Feeling My Way Through “Journal”
This week I’m continuing my grudging voyage through my Steam library backlog with Journal. Once again, I had no idea what this game was going to be when I loaded it for the first time. I only hoped it wasn’t another damn hidden object game.
I was not disappointed. Journal is not a hidden object game. Instead, it’s a story-based game that is conceptually similar to Gone Home. There’s a story, but you have to figure it out.
In Journal you play as a young girl (we’re going to call her “YG”) that has always recorded her life in a notebook. When you look into her diary you find that all the pages are missing and no one knows where the missing entries have gone.
The search for the missing pages takes a turn when she speaks to her lifelong best friend Elena. Elena’s in trouble because SOMEONE broke a window and then SOMEONE lied and said that Elena had done it.
Spoiler alert: YG is that someone.
Spoiler alert part 2: basically everything YG does from here on is awful. She bullies. She cheats on tests. She steals shit from old people.
I hated her. I wanted her to be kinder and more honest, but the dialogue options I chose often didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to. For example, talking about “friendship” with Anne, who is being brutally bullied, lead to more bullying.
It became obvious early on that YG is dealing with some shit in her personal life. There are a lot of hints that this type of behavior is not normal for her, and it’s slowly revealed that her parents are divorcing and her family is struggling with the anniversary of her grandmother’s death.
The game is split into stages. At the end of each stage there is a weird video that tells a story about people who were involved with a carnival. The videos are jarring because they’re in a completely different art style and don’t seem to connect to YG’s story at all.
Journal started out simply and evolved into the narrative equivalent of “Connect the Dots”. Why is YG acting this way? Are her parents divorcing?(Yes.) Did her mother have an affair with John the landscaper?(Also yes.) What is this about the long-dead grandmother (and why the hell is it relevant?)
And then suddenly the last dot was added, the lines came together, and I knew what was happening. The weird carnival videos suddenly made sense in the worst way. The story had lead me to a place I didn’t expect and I did not want to go.
I cried. A lot.
This isn’t just a story about YG’s parents divorcing or YG’s learning compassion from the kindly homeless man in the park. It’s the story of a woman trying to rewrite her past. I wasn’t the only one that hated the choices YG made; she hated them too, but throwing out her diary entries didn’t let her rewrite the past.
Journal is far from the best game I’ve ever played. I didn’t care about most of the characters and the choppiness of the story is only barely redeemed by the twist ending. I wouldn’t play it again, but if you’re passionate about story games (or just like crying about sad things) you might want to check it out.