Away: Journey To The Unexpected was a game I got to see at last years EGX. It was fresh, interesting and captured my attention instantly, so I was super interested in what the full release would entail.
I’ll be straight up with you. To say I was a little disappointed in the release version would probably be the fairest statement I could make.
See, Away: Journey To The Unexpected has everything a young roguelike fan would want. There’s retained progression, multiple paths and there’s that “One more try” mentality that’ll niggle away at the back of your mind while you play, but there’s one issue. Away: Journey To The Unexpected is just, dull.
So, let’s discuss the gameplay, shall we?
At the core level, Away: Journey To The Unexpected is simple. It’s clearly by design and in fairness, it’s also not really a fault in the game. You can attack with a stick, you can chat to NPCs and you can buy things from a shop. That’s pretty much the jist of it. Where Away: Journey To The Unexpected differs from similar roguelike titles is with its party system.
The party system is what makes Away: Journey To The Unexpected stand out in a sea of generic roguelikes. Every party member is, at first, a seemingly useless NPC. You can talk to them and they’ll likely give you some inane information about the world or that they’re a drunk tree. Recruiting these NPCs requires a friendship cube. How can you make friends without a cube? It’s the way life works. Once the friendship cube is in your possession, talking to NPCs becomes completely different. Instead of them fobbing you off, being blunt or generally being useless, they’ll now drum up a dialogue with you. If you make the correct choices during these dialogues, you’ll acquire a new party member! Mess up, and the likelihood is you won’t be able to add them to your roster on the current run.
Now, here comes my first major gripe with Away: Journey To The Unexpected. See, adding party members is a nice way to vary the minute to minute action, but acquiring all the possible team members, and there’s 8 of them, is required to even attempt to beat the game. “Now, Josh,” I hear you cry, “That sounds perfectly reasonable”. Well, yes it does, until you realize that there are characters a little later into Away: Journey To The Unexpected that have branching paths on their conversations. One wrong choice and you’re shit outta luck with that character on your current run. Sure it’s perfectly fine until you start runs specifically to unlock characters and you cock it up and are forced to restart the entire run. Sure, it should be rewarding to get characters after a nice little chat, but it isn’t half annoying when you fuck it up.
Combat is uninspired, to say the least. Away: Journey To The Unexpected’s combat boils down to two things, walk backward and swing your stick. As Away: Journey To The Unexpected has you fighting from a first-person perspective, which isn’t an issue in itself. The issues with the combat arrises when you have to hit something. You see, enemies (and NPCs) are all in 2D. It’s a cool stylistic choice, but it makes working out spacing on your attacks fairly difficult and results in you taking damage while you’re in the middle of swinging your stick. Switching to other members of your squad occasionally alleviates this issue somewhat, but let’s get to that.
Switching to your companions causes some interesting changes. While it may be obvious that your different party members attack differently, and they do, what makes the party system the most interesting thing about Away: Journey To The Unexpected is the fact that, when you switch to the different members, you see through their eyes. If they have broken glasses, you’re going to see through broken glasses. If you’re a crazy tree, then you’re going to experience life through the eyes of a sentient tree. Switching between the different characters and experiencing life is interesting.
Unfortunately, your team members all run off an energy system. Attacking enemies takes energy and by takes energy, I mean it takes an absolute fuck tonne of energy. There’s a huge amount of times you’ll want to use your teammates, but due to the energy they take up, you’ll basically have to sit and wait till you’re in a boss fight before you can justify using them.
There’s a persistent leveling system that helps you feel like you’re progressing while you die and rerun the same levels. Away: Journey To The Unexpected unfortunately handles this in a strange way though, as your ability to block (which is actually useless) is locked behind a few level ups. A charged attack unlocks a little later that doesn’t really fix any of the combat issues and is super forgettable. It’s a shame that there weren’t any ally energy extensions tied to leveling up because that’s the biggest issue with Away: Journey To The Unexpected.
Graphically, Away: Journey To The Unexpected is beautiful. If you’re a fan of Studio Ghibli then you’re in for a treat. Everything is highly stylised, with most of the enemies striking a balance between cutesy slimes to giant robots. If anything, the enemy design seems to nod towards the Dragon Quest series which is actually very cool. The color palette is bright and childlike, which fits perfectly. Environments are vastly different from each other, which helps keep everything fresh as you bounce between runs. NPCs are unique and stand out easily in the distance.
Unfortunately, the soundtrack is easily forgettable and slips into the background. While that’s sometimes a bonus, Away: Journey To The Unexpected doesn’t feature any spoken dialogue so you’re pretty much just subjected to an endless loop of mundane music. It’s a shame as most roguelikes feature some amazing tracks.
Storywise, Away: Journey To The Unexpected is uninspired. You live with your grandparents, your parents have gone missing and you’ll be damned if you’re not the one to find them and save them. It’s generic, it’s seemingly there to give you, the player, motivation for moving forward.
Overall, Away: Journey To The Unexpected falls short of being unique. Its premise of finding friends to help on your journey is lovely, but it doesn’t really expand on anything. It’s pretty to look at, but it’s ultimately a shallow experience. Its leveling system rewards you poorly and the core gameplay loop can be frustrating at words and benign at best.