Towards the beginning of GRIS, you come across a red, almost desert-like landscape. Your obvious goal is to reach the other side of this landscape, but something keeps pushing you back. A strong and persistent wind keeps pushing you back, making it almost impossible to continue. If you have played any platformer, then you know the only course of action is to time your movements and move when the wind isn’t blowing. But this stage of the game felt different. It didn’t feel like a typical platformer. The imagery kept my mind focused on stress in my life.
I had the opportunity to play GRIS over the holiday break. It was a perfect storm of stress in my life. My family was preparing for our trip to visit my family in California for Christmas. My other job was working on a significant transition from one type of model to another. I was spiraling with my thoughts on what I will be giving my kids for Christmas and if it will be enough and make them happy. And every waking moment thinking about these things brought me back to this particular stage in GRIS.
The winds of stress in my life kept blowing and blowing, much like this sequence in GRIS. It wasn’t just the visual aspect of seeing the protagonist in GRIS drop down and fall whenever she was exposed to the wind. The music would pick up when the wind blew, switching from a calm piano to a frantic organ. And it keeps coming and coming until you pick up an ability to resist the winds and make progress. The music and visuals all come together to show one’s struggles and efforts to overcome.
Now my life is in no way like the protagonist in GRIS. My stress arguably is minuscule compared to dealing with a real-life tragedy or mental illness. Throughout the game, the protagonist breaks down with her hands over her face. Despite the game giving ways to make progress and tackle the platforming and puzzles, it still visually reminds you that overcoming tragedy is no easy manner, and it’s always an uphill climb to get back to some kind of normalcy.
If you want a label for GRIS, then consider it a narrative platformer. You jump and walk your way over this tragic and sad world. You use the abilities of your dress to solve some puzzles and make progress. In my opinion, the platforming and puzzles take a back seat to the incredibly moving visuals and music. And in this case, the development team made the correct decision in putting the story in front of gameplay. I guess the game is a bit indirect in that it doesn’t explain a great deal about where to go and what to do. You just figure it out on your own. But I didn’t mind it.
Another reason why I believe the story is more important is the lack of death in the game. You can’t fall to your death or be killed by enemies. You are free to explore and be enveloped by the story. The lack of consequences gives you time to reflect on what you are experiencing while playing the game. It’s a smart move by the development team to let you take your time.
I can’t say enough good things about the visuals. They are breathtaking. GRIS looks like a moving watercolor painting, and it is absolutely gorgeous. The visuals are so important to the story, especially the use of colors to convey specific feelings. And the music accompanies the visuals so well. I don’t know how difficult it was to animate the game like this, but kudos to the team for making the visuals the way they are.
We often hear about video games wanting to be considered art. And in many ways, it is. Video games, like paintings, use visuals to create a setting and tell a story. But it’s easy for critics to scoff at this idea, especially when popular AAA games involve loud set pieces full of violence or crude humor. It’s still a type of art, but critics may only focus on things that they feel are negative and unnecessary. As we see a rise in indie games, we see more and more games that are true works of art. Not only are they visually unique, but they typically take the time to tell a meaningful story. GRIS is the latest indie game that sets the gold standard for visual and meaningful storytelling. You owe it to yourself to play GRIS and take the time to ponder the feelings you get from your playthrough. In my opinion, it is a game you don’t want to miss.
Note: GameOctane editor Ryan Welch received a digital code from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing this game. Any code or product intended for reviews is distributed to the team to review and stream for our audience.
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A moving and meaningful story
None. Play this game!