For the last O.D. of the year, ROW checks out one of the standout games of the year for him: GRIS, from newly formed NOMADA studio, published by Devolver Digital.
GRIS is just one of those games. An artistic vision that some people will just love its particular art style, story, and mechanics, which will stay with them for some time; for most, GRIS will be a beautiful, yet simple, game that has a great soundtrack. While those qualities are true, GRIS is much more than that; it is a testament for what video games CAN be, if they are treated as art.
On the surface, GRIS is a puzzle-platformer about a girl traversing through a bizarre and picturesque world; however, even taking the events of the game uncritically, it is very clear that GRIS is about dealing with loss and the incoming stages of someone’s mood after a tragic loss; sadness, wrath, acceptance, rebuilding the picture of that person, moving on, etc. As a story, GRIS is not that great; there aren’t enough interesting events or satisfying analogies, metaphors, or character growth. However, this is where GRIS showcases its excellence and how it creates a fantastically bittersweet experience; what it lacks in actually satisfying narrative, it more than makes up with its poignant soundtrack, thematically appropriate and varying interactive portions, and charming presentation.
Let’s start with the soundtrack; simply put, it’s the best I’ve heard this year. Besides the sweetly melancholic vocal work, Berlinist does an incredibly good score for a game that is just as much about dealing with our darkest and most difficult emotions, as it is about overcoming them and walking on the other side with experience and peace; that’s no easy task, but even if it was, the score produced here is so thematically appropriate and mouth-wateringly good that it would not matter in the slightest.
Moving on to the art style, GRIS uses an impeccably detailed and beautifully rendered animation style that brings the serene world of GRIS to life; I would have liked a bit more variety, but NOMADA studio does a lot of visually pleasing things with their world that keeps the world looking beautiful and feeling different after revisiting some of the locations in different points. GRIS also uses some fantastically beautiful cutscenes at certain points, which were highlights and good resting spots for the player, as well as more focused attempts at delivering the themes behind GRIS’ story.
What makes GRIS an excellent game though, is the interactivity and the level of detail in both mechanics and how they correlate with the story’s themes; GRIS is a linear, puzzle-platformer that gives the player certain abilities as they advance the story—like being able to turn into a rock to withstand heavy winds and break through obstacles—which allows them to proceed even further and attempt optional challenges. As GRIS is a “no death screen” game, the world is meticulously designed and the challenges are always fun to do and figure out, but the pacing and variety are what shine above all else; while the mechanics and controls are good enough to not be frustrating or feel inaccurate, GRIS excels at making new elements feel like advancements from both the story and the gameplay elements. After turning to a rock to withstand elements, GRIS then uses it to break through her world and advance; after learning to double jump, she uses her environment to reach higher places and glides to reach harder platforming challenges. This brings variety, pacing, and thematically appropriate progression to the game, which combined with the soundtrack, the art style, and the overall atmosphere make GRIS so good as a game and as an experience.