Journal Review

Dear diary.

Journal is a memorable game, but not a particularly good one. This creation of developer Richard Perrin and his company Locked Door Puzzle is noteworthy for its hand-drawn graphics, superb music, and vaguely morose teen-girl atmosphere that stays with you well after you wrap up the brief two-hour story. But the potential impact is watered down with too many after-school-special plot points and a disjointed narrative style that is way too avant-garde for the lightweight material.

Initially, however, Journal is very intriguing. The story centers on a nameless teen girl who finds that all of the pages of her daily journal have somehow gone blank. You start with a metaphysical mystery that might be termed The Case of the Erased Journal, but things veer off on a tangent almost immediately, with the journal being forgotten due to the girl's many other problems at school and at home. Her mom and dad have split up, windows have been broken, tests have been cheated on, and snow globes have been stolen. Nobody knows the trouble she's seen; if this kid were in jail, she'd be blowing a harmonica.

Journal has a point, and some moving moments. But the entire plot is twisted around to create an unnecessary mystery.

Nothing truly sticks, though. Journal is billed as a narrative-driven adventure--an interactive short story and a choose-your-own-adventure piece--but your choices in dialogue selections do little to shape the plot, and the girl's problems are kept at arm's length. Many have happened before the story starts, so you hear about them in retrospect. A point may be being made here about dealing with the consequences of your actions, but this storytelling at a distance dulls the impact of whether or not your character is the liar, thief, and self-absorbed twit she seems to be.

Other incidents force you into making dialogue choices without understanding the bigger picture. You can be a jerk when you don't mean to be, simply because you're not aware of what you've really done. Oh, sorry former best friend; I guess I broke that window and blamed you for it after all. Whoops. And some of the one-word choices given for attitudes you wish to adopt in conversations are needlessly confusing, leading you down paths you might not want to travel. The one ameliorating factor is that none of your choices matter very much in the end.

Hanging out with the mysterious guy who works at the city park doesn't sound like the best way for a teenage girl to spend her afternoons.

Stylistic choices cause more trouble. The whole "missing journal pages" concept isn't successful, partly because it seems like you're bouncing from one juvenile catastrophe to another rather than solving any sort of mystery, and partly because the story structure shoehorns in more mysteries that don't need to be there, or at least don't need to be held back until a big cheesy reveal at the end of the game. You're never sure who you are until the final act, when the illusions suddenly fall away with little rhyme or reason as the truth is exposed. If the circumstances behind that reveal had been part of the story background from the very start of the game, it would have been easier to empathize with the girl's plight and feel more attached to a sympathetic character, not the flaky, self-absorbed liar you have to live with until the curtain is pulled back mere moments before the game comes to a close.

With that said, there's something striking about Journal. The story structure may not work very well from a dramatic point of view, but it is atmospheric and weird enough to haunt you. One of the protagonist's loves is ornate snow globes, for the perfect little worlds that they enclose. It feels like you're peering into some kind of snow globe while playing the game, too, getting a sneak peek at a tiny teen universe. Distinctive, hand-drawn art adds to the appeal. Every scene in the game consists of a journal page filled with sketched characters and background buildings, with simple animations confined to minor objects like floating leaves and flying birds. The voice acting is also quite good, and the airy piano-laden soundtrack moves between bouncy and sad moods just like the protagonist.

The potential impact is watered down with too many after-school-special plot points.

For all of its flaws, Journal succeeds in making you think. Granted, most often this thinking is about how much better this promising game could have been if the developer had made some different design decisions. But it also makes you contemplate how much the little moments in life affect us, and how those little moments and their consequences are always colored by the bigger ones that loom large behind the scenes. It's all dime-store philosophy, but it's still a philosophy, and I credit Journal for a valiant attempt to say something, even if the message comes out tangled up in the end.

The Good
Likable presentation, thanks to the distinctive and colorful sketch-style graphics
Memorable musical score and voice acting
The Bad
Disjointed story structure, with a central mystery that feels forced
Few meaningful decisions to be made
5
Mediocre
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Brett Todd spent just under two hours writing down all of his innermost thoughts and secrets in Journal.

Discussion

9 comments
Granpire
Granpire

The tone of this looks like the complete antithesis to Kairo, Richard Perrin's last game.

That atmosphere in Kairo was suberb though. I hope he returns to that type of aesthetic.

tvkiki
tvkiki

If the ending would be revealed in the beginning the story wouldn't be interesting. I think the beauty of the game is that you only find out what this game is really about at the end, and it gives a reason behind your bad behavior. This is the hole point of the game, to see the whole thing from a child's, or a young teen girl's perspective. And I think it's just magnificent how in the end the two storyline, the girl's and the one with the circus connect together. I don't think the message is tangled up, you just have to understand it. I think the design decisions are great, it's great to see a game that's not focusing on how realistic it should look like, instead creates his own style with a meaningful story.

guardianofhonor
guardianofhonor

Calling this "avant-garde" is amusing, like it's the first story game ever made and it's not even a good one. Pretty stupid how some critics want to justify a crap game just because its "indie" and ""different" and it kind of does a disservice to games that are actually good but get underrated because they aren't hipster enough for some critcs who think any pretentious crap "indie game" is avant-garde, simply being different does not make art better.

abhirajgoldy
abhirajgoldy

looks pretty interesting to say the least, should be given a chance 

Granpire
Granpire

I think what he was getting at was foreshadowing, not revealing the ending.

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

@guardianofhonor  We gave this game a 5, calling it mediocre. We didn't say it was good, and in fact, mentioned how its attempts to be different worked against it. In other words, you're complaining about a review that agrees with you. Are you sure you read it? 

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

@abhirajgoldy  Yeah--I'd rather a game try something different and not quite get there than follow the pack and succeed. I may check it out.

guardianofhonor
guardianofhonor

@Kevin-V

Yes I just thought a 5 is a little too generous for a story game with a sucky story, and really praising the graphics in this? It looks like it was made by a 9 year old. Giving it a 5 is like saying maybe you should try it, although clearly this game is crap. It's a 3 with the usual  +2"indie game" bonus points added on

Journal More Info

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  • First Released
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    • Unix/Linux
    Enter the pages of the hand painted world of Journal.
    8.5
    Average User RatingOut of 2 User Ratings
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    Developed by:
    Locked Door Puzzle
    Published by:
    Lupus Studios Limited
    Genres:
    Adventure