August 16, 2017
On the far off Planet Shadow, Original Journey tells the story of a little race of cute round clone-like beings known as the Ato. It was developed by Bonfire Entertainment, an indie team out of China, and can already boast the award “The Excellent Student Winner in 2015 7th Independent Games Festival.” Originally a class assignment, Original Journey has grown exponentially for its 2017 release.
You will be playing as an Ato known simply as ‘Rookie’, assisting in the operation to save your people, since your own planet is dying. On Planet Shadow, there is an Origin Stone, and it just might have the power to save your own planet.
Original Journey has such a sweet little premise. The Ato are tiny round things that become distinctly less adorable when they begin murdering. Yep,that’s why you’re here. This isn’t an exploration game, it’s a grinding game of levelling up, customisation and item farming.
Playing as ‘Rookie’, you duel wield your way through the world in search of answers about the Origin Stone.
Original Journey is a podcast game. Podcast games, a term I’m trying to coin, is a game in which you will spend so much time with it grinding and levelling and going over the same places and same music over and over, that you need a podcast playing at the same time. That’s not to say the sound design is bad, that is. It’s just that after 7 hours in the first area alone, a podcast was the nicest way to spend my time with this game. This is how I spent most of my Original Journey playthrough. Some quiet time with the sound design for the first hour in new areas, and then blissing out with the combat and my podcast afterward.
It’s engaging, but not too hard if you level right. It’s tough, but only if you want it to be. You can choose to just farm the lower level areas over and over, or try your luck at the high levels for better rewards. If you die though, you only have one chance to get your loot back, Dark Souls style.
The levels are all procedurally generated throughout four main areas, so you can do the same area over and over and never really get tired of it. Perfect for long evenings of getting into your flow state. The procedural generation is not one of its strong points however. It often leads to fights that can feel samey. Sometimes you get platforms that you can’t actually stand on due to monsters and spikes. Other times, it spawns an enemy in a place you can’t reach, and you spend a good minute waiting for it to move.
Original Journey is gorgeous. Everything is hand drawn in various shades of grey, red, white and green. This colour scheme does lead to some distinction problems though. While everything is hand drawn and looks amazing, the monotone colours make it hard to differentiate. Many times I found myself attempting to jump onto a platform that turned out to be a cloud, hiding behind what I thought was cover but turned out was just part of the scenery, landing on spikes that I’m sure were actually to the left of me and not where I was, and, perhaps most frustratingly, secret enemies.
One of the levels has an enemy type, a spinning knife ball, that is also a particle effect in the background. This lead to a lot of confusion on my part, never sure if it’s a new enemy fading in or just another particle effect. Because it’s 2D, these all seem to exist in the same space as well.
The sheer number of different enemy types drawn in is impressive. Parts break off them slowly, they all have their unique ammo and animations. The sheer amount of work that must have gone into drawing this game is absolutely commendable. This is without going into all the different suits, weapons, and drone outfits drawn as well.
The enemies really make this a standout game to me. They are varied in not only visuals, but also in fighting style. Learning each new enemies movements and attacks was difficult, but fun.
The balancing between platforming and fighting left a little to be desired. With the turrets, I only needed to set them up on higher platforms and just hide from the flying enemies. It ultimately resolved itself in the 4th area with monsters that shot upwards to get you off platforms. The fighting and the enemies are the core of this game. The battles are fast and frantic, and very very easy to get into a flow state with; something that can be hard to achieve with grinding games. Managing to keep the fights interesting and hard after 12 hours is incredible.
There’s very rarely any feeling of unfairness from the fights (except when the scenery gets you). When you die, it’s almost always your fault. Death is just a chance to improve more, with the level up system moving fast. Combining the levelling with the upgrade system, it feels very satisfying when you do go back and beat the level that took all your hard earned loot.
There is the feeling of unfairness in pretty much every random event encounter though.
Original Journey tries to stretch out over a little too many genres, including a racing level, as well as a sharp shooting level. Both of these are not catered for in the design of the game, and each time I only beat them through sheer luck.
There’s no actual aiming, so the sharp shooting level was especially frustrating. You only shoot in the direction you’re facing, and must jump up and down and let the physics of the bullets do their work from that. So trying to shoot a certain number of balloons in a time limit not only felt out of place, it was mostly just annoying. You need these to get certain upgrade items as well, so it’s not exactly something you can just skip over either.
The upgrades system can be confusing initially. There were no upgrades on the original grenade launcher, which I felt was an oversight since it’s the most useful and the one I used pretty much constantly throughout the whole game.
While there are a wide range of weapons, the melee ones feel mostly too high a risk for too little reward. Getting close to some of the spiker enemies is almost always a bad idea. With the majority of monsters being flying, you really want to always have ammo, so two guns is definitely better than one.
If it was just the weapon system alone, this would be a pretty meh game in terms of upgrades, with you just unlocking new weapons when you’ve got enough stuff for it. The armour upgrades really bring it home though. With interesting designs to help you distinguish yourself from other Ato’s and installable one use only chips, you really start to get attached to your suits. Weighing up the differences, the upgrades vs the aesthetic, the chip that you might never find again.
And you can upgrade your drone to look like a cat. And its shots become little paw prints.
Story wise, it does suffer from some English localisation problems. Letters running off the side, typos in a few places and using the completely wrong name do come out a lot. Ultimately though, it doesn’t detract from the gameplay. What does detract is the lack of obvious player choices. The story makes it clear what the ‘correct’ thing to do is, and I never really found a way to go off and do my own thing instead. This led to the ‘role playing’ part of RPG falling away pretty fast.
The story was pretty standard, the writing was cute and the jokes quirky, but felt forced. Original Journey would have benefited from the old ‘show don’t tell’ adage, rather than starting and stopping combat to go back and talk to someone to advance the story. It broke the flow of the game a lot and could have been solved with a ‘communication device’ of sorts to report back to base.
- Gorgeous hand drawn art
- Fully customisable armour and weapons
- Interesting and varied enemy types
- Some random encounters are very out of place
- Dangerous areas and attacks are hard to see with the colour scheme
- Turrets make fights too easy and not engaging
While it’s a gorgeous little game, I think it was trying too hard to be too many things. The race section was like pulling teeth, and the story felt forced in places. For an RPG, it didn’t really give you much player choice past the upgrade system. Original Journey’s strengths lie in its art, its enemies and its fighting design. Definitely put the action and adventure over the RPG for this one.