Jusant – Artful Ascent
There is a clear DONTNOD pedigree present in Jusant, an action-puzzle climbing game with an aesthetic which reimagines the angular character designs and warm colour tones of Life is Strange alongside the work of Italian metaphysical painter Giorgio de Chirico. Jusant exudes a sense of loneliness and curiousity amongst the remnants of civilisation; no wonder then that de Chirico’s work was also an influence on Fumito Ueda, the designer of Ico, which touched on similar themes. In Jusant, players take on the role of a lone traveller, climbing a seemingly infinite peak jutting out of a post-apocalyptic landscape ravaged by a changing climate. Translasting as ‘receding tide’ in English, Jusant has come the closest of any game to evoking the work of Ueda, ultimately resolving into something more hopeful than Shadow of the Colossus, his magnum opus from which Jusant both draws on and in some aspects exceeds.
The tunnels, peaks and cliff-faces of Jusant hold the echoes of the settlers and travellers that came before, a combination of environmental storytelling and scattered diary entries slowly piecing together the overarching story as players make their way closer to the summit. The world is in turmoil; the rains have stopped, but the sun has not. An entire people’s way of life has slowly eroded away from them, the empty wells and public baths dry and crumbling, crops withering under an indifferent sky which blazes a burning red and orange above. The key to the mystery are the ‘Ballast’, legendary creatures made of water which may hold the key to reviving the rains. The player is not the first to attempt this journey, the world littered with diary entries of those who came before.
The main verb set in Jusant is centred around climbing as players jump, swing, dangle & shimmy up, across & around an incredible array of surfaces as they make their way towards the summit of the peak, or delve further into its interior, exploring luminescent biomes which hold many of the secret collectibles that offer up more details about this world and the people who once populated it. Jusant does wonders to make the climbing feel intuitive with the left and right triggers controlling each arm independently, players alternating between each to hold and release surfaces as they move. Each climb is a puzzle and while players sometimes have a few ways they can approach them, many require specific methods or abilities which open up as the story progresses across its six chapters. Managing stamina is an important aspect of climbing in Jusant with faster movement, jumps, bumps and falls all depleting it rapidly and more importantly, reducing the maximum amount available. Stamina can be partially recharged mid-climb, but only fully regained at certain anchoring points on lengthier climbing sections or by reaching a flat section of terrain. This system balances tension beautifully, players pushing forward against their ever-reducing stamina in a desperate bid to reach the next plateau.
Bolstering the incredible visual work on offer is the soundtrack by Guillaume Ferran which quite often stands out as a poignant counterpart to the action on screen. As his score rises, the instrumentation grasping towards heights emotive expression, so too does the player character reach for that next outcropping or gaze with wonder at the sheer infinity of the cliff-face before them. In equal measure, Ferran captures the introspective aspects of Jusant, whether the player is shuffling quietly through long-empty halls to hidden shrines and frescos or wandering the remnants of an abandoned dwelling, holding an abandoned seashell to their ear as the sounds of running water, the bustle of the marketplace and the laughter of children ring out in stark contrast to the ruined remnants on-screen. Underlying ideas about scarcity, climate change and the subsequent feelings of helplessness permeate every aspect of Jusant, linking the lightly woven story elements via exploration and art direction as opposed to more heavy handed alternatives and make subtle comment about humanities ability to persevere even in the most dire of circumstances; even a an unrelenting sun bakes a populace, hope springs eternal.
Jusant is a bewitching experience; a meditative ascent which conveys its themes of hope, inevitability and perseverance effectively alongside puzzling gameplay that pushes players forward with just the right amount of challenge. The level design and understated story leave enough to the players imagination that the world maintains the perfect level of mysticism whilst remaining believable in many respects. Even better, the credits in Jusant roll just as the story hits an emotional peak and well before the gameplay mechanics have a chance to lose their lustre. Do yourself a favour and set aside a weekend for Jusant – it’s worth the climb.
Jusant was reviewed on an Xbox Series X console with code kindly supplied by the publisher.