STAFF REVIEW of Jusant (Xbox Series X)

Tuesday, October 31, 2023.
by Adam Dileva

Jusant Box art Jusant: French maritime term qualifying a period of low ocean tide.

Ever since I got to preview Jusant back in August, it’s been on my mind. The preview was only the first two hours of the game with a cliffhanger cutscene, and I’ve been wanting to scale the Tower ever since. Having previewed the game, much of that will be included in this review, but I finally got to reach its peak and came away absolutely charmed and mesmerized with its beauty.

Revealed at the Xbox Showcase 2023, Jusant was a small title that instantly caught my eye with its colourful visuals. I was instantly more intrigued once I saw that developers DON’T NOD were the ones behind it. Best known for the Life Is Strange series, but also some other fantastic titles like their latest game, Harmony: The Fall of Reverie. Described as a new climbing action-puzzle adventure, Jusant is a relaxing and meditative journey as you scale a seemingly never ending cliffside. Explore multiple paths, find secrets and simply enjoy the experience at your own pace with the help of an adorable and mysterious companion.

Without any spoken dialogue, Jusant’s narrative is told through finding letters and notes left behind from previous inhabitants of this mountainous structure. This is intentionally done so you’re able to interpret the story in your own way and in relation to your own personal experiences. Jusant opens with you wandering the desert and coming across a tower so large, that it goes well beyond the clouds. It’s more than just a mountain however, and you’re intrigued to look closer. While the game doesn’t give you an objective marker or tell you to go explore, you’re curious, so you naturally want to see what’s ahead and upwards.

The ocean used to rise so high that much of this tower was submerged. This is apparent by the broken and ‘beached’ boats you’ll find along the way towards the peak. The ocean has seemed to disappear though, as has the society and people that used to live here, seemingly all abandoned in search for water elsewhere.

Climbing the tower is symbolic for many things, whatever that means to you. Maybe it’s overcoming a challenge in life, achieving something monumental or putting forth some great effort. Jusant uses great use of allegory in a powerful way without outright telling you its meanings or lessons, those are up to you to decipher and uncover. You feel compelled to climb upwards and onwards, and so begins your journey up this seemingly never ending tower to curtail that curiosity of what's possibly at its peak.

Jusant’s concept is brilliantly simple: climb a large tower. You’re given the tools needed from the offset, teaching you how to properly climb. Many games play horizontally, so having a game built about verticality is a refreshing change, as looking up and how much further you need to go seems to never end, yet looking down and seeing how far you’ve come gives you a sense of accomplishment without directly rewarding you as a player. I can’t even count the times I would pan the camera upwards to see how much further I had to go, or stand at a cliff edge to pan downwards to appreciate how far I’ve already come, usually resulting in a few screenshots.

Not aiming to be a completely realistic simulator, Jusant is designed to be a relaxing experience, climbing at your own pace, becoming almost meditative in nature as you simply sit back and relax, enjoying the views and solving how to get up to your next ledge. Often I would see a branching path, explore one way partially, only to go back and see what I could find the other way. This usually ended up in finding a note, diary page, collectable, or even an amazing vista that always prompted a screenshot. I’m excited to see speedruns once released, but playing at my own pace was exactly what I needed to relax and chill.

Controls are as simple as they come, with the Triggers being your hands, so you have to hold Left or Right depending on which hand you want to grip with, using the Left Stick to direct your climb direction. It’s intuitive and works quite well once you get a hang of your reach and abilities by alternating your gripped hands. Of course climbing is tiring, so you do have a stamina meter to watch, but you’re able to rest virtually anywhere and refill your stamina gauge before attempting another climb. Once you get in the rhythm and climb quickly and smoothly, it feels quite rewarding, as does finally figuring out a way to reach that ledge you’ve been trying to grasp.

You have a rope that will automatically attach once you start climbing, acting like a safeguard in case you fall. You’re able to add a few more anchor points as you ascend, refilling as you place your feet back on flat ground. This means you can’t die nor really lose much progress. Even at times where I forgot to anchor and ended up falling, I only lost about a minute or two of progress. Jusant is meant to be a relaxing experience, and I appreciate the design to not have you fall all the way to the bottom. You also don’t need to be careful near ledges, as you can’t accidentally walk off either thankfully.

