This weeks #TuneTuesday comes from one of the most emotional and breathtaking games I’ve played in the last two years, one that has an equally fantastic score. The cue is Karasu from GRIS, composed by Berlinist
‘GRIS’ has you control the silent eponymous protagonist, who wakes up in the palm of a crumbling statue of a woman. She attempts to sing but quickly becomes choked up by something, unable to finish her heartfelt song. The statue’s hands crumble, dropping her to the colourless earth below, all of which is presented with this gorgeous watercolour painting styled animation, very fluid and lush.
Already the game has told you what it considers to be important in addition to it’s narrative and themes. Death and mourning of a loved one are the main topics, both being told by communicating not a single word, but through its art and it’s music. There are no enemies to fight, no quests to conquer, just you facing a tale of depression, death and possibly suicide. Why suicide? To discuss greatly about that would enter spoiler territory, but I will explore death in GRIS, but discussing today’s cue.
Throughout the course of the game, you are being stalked by a flock of black birds, that occasionally destroy paths for you, forcing you to look for alternative routes for progress. At some point, these birds form to create a much larger blackbird that will begin to chase you through one section of the game, shrieking and sending you gusts of wind to disrupt your progress., I am dubbing this birds name as Karasu, which is a reference to the Karasu-Tengu, a goblin, bird, man deity in Japanese culture. The Japanese word Karasu means raven, crow or simply blackbird. Ravens and crows have been used as indicators of death in media, partly due to the many ravens that make their home at The Tower of London, which was a grandiose execution palace.
The cue, like the rest of the score is incredibly moving with just the right level of intimidation to make the player worry about what this bird can do to you, with the short, stabbing string pattern, alternating between the chords E minor (the tonic/home key), A minor and C major, not necessarily in that order.
‘GRIS’ is one of many artistic experimental games that takes inspiration from Thegamecompany’s ‘Journey’, which is evident when comparing the design of Gris and the wanderer from ‘Journey’, the two games’ desert areas and the fact that Austin Wintory, the composer for ‘Journey’, is included in the game’s credits’ ‘Special Thanks’ section. As such, some players may also see the ‘subtle’ connections and subconsciously expecting a ‘Journey’ clone as they are playing. I should know, as I stupidly felt the same as I played. I also feel that many players will have just interpreted ‘GRIS’ as a pretentious tale of a sad girl who wants to be less sad but becomes sadder, with no real sense of resolution, if you allow me to be crass for just a moment. It is very clear through the imagery that the game is conveying many a metaphor for enduring depression, and many will just leave it at that.
I enjoyed my first playthrough of ‘GRIS’, but I was left feeling a bit hollow, and not in a particularly good way, partly because of audio stuttering at the last cinematic, and partly because I felt it lacked the substance filled punch that I initially felt Nomada Studios was aiming for. It was only after I began thinking about why I felt hollow that I realised how successful ‘GRIS’ was in conveying its messages. Or at the very least, how I have interpreted the game’s themes. It was upon further reflection that I began to fully appreciate ‘GRIS’.
‘GRIS’ is a beautifully depressing experience, one that combines entertaining puzzles into an ethereal platformer. It presents a masterclass in evocative romanticism of depression and death, one that could only work in a videogame. Hopefully, you can come to your own insightful conclusions about ‘GRIS’ and be moved as just as I was.