Review: The Sojourn

Life is a journey; life is a puzzle.  Duh.  Everyone knows this and is equally aware that life is many other things as well.  For the sake of The Sojourn, however, life is best refined down to these two properties, and the result is a leisurely stroll where each group of self-contained puzzles leads to the next chapter in what starts out as a baby’s life.  The baby grows to become a young man through a series of golden statues found along the way, meeting people who influence him in many different aspects of the world he lives in.  Alternately you can ignore the statues and treat The Sojourn as a series of clever, tricky puzzles set in one beautiful environment after another.

Unlike games such as Myst or The Witness, The Sojourn is a mostly linear path from one puzzle to another.  The first area starts off as a walk through what are basically tutorial puzzles, hammering the basic techniques in place one room at a time, but even when things open up a bit there’s still a linearity to it. This is not a bad thing, because even when you’re in a small hub with a few rooms open it’s best to tackle them in order due to the steadily ascending difficulty curve.  The trick you learn in room II is only part of what you’d need in room IV, although thankfully every now and then it throws a softball to keep your brain from overheating.  Still, figuring out how to use light and darkness, and which tools need to remain powered and which only need to be on for a short bit, is a task that requires either an incredibly logical mind or a good amount of trial and error.  More likely both at once in equal measure, though.

The Sojourn is a first-person puzzler about manipulating light and darkness to find a path to the exit.  Each room is a pretty, contemplative space, and the elements of the path come flying in from all directions to assemble themselves in an endlessly fascinating process of assembly when you enter.  The default state of each room is bright and sunny, which makes for a lovely view but darkness is what brings the puzzle elements to life.  In the earliest stages there’s a glowing white platform that brings on the darkness for a certain amount of time, with several different effects.  Missing pathways fill themselves in, statues can be activated and there’s a nice visual effect where ripples drift through the edges of the environment.  The darkness is very much like Kill Bill‘s five point exploding heart technique in that you can hang out as much as you’d like but any movement brings the time closer to its end.  The puzzles are tuned so that there’s always a nice buffer between the amount of movement you have and the amount you need, but you still have to use it efficiently or that bridge made of wishful thinking will disappear out from underneath your feet.  The worst thing that happens next is having to walk back and try again, because The Sojourn is about figuring things out rather than killing the player, but that can still be slightly maddening on it’s own due to the slow walking pace.

There’s a reason for no run button, but first an explanation of a few other devices in each puzzle.  The most common useful tool is a large winged statue, and you can swap places with it when activated by darkness.  Step on the platform to activate the dark, walk across the bridge that appeared, turn around while there’s still a smidgen of energy left in the darkness gauge and activate the winged statue beside the energy platform to go back where you started.  You can then re-activate the darkness and swap places with the winged statue again and be back on the other side of the bridge with a full bar of energy.  That means you can now stroll over to a device connected to a locked door, swap places again with the statue and end up back at the platform one more time.  Whether in darkness or light the statue on the device means the door is now open, but there’s still one last device to sort out before the end.  Certain sections of path have tumbled away and activating a giant harp un-shatters the stone until the tune ends, and it doesn’t matter if it’s light or dark out so long as the music plays.  So, having swapped places with the winged statue back to the platform it’s a simple stroll across the darkness-bridge, then look through the now-open door at the harp and activate it while there’s still a little bar left on the gauge.  Walk through the door while the light returns, across the bridge while the music plays, and then it’s off to the next level.  And then things start to get complicated, because that was an early tutorial level.

Everything in The Sojourn is tuned to a set walking pace except the harp, which goes by time.  If the player could run that would mean the harp would need to play at high speed as well, so instead you move at a pleasant amble that, when trying the dozenth iteration of a solution, gets less helpful on each attempt.  There are a surprisingly small number of moves for even the more complicated areas, so when you know what you’re doing it only takes a minute or two to blow through, but when trying to figure out which device gets an energy stone (keeps it active in the light or the dark) while configuring the direction of darkness anti-floodlights (if the gauge runs down while in the beam it doesn’t matter because you’re still standing in the dark) it can get a little trying.  As a rule puzzles are for patient people, and The Sojourn is a game about taking your time in a beautiful environment, but even so patience wears thin after a while.

Closing Comments:

The Sojourn is a gorgeous first-person puzzler bursting with clever design and a rich atmosphere.  Even when the challenges get extra-tricky and require a serious moment to stop and think, it’s nice to soothe the brain with a look around the environment.  The puzzle design works every element to its logical extremes, making it deeply satisfying when you realize that, yes, it’s actually possible to complete an area in an orderly fashion.  The story told in statues found along the way is somewhat interesting rather than actually engaging, and the bonus nuggets of wisdom found in scrolls as a secondary objective aren’t particularly wise, but then another set of puzzle rooms comes along and it doesn’t matter so much.  It’s a long walk to the end with challenge after challenge keeping the stroll lively, but the smartest idea in The Sojourn is its less obvious message that, when there seems like no logical path through the current problem, it never hurts to take a minute to enjoy the view.

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