Video Game Review: Gris
I’ve had my eye on this one for a while. An artistic indie video game, Gris is billed as a story of a girl dealing with loss. The previews were absolutely captivating and the music just as enchanting. It was one of those “insta-buy” categories for me and it didn’t disappoint.
I am so happy that Gris exists. It stands out in a marketplace of competitive and repetitive gaming. That can, at times, become an echo chamber of a predictable status quo.
On a subliminal level, my journey with Gris, became a reflection of my own battles with anxiety. One of not having a voice to communicate my subjective experience adequately. Where one struggles to move forward in a landscape with shifting obstacles and labyrinthine paths. The journey hallmarked a gradual exploration, the building of confidence, and a triumphant reclamation of power and agency.
As Gris slowly traverses and conquers her world I could not help but realize how much coming to terms with challenges involve turning obstacles into stepping stones slowly, and methodically with patience and self-compassion. For example, there is a segment where these gestalt-like fragments coalesce into a giant Raven that becomes a mini-boss of sorts. In order to solve a puzzle of reaching a difficult plateau, you can use its windy scream, to elevate yourself to new heights and progress through the level. An intimidating fork in the road is suddenly transformed into a stroke of providence. There are many moments like this that punctuate the journey in Gris.
The game executes an intuitive gaming logic with no overt tutorials required. This refreshing and minimalistic design encourages the player to trust in themselves as the game’s suite of powerups slowly and intuitively opens up your world and your reach. This provided at least in my opinion a strongly punctuated sense of exploration and ownership to me, throughout the gaming experience of Gris.
I would be remiss if I did not highlight the element of art. Gris starts out a dull grey. As the game progresses you unlock more colors that are added to the world. The watercolor backdrop creates a background. It captures more than the notion of life movement and agency returning. It creates one of the more memorable uses of art in video games I’ve seen.
I finally finished this game a few days ago, and the emotional impact left on me was profound. Although going in I understood the general theme of loss, it was not exactly clear what the specific nature of this loss was throughout the journey. All the same, the game provides a clear conclusion. It gives the player an “oh” moment, that ties together some of the narrative and artistic flourishes hinted at and seeded throughout the game. (i.e. Weeping and broken statues) The story’s end and the true nature of the protagonist’s loss is still cleverly subject to interpretation. However, it’s not hard to foresee multiple perspectives of Gris loss. Tthis is further compounded by the element of voice/singing that plays a central part in the game’s plot.
I have to admit the ending did make me cry, and I had to take a moment for myself as plot music, and art all intersected to drive a moving end. It was beautiful, melancholy and somewhat cathartic all at once. There have been many indie titles designed with mental illness in mind or navigating complex emotions. Quantic Dream’s Indigo Prophecy comes to mind and more recently Matt Makes Games’ Celeste. I’m really hoping this is a trend that continues and becomes more nuanced. Nomada Studio has produced something really beautiful and unique here. If you have a Nintendo Switch or enjoy PC gaming please don’t let this title pass you by