Originally published at: Review | Jusant - XboxEra
“Jusant” is a French word, which means ebbing tide. As someone with a waning hairline, I empathise. In this new and incredibly beautiful world from French developers DON’TNOD, the tide, indeed the world’s entire ocean has vanished. Without water, a civilisation on a huge and imposing spire slowly died as their previous way of life became untenable.
Why did the oceans vanish? Where did everyone go? Does the huge spire hold the answers? It seems the only way to get to the truth is to climb, and indeed, climbing is what Jusant is all about.
The Ebbing of the Tide
The game starts with your un-named character walking across the long dried out ocean floor, the dunes and dead coral littered with the remnants of old ships, long abandoned. The sun burns bright overhead, and, as our protagonist walks towards the unfathomably tall spire ahead, their companion stirs in the pack on their back. It seems all games need to have a companion nowadays, but in reality, they’re often just gameplay mechanics in disguise.
This adorable little fella is special, and as you progress up the tower, will assist you in not only providing a vague sense of direction (besides straight up!) but also in providing you with certain abilities to make your climb a little easier. With a simple button press on your d-pad, the creature transmits an echo on demand that can bring vines and shrubs to life, opening up new routes to ascend and make the climb. This forms the initial added complexity to climbing, as you’ll encounter a variety of challenges on the path ahead, from helpful creatures called sparks, to monstrous winds and scorching temperatures.
Tools of the Trade
You are no slouch when it comes to climbing though. There’s something wonderfully refreshing when a developer builds out a compelling game mechanic and in turn, makes it the sole focus of the game. Which, frankly, is exactly what DON’TNOD have done. Climbing is everything in Jusant, and it’s a very tactile affair, with each trigger on the pad corresponding to your left and right hands, and simply reaching out to the direction of the next handhold with the left stick. When it works, it put me in an almost zen-like state, and it is incredibly satisfying to make speedy climbs, rhythmically pumping the triggers with each step upwards. There is a stamina bar, but a click on the left thumbstick can recover some of it, and you can place up to three pitons, enabling you to rest, or even rappel, swing and make your up at your discretion. The really good news is there’s no real “fail” state in Jusant – you can’t, for example, fall to your death. Your rope will always catch you, and failing is merely getting back to secure position to attempt the climb again.
Your journey up this incredible tower is a relaxing and often meditative affair. The world that DON’TNOD have built screams to be explored, and there are a large number of hidden letters and notices, all adding detail and texture to a civilisation once so dependant on the sea, when faced with losing it entirely, has to ask itself how it will survive. One particular standout is the frequent letters you’ll find from someone named Bianca – I encountered several journal entries detailing her expedition up the spire, the characters she meets and the sheer bravery it must have taken to risk taking the climb at all. There are all sorts of remnants of a time long since past, from broken down docks, restaurants and homes. There’s even what I can only assume was once a burger joint, complete with resplendent neon sign. Unlike many games nowadays, there’s no obvious golden path, or an outcropping slathered in yellow paint to tell you just how and where to climb
Despite the decay, there is life to be found on this quest, from lizards and small rodents to a unique creature called a “Pebble” which looks pretty much like the name implies. They cling to rock faces, providing a surprisingly stable foothold when in dire need. There are colonies of them, squirrelling their way across the rockface in their own little way – and often form part of a bigger “climbing puzzle”. There’s more to be discovered, but to go into detail here would be tantamount to spoiling things.
A Beautiful World
It’s worth making a big deal about both the soundtrack and the visuals of Jusant, because they are both superb. The music can be melancholic, uplifting, and always perfect for the moment, be it one of anticipation, danger or triumph. Visually, the game is an absolute screenshot generator – bold, bright pastel colours and a draw distance that goes for miles, and some superb lighting throughout. My favourite environment was the wind swept, green peaks further towards the top of the spire. The way the roaring wind moves the entire environment is mesmerising. Aside from this brief look, I won’t linger here – again, I don’t wish to spoil things for you.
Not all is perfect though – the control system, when it works, which is most of the time, is great – but I had more than a few occurrences where arms seemingly wouldn’t respond, or my character would get stuck on nothing at all. Thankfully, these don’t detract too much from the main experience, which is for the most part, very smooth, running at a locked 60FPS. There are some performance dips and stuttering, but in my experience were limited to just one specific biome, which looks like it may need a little more optimisation.
Jusant then – a beautiful, relaxing adventure that players can tackle at their own pace. Exploring every nook and cranny of this world, and charting your own path is something that should be savoured, and you should absolutely add it to your download queue via Xbox Game Pass.