The tower I'm trying to reach the top of in Jusant is completely abandoned. Traces of what once was can be seen everywhere, from the furniture and belongings that have been left behind, to barnacle encrusted equipment and apparatus. There's so much attention to detail on every level of this gargantuan, ever-changing natural tower, and each time I reach new heights, I get more insight into the daily lives and occupations of those that resided here. This may have once been a place that was full of life and activity, but now it's still and quiet, save for the noise of my own footsteps as I run across deserted spaces, or climb up steep inclines. From the get-go, I can't help but try to imagine what this world looked like before I came here, or wonder at what caused everyone to abandon this place.
Release date: Oct 31, 2023
Platform(s): PC, PS5, Xbox Series X
Publisher: Don't Nod
And that's the real beauty of playing Jusant. You're not just climbing up a tower, you're also unraveling a mystery. You don't know why you're trying to get to the top, or what caused everyone to leave, but as you climb higher, you'll uncover more and more. Through collectible letters that serve as windows into the past, developer Don't Nod expertly builds up a picture of the world that you can piece together as you climb and explore.
Just keep climbing
The letters written by residents of the tower are such a joy to read, with each opening up a window into their lives. Whether it be someone who's trying their hand at poetry because no one is around to purchase flowers from their shop, or correspondence that was penned to invite a friend to go swimming to help cheer them up, these smaller stories make the empty world feel so alive. Not only that, but you'll also come across correspondence that clues you in on the events of the tower and what happened here. Every area you reach is home to various collectibles that reward your exploration.
I absolutely love the way the game steadily builds up its story through environmental discoveries, but it's certainly not the only strength of Jusant. The experience mostly revolves around climbing, and Don't Nod's approach succeeds at making it feel natural and intuitive. With a rope you can use to swing and propel yourself, you're also kitted out with four carabiners that can be placed down on just about any surface. Climbing is tied to the triggers on the controller, alongside jumping up or across. L2 and R2 on the PS5 DualSense correspond to the left hand and right hands respectively, and as you climb up a cliff face, or go across an incline, you alternate between each arm and use the analog stick to direct yourself to the next handhold you want to latch onto.
You have to hold one trigger to maintain your grip and keep yourself from falling down as you move your other free hand. At times, this can be quite tiring on the index fingers, but fortunately Don't Nod breaks up longer climbs with areas you can explore on foot. There's a great sense of pacing throughout Jusant, with the game consistently giving you a bit of a breather to help balance out the experience.
Not unlike the climbing in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of Kingdom, Jusant also features a stamina bar you need to keep an eye on – particularly during longer climbs. If it starts getting too low, you're able to take a break mid-climb to recover some of your stamina, but it won't completely restore until you reach solid ground again. Unlike Link's adventures, though, you can't actually fall to your death in Jusant, with the rope acting as your safety net. Instead, you'll fall back down to the nearest carabiner you've placed. I actually appreciated knowing there was no risk of death. It allowed me to fall into a flow state and enjoy the mediative feel of Don't Nod's adventure, which is very much designed to be taken at your pace.
This doesn't detract at all away from the sense of challenge, either. The entire tower is essentially a puzzle you have to work your way through, with different pathways you can get higher and higher. The collectibles also come into play, too, since you may well miss one tucked away on a route you've not yet taken. The verticality of the tower also brings something unique to the experience, with some very creative level designs that take you inside the tower and also have you climbing on its surface.
You'll spend the majority of your time in Jusant climbing, but it never veers into repetitive territory thanks to the ever-changing levels of the tower. As you get higher, different weather conditions or natural elements will be introduced that add to the challenge and keep it feeling fresh. During one stint, for example, you'll be climbing under the blazing heat of the sun, which makes your stamina reduce faster and even burns away some natural foliage you need to use to climb across after a set amount of time. Occasionally the camera swings upwards to force your perspective, which is usually to help direct you or showcase the sights above. This shift can get in the way of discovering solutions for yourself which, while a little frustrating at times, is understandable given the vertical nature of the setting.
While there's a sense of loneliness to Jusant, you are joined by an adorable little bubble-like companion made of water. This endearing blue friend has a unique echo ability that you can use to make plants and flowers blossom on surfaces. This not only factors into the puzzle aspect of climbing, but it also feeds into the game's exploration of our connection to nature and the natural world. Since the small creature is your only company, being able to pet them any time you want is a lovely touch, and the way they help you in a practical sense makes it very easy to form a bond with them.
My time with Don't Nod's climbing adventure has been one of this year's highlights for me. It's a wonderful reprieve from the stresses of daily life, with a meditative feel to the whole experience I came to appreciate more and more. There's a lot of heart to be found here, too, with some fantastic writing and worldbuilding that effectively frames your exploration of the tower. From the climbing mechanics to the vertical level designs and the narrative, everything comes together to take you on a memorable journey you won't regret going on.
Jusant was reviewed on PS5 with a code provided by the publisher.