“Surrounded by wonder, touched with fear” is a line from Jett: The Far Shore’s Sacred Writings. These writings lead Mei, the protagonist, and seep into every aspect of the game. handy enough, the quote aptly describes my time at Jett, and not always for the best reasons. Some of the storytelling moments reach high points, though the title’s boring gameplay always knocked me down.
Jett enters a world on its last legs, where the inhabitants realize they are doomed. The adventure begins powerfully as I listen to the mourning of my people, knowing that I will not share their fate. I am also troubled by their hope that my quest will save some part of civilization. Looking to religion for solace, people cling to the idea that my crew’s predicted scientific and spiritual mission across the galaxy will save humanity from utter destruction. The story never describes what caused my house the sad fate of the world, but it uses excellent visual storytelling to fill in the blanks. Chimneys choke the air around you and smog and soot over the landscape. The bleak spectacle brilliantly outlines one reason for the crisis: uncontrolled industrialization. In a darkly ironic way, it suggests that the factories that create your planet-escape technology are killing those left behind, evoking an acute sense of guilt.
The stylized, minimalistic graphics of the world create a distinct and beautiful look, especially during key moments such as your crew take-off when the horizon merges beautifully into the stars. Jett has a specific, retro-futuristic design. This style works because you take the past with you through time and space. While Chapter 0, a sort of prologue, contains an exciting goodbye and thought-provoking imagery, the rest of Jett struggles to measure up.
Having found my way to “the far coast”, a place of legend described by the sacred texts, that of my scout team adventure quickly went from delightful to dangerous. After being exposed to the alien elements and touched by a mysterious presence, I started seeing things. As I passed out after an accident, I had wild dreams about my village with shadowy figures instead of people. But the visions didn’t stop when I woke up, and I started seeing signals on the ground that my crew members couldn’t see. These signs let me know when I could use something, like when I used my ship to make flowers bloom. While these lighting-driven illusions lead to a series of wonderfully strange sequences, the story ultimately goes nowhere satisfactorily.
Much of the game takes place on your jett, a two-person, super-powered craft that allows you to fly around the environment. Unfortunately, the strong visuals from the first part of the game are lost while flying. The sophisticated art style in these series makes the world look like inconspicuous blocks of color. As a result, the characters’ reactions to the visually empty – but supposedly awe-inspiring – world are shocking. I found it difficult to gauge my speed due to the scarcity of landmarks in the area, leaving me zooming across the screen like an insect rather than an interplanetary explorer traveling at super speeds.
Driving your jett never feels right. The camera centers on the center of the screen, not on the vehicle, so moving and seeing where you’re going at the same time is tricky. I got frustrated several times doing delicate operations like going into the shadows to take cover or aiming to release grabbed objects because the controls are impractical. In addition, the game imposes an annoying restriction to fly at full speed. You have to continuously monitor a meter to make sure you don’t go too fast for too long or you’ll overheat and blow out your engines.
Getting out of the ship is also an attempt. Every time my character’s feet hit the ground, I feel like I’m wading through pudding. And the interactions outside of the jett, which often include dialogue packed with exhibits, are rarely remarkable enough to make up for the tiring journey. Many of these issues aren’t game-destroying flaws in their own right, but Jett has so many minor nuisances that together they make exploring a chore, which is a shame for a game about space exploration.
Jett: The Far Shore shines brightly in some narrative sections, and the visuals can be impressive, but † despite starting full of potential – it doesn’t deliver on its promise. Unfortunately, like my time spent piloting his interstellar spacecraft, Jett’s finale feels more unsatisfying than thought-provoking.