A desert land, a lone traveler, and a tall structure on a giant rock tower introduce players to Jusant. Your goal is to climb the tower and discover the secrets of the civilization that lived there. The world and gameplay that developer DON’T NOD built are incredibly engaging and novel. Details of the Tower’s history are left like tantalizing breadcrumbs and the tight gameplay kept my attention for the brisk 6-hour journey. My biggest gripe with Jusant is that there wasn’t more of it. The story of the Tower and the gameplay of Jusant are begging to be expanded on.
Story: Echoes From the Tower
If you’ve seen anything from Jusant, you’ve probably seen a massive rock tower and a lone human climber with a watery creature companion. These mysterious characters are not named until the credits roll and their motivations are largely unknown, but yours will be simple: keep climbing and discover all the paths of the Tower.
Jusant’s story is primarily conveyed through its world and visuals, but there are plenty of notes laying around for you to find and read that shed light on the people that lived in and around the Tower. Among the abandoned tower, you’ll find writings like notes left for pilgrims or even back-and-forth conversations. These journal entries are brief and interesting enough that I was excited to pick them up every time. The notes left behind are terrifically written, telling me the compelling history of the people and places in the world. The writing gives info at an excellent pace and keep the player just out the loop so the dialogue feels natural. My favorite bits of lore were the seashells that let you listen to the sounds of the people who lived on the Tower.
As a player, part of my motivation to climb was to discover the reason the characters were there, but I never got a satisfying answer. The conclusion of my journey left me feeling ambivalent. A good ending may not answer every question for the player, but I felt Jusant could have given me more hints and details as to where the world and characters were going; there is a difference between an open-ended conclusion and an ambiguous one.
Gameplay: Every Nook and Cranny
Climbing. That’s the hook and draw of Jusant. After the initial cutscene, you begin your ascent on the Tower by climbing hand over hand on anything you can hold onto. On a gamepad, each trigger controls an arm and hand (left trigger for left arm, right trigger for right arm). Holding a trigger down is like holding on with that trigger’s respective hand. You then motion for the next hold and your free arm will reach for it and you can grab it. Only one hand at anytime is needed to stay on a wall.
This mechanical gameplay was clunky to me at first, but soon became rhythmic and captivating. I began climbing slowly, making sure each hand was gripped and aiming for the precise hand hold. Later in my playtime, I trusted my fingers to match the rhythm of my nameless climber – I was climbing up with speed! It is quite satisfying to have such control over your character’s movement – even down to their limbs. My favorite moments were being able to secure a piton under an overhang and then swing freely with my remaining rope.
When I first thought about climbing being the primary gameplay, I immediately thought of both The Legend of the Zelda: Breath of the Wild and the Uncharted series. Whereas Zelda allows you to climb nearly any surface with any hand placement, Uncharted gives you a more on-rails approach that shows you the handholds with white, yellow, or some other designation. Jusant’s climbing falls closer to Uncharted’s linearity while retaining Zelda’s naturalistic feeling of freedom. I rarely felt forced along a single path, but felt more like I discovered the best path. Handholds are not highlighted, but are natural outcroppings or pockets in the Tower. Jusant also introduces some surprising ways to climb that I won’t spoil here, but make the Tower feel alive.
In addition to finding the holds with your arms, climbing also requires stamina management and using your three pitons to secure new placements on the walls. Your maximum stamina depletes as you climb and completely refills when you stand on solid ground. In between standing, you may need to rest an arm to regain your stamina up to its current maximum or you won’t be able to climb further. I enjoyed this resource management in Jusant’s beginning stages but little strategy was needed while climbing to maximize your stamina. In all my 5 and a half hours, I only fell from exhaustion once – and that was because I was unnecessarily wall jumping.
While the climbing mechanics do not progress, the setting will change and force you to adapt your strategies to it. The standouts of these new settings are a sunny side of the Tower where the sun sucks your stamina quickly and a windy side which can help or hinder your climb depending on the direction of gusts. These varied biomes and weather mechanics shook gameplay up in a fun way, but I still would have liked to see more climbing mechanics introduced as a puzzle solving system – maybe new tools to overcome new obstacles. Still, the fundamental gameplay is incredibly engaging for the length of the game.
Graphics: Next-Generation Minimalism
Jusant is a very pretty-looking game, and it’s mix of impressionism and minimalism is captivating. Think Journey meets Far: Lone Sails. The colors are bold, but largely monochrome and unshaded on each object.
The lighting is realistic and dynamic; it’s a major strength here. Shadows are cast from small blades of otherworldly grass, and through small slits in wood. The shadows produced by your hanging rope and moving arms makes climbing that much more exciting by imitating the tactile nature of the adventure.
Walking from the bright exterior into a shady crag gives you the sensation of your eyes adjusting. Sometimes it’s a little dark for a while and it will adjust. I do recommend playing in a dark room to perceive the full range of lighting. Otherwise, you may need to adjust the gamma settings on the game each time you enter a dark area.
One section has you exploring the inside areas of the Tower for an extended amount of time. The lighting and art direction especially shine in this section. Lamps and phosphorescent plants that litter the ground give soft lighting. The beauty made even the darkest cave feel alive and engaging to explore like a (less creepy) Metroid game.
Sound: Rural Future
The Tower is abandoned, but not lifeless. Peaceful creatures and animals inhabit the crags and peaks of the rock. At all times, I felt like I was a visitor to the ecosystem of the tower, not the ruler of it. During regular gameplay, a swath of environmental sounds made me feel alone in a vast world. Footsteps echo and birds trill. Jusant has multiple settings for audio that include asking if you are wearing headphones and what volume of room you are playing in.
The music was near perfect. During menus, a bubbly and minimal synth soundtrack played and escalated. It perfectly matched the rural setting and surprising technology that Jusant combines so well. During specific parts of your climb, a rousing score will accompany you, matching the epic heights of the Tower.
Jusant was reviewed on Xbox Series S with a key provided by DON’T NOD.