One of the burning questions that I’ve had about Jusant since finishing it is which cornerstone was laid first during the game’s development – the story or the gameplay. In the end it matters not; but understanding which came first in this “chicken-or-the-egg” scenario would allow me to properly frame my appreciation for the brilliance of Jusant. From its clever main menu transitions to its poignant final moments, every bit of Jusant feels like a labor of love, crafted by creatives at the peak of their abilities. The game is so good in fact, that I’m sitting here days after finishing it wondering aloud if developer Don’t Nod came up with the story or gameplay concept first, as either facet on its own would have been good, but together they are sublime.
Jusant (pronounced “zhu-sahn”) is a French nautical term meaning “receding tide”, and naturally, as the game’s title, receding water is the central element of the story. The game opens with you approaching a monolithic structure that appears to rise endlessly into the sky. It’s obvious that the tower was once surrounded by water, as your path to the structure is littered with crashed boats, anchors, and barnacles. The role of water in this world, and more specifically to the tower, becomes more and more evident as you progress through its 10-hour runtime, but you’ll learn straightaway that the inhabitants of the tower have mysteriously left. The evidence of them is everywhere you turn – workstations are left frozen in time and dwellings are still full of personal belongings. As someone whose favorite television series is The Leftovers, it was like journeying through a weird video game mashup of The Rapture meets Home Alone. The tower feels lived in, but also like arriving at home and having just missed your entire family on their way out.
I certainly don’t want to spoil anything for you, so suffice it to say that the environment does some serious heavy lifting narratively, as do the dozens of collectables scattered around the tower. In fact, there is not a single spoken word of dialogue in the entirety of Jusant, which makes the emotional punch of its story even more impressive. With that said, understand that you’ll get as much out of this story as you put in, meaning that the narrative reveals itself largely through those optional collectables. As you journey up the tower, left-behind letters, newspaper articles, and journal entries paint a vivid picture of life on the tower. I really can’t overstate how effective I found this method of storytelling; I was a rock-climbing detective piecing together an oddly relaxing mystery, and like a good book, I didn’t want to put it down. It’s backed by a wonderful musical score that dips in and out during key sections, enhancing the emotion of the moment. The music of Jusant is haunting, adventurous, melancholic, and pensive – sometimes all at once.
The reason why I am so fixated on whether the narrative or gameplay was fleshed out first is because the two intertwine so seamlessly. You might be thinking, “well, duh!”, but there is something about the synergy of Jusant’s narrative and gameplay that feels quaint and effortless, which is impressive for a game with rock climbing as its central mechanic, and without a single word of dialogue. To that end, I fear that some will look at this game as little more than a climbing simulator. However, as was the case with Death Stranding in 2019 – which was derided as merely a walking simulator prior to release and later became a hit – Jusant brilliantly executes on its vision with aplomb.
In the same way that you or I commute by vehicle or bike, the inhabitants of the tower climb rocks. It is the singular mode of transportation for an entire community of people, and a major part of what makes the setting so fascinating. As you approach the tower in the opening, you’ll begin climbing almost immediately, and throughout the trek you will learn more about how ascending and descending the tower has shaped the people who once called it home. Controls are simple and intuitive, with the left and right triggers controlling your left and right hands, respectively. You point the left joystick in the direction you want to go to reach out for a handhold, squeeze and hold the trigger for the correct hand, and then repeat the process, alternating hands as you go. PS5 users who have played Astro’s Playroom will be right at home, as it handles almost identically to that game’s climbing sections.
While straightforward, the climbing mechanics also include a surprising amount of depth. Up to three pitons (anchor points) can be placed that act as checkpoints, essentially, should you make a mistake and fall, but they also create opportunities to reach hidden areas or access alternate routes. Anchoring to a piton even lets you rope swing and wall run like Nathan Drake, leaping to previously hard to reach areas. You can also jump and double-jump directly between handholds to continue your ascent up the tower, as well as discover new areas that are hiding collectables. There is a lot of incentive to explore too, because each piece you discover tells you a little bit more about just what exactly is going on with the tower. While lonesome, you’re not totally alone on your journey – joined by a tiny blue creature that uses an echo ability to help you locate points of interest, collectables, and manipulate the environment to create new pathways. It’s an adorable little thing, and yes, you can pet it.
I can’t stress enough just how good Jusant feels to play. It reminded me of the potential that games intrinsically have as an interactive art form. Don’t Nod has characterized the game as a meditative puzzler and I would certainly agree with that. While playing Jusant becomes second-nature, it does make you think about hand placement, where you are going next, and how you are getting there. It’s not difficult by any stretch of the imagination, but little things like the stamina gauge do enough to give you pause as you’re moving along. The stamina gauge means you will need to occasionally stop a few seconds for a quick breather, especially after executing consecutive jumps or leaps. Those brief moments of respite often led to me scanning the environment to determine the path forward, or to just take in the gorgeous scenery.
During my climb, I was constantly on the lookout for hidden areas to attain every collectable, and to learn more about this world and its people. Figuring out how to use each of my climbing tools and mechanics to get to those areas and reveal a new piece of the puzzle was extremely fulfilling. The game evolves the formula in small, yet clever ways over time that keeps things fresh, and it felt perfectly paced. For example, the hot, arid part of the tower doesn’t allow your companion’s echo ability to have the same effect on the environment, and your character loses stamina faster when exposed to full sun.
If there is anything negative to say about Jusant, it’s negligible issues such as the finnicky close-up camera angles when squeezing through crevices, or the rare instances where I became stuck for a moment trying to step up onto a ledge. But for such a wonderful video game experience, frankly, that is nitpicking, and is not at all indicative of the sheer quality of Jusant. The story and gameplay are masterfully crafted and cohesive in a manner that most games could only dream of. It lures you in with its mystique, hooks you with its meditative gameplay, and sticks with you long after completion thanks to its emotional story. It deserves your full attention and is one those rare games that will leave you sitting, staring at the credits, perhaps even with tears in your eyes.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Hello! I'm Jason, the newest member of Gaming Nexus. My favorite genres of games are strategy, management, city-builders, sports games, RPGs, and shooters, but I don't limit myself to those. My favorite game of all-time is Red Dead Redemption 2 and I have somehow played it for nearly 1,000 hours. I also co-host a weekly PlayStation news podcast called The Dual Sense Podcast, so I stay pretty well versed in that ecosystem. Before that, I co-hosted a basketball podcast.View Profile