause and reflect on the journey, on grief, on pain and on how to move forward. Accompanying everything is a beautiful soundtrack that is also full of surprises. And like the environment through which you move, it reacts to you and to what you are doing – like the sound of rain that vanishes, changes, once you are underwater.
GRIS reminds me of Journey in the way the gameplay feels, in how you move through a beautiful world that gradually becomes more and more complex. There are no fights to be fought, you cannot die and the small puzzles that are strewn throughout the game are either optional and/or quickly solved. As I said, it is not long, a couple of hours maybe, but it invites you to come back and discover more of the details you might have missed.
I have rarely wanted to recommend a game more. But then, I have also rarely played a game that felt so very personal.