You’re able to lengthen or shorten your rope as well if anchored to a swing point, useful to reach further off ledges. This allows you to use your rope as a swing at times, so momentum will also play a part of your climb. Sometimes you might need to get some speed and let out your rope a bit to reach somewhere new, though it seems there’s not only one solution to climbing the ‘proper’ path, so I’m sure people will find their own preferred lines upwards. Each wall you climb is like a mini puzzle in itself, as some broken planks and spots you can’t grip or hold onto, so you need to figure a way around or elsewhere. Once you know what ledges and objects to look for, you can usually plan out your climb before doing so.

You’re not alone on this climb though, as you have a small water-like creature with you known as a Ballast. Looking frog-like in nature, it’s not only absolutely adorable but has a connection with this place somehow. This Ballast will not only keep you company, but will be instrumental in your climb, as they’re able to unearth secrets and reveal paths you’d be unable to do so without their help. You need the Ballast and they need you, and it’s more connected to this deserted Tower than you may initially expect.

While in range of some of the rare flora, using your Ballast will cause the plants to grow, allowing more areas to climb with extending flower stalks, or placing a bunch of seeds on the wall that can be used as grip holds. The desert is a harsh environment though, and these seeds only last a few moments in the hot direct sunlight, so you need to be quick at some spots if you want to progress. You’ll also lose stamina slowly in the direct extreme heat, so you can’t always take your sweet time.

You might even find some wandering rock-like creatures that can be used as mobile grips which was always fun to try and time my jumps to reach as they passed by. They can only hold your weight for a short period though, so you’ll need to maneuver across a few of them, like a moving grip point. As you reach the peak, you’ll even need to contend with harsh winds, forcing you to time your jumps to have the wind help push you upwards or in a certain direction.

While the majority of Jusant’s journey takes place outside the massive Tower, there are some sections deep within, adding for a whole different aesthetic and feel. Climbing within the caverns adds for a different backdrop, and there are even some firefly-like creatures that can be used to give you a ‘super’ jump to reach higher at specific points. Walking into a massive open cave and seeing flying glowing jellyfish is quite a beautiful sight indeed.

While your general direction to go is up, how you do so is up to you. There seems to be generally one ‘main’ path, but many times I found short side paths that were alternate ways or housed some secrets. Jusant’s lore is explained through finding collectables, so it will certainly be beneficial to go off the beaten path and explore everywhere you can. The notes you find give insight to the people’s lives that used to live here, or what they were worried about once the tide started to lower abruptly. Where did the people go? Were they scared? Collect these to piece together a heartbreaking story as you ascend. Part of Jusant’s charm is how it lets you explore the world at your own pace. You’re not rushed in any way, you’re free to explore different pathways which usually lead to tidbits of interesting lore, slowly piecing together what’s happened and where everyone has gone.

Climbing a massive structure like this, you get a feeling of how small and insignificant you truly are. Level design is done masterfully for being virtually completely vertical and there was always something in the distance that caught my eye that I wanted to go see what it was eventually. Jusant’s design is so clever, as you’re always given a purposeful structure in the distance that you’re naturally drawn to, and the climbing path happens to head in that direction.

More than once I had to stop and just take in the beautiful vistas, looking down at how far I’ve come, but also glancing upward to see how much further to go, not even able to see the peak beyond the clouds. Once I was above the clouds and unable to see the ground where I started, it really brought a sense of accomplishment. The colorful cartoonish aesthetics are pleasing and you can easily tell certain paths you’re meant to take once you notice the grip points to hang onto. Equally as stunning is the beautiful soundtrack from Guillaume Ferran, creating an atmosphere where the piano ballads hit at just the right time and creates a relaxing tone as you hear the wind whistling near a cliff edge, bringing with it a sweeping and adventurous soundscape of harmonies.

Scaling the tower never becomes dull, adding new challenges and ways to solve each puzzle with a stunning vista viewpoint as my reward. I was unable to put it down, completing it in a single sitting, though I plan to go back again with the Chapter Select to find all the collectables I missed the first ascent.

Sometimes you can just tell when a game is ‘special’, and Jusant gives this feeling almost from its onset. With stunning vistas, a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack, and relaxing gameplay, take a few hours out of a weekend and experience its gorgeous ascent.

**Jusant was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 9.3 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 9.5 / 10


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