At its worst the visual novel genre can be overwritten and tedious. The Endless Journey manages to avoid this by incorporating elements of the point ‘n’ click adventure genre. Unfortunately, the elements it borrows are some of that genre’s worst.
The Endless Journey is the story of a trio of travelers, the alchemist Valjean and his homunculi Cosette and Eponine, as they venture across early Industrial-era Europe. Along the way, they encounter a quartet of musically inclined farm animals, for whom Valjean creates new human bodies. From here the game turns into a loose reenactment of the classic Grimm fairy tale The Bremen Town Musicians, with a strange necromantic twist.
There’s a multitude of weird ideas in The Endless Journey, and that’s most appealing thing about it. You can sense the enthusiasm and creativity from the developer as you play the game, and the amount of thought and effort they’ve put into their project really shows. Collectibles strewn across the landscape provide meticulous backstory to The Endless Journey’s magical industrial setting. Most of this information is completely tangential to the actual story, such as a pair of items describing the production of flour in the game’s alternate-Europe. How many games bother to tell you about their settings’ grain supply? Les Miserables is obviously a huge inspiration here, and the sheer attention to detail in The Endless Journey is similarly delightful.
Back To The Bad Old Days
The developers have created an intricate world. Sadly, The Endless Journey falls apart when you try to interact with it. There simply isn’t much to do. NPC interaction, one of the adventure genre’s biggest selling points, is completely by the numbers here. The game has a large cast, but most characters only react to the minimum extent necessary to solve their associated puzzle. They tell you to do something, you do it, and there isn’t much at all in between. Unlike the Phoenix Wright series, whose adventure game mechanics enhanced the its storytelling, the puzzles in The Endless Journey put its story to a halt. It doesn’t feel like adventuring, it feels like doing chores.
It doesn’t help that the chores are so frustrating. The puzzle design in The Endless Journey represents some of the worst sins of the point ‘n’ click’ genre. The worst offender is a puzzle early in the game requiring you to wake up a jailer sleeping off a hangover. How are you supposed to accomplish this? By clicking on an unremarkable knothole in a tree in the background, navigating a maze to find a worm, and feeding that worm to a bird, who then pecks the jailer awake. No rational player would ever discover this solution except through trial-and-error. Insane puzzle design like this ruined adventure games all the way back to the Sierra days, and it’s infuriating to see it still employed in 2018.
A Nice Place To Visit…
It’s a shame that the interactive portion of The Endless Journey is such a let-down, because the aesthetics are great. The Classical-inspired soundtrack is fittingly moody and evocative for an adaptation of a story about musicians. The background graphics are adorable and incredibly detailed. There’s a hotel in the middle of the game that blew me away with all the attention devoted to little things like the fine china in the pantry. The character art is less inspiring. The figures are drawn well, but the designs are rather generic, to the point that it’s disappointing when the farm animals turn into four more unremarkable humans.
Charm is a powerful thing. A lot of clunky or even bad games can get by on charm alone. The Endless Journey is certainly charming, but it just isn’t enough to get past the obnoxious puzzles.
- Unique, meticulously-detailed setting
- Lavish background graphics
- Beautiful original string and piano soundtrack
- Tedious, unintelligible puzzle design
- Lots of pixel-hunting
- Occasionally clunky translation
If the game’s unique setting appeals to you, there’s an impressive little world inside The Endless Journey. Most players just won’t enjoy living in it.