STAFF REVIEW of Away: Journey to the Unexpected (Xbox One)

Sunday, March 3, 2019.
by Adam Dileva

Away: Journey to the Unexpected Box art While I’ve never really been a fan of much anime, I’ve always appreciated the unique and distinct artistic style that they utilize, compared to the westernized cartoons I grew up on myself that are a stark contrast. When I think of Japanese anime, I think of bright vibrant colors and fluid animation. It seems that the developers behind Away: Journey to the Unexpected also love their anime as well, as a two man team has crafted an experience that looks like it’s actually based on an anime. I actually had to do some searching, as I did assume it was based on an anime that I’ve simply never heard of, but it’s their own creation, and something that could easily pass off as a TV show tie-in.

Away is an absolutely gorgeous and vibrant adventure that has its own unique flair and artistic style, something I don’t think I’ve really seen anything similar that I can think of. You play as a child who isn’t out to save the world, isn’t a hero, nor has any combat skills. All you’re armed with is a stick, literally. With the power of friendship, you’ll go on a colorful adventure, whacking bugs and enemies out of your way.

Technically a FPS (First Person Stick?), Away utilizes some rogue-lite elements as well, meaning that when, not if, you die, you’ll be right back at the beginning, though with some specific progress saved, like money and unlocks. While you navigate the gorgeous 3D world, every character and enemy you encounter is a 2D cutout that rotates based on your viewpoint, somewhat like Paper Mario. It’s a really interesting aesthetic that somehow blends and works well artistically, arguably Away’s greatest feature.

Your world has been invaded by monsters, so you’re going to do what you can with your trusty stick (I know, it’s hard to take serious) to thwart all that you come by. As you explore, you may come across NPC’s that will have a story to tell, and if you’ve found a companion cube, you’ll actually be able to recruit them to your team to join you on your journey. You’ll come across a mechanic, a talking tree, a robot, sorcerer and other oddball characters that have interesting personalities. Sometimes you’ll also need to answer their questions properly though for them to join you, something I’m not sure is ever really explained and took me numerous times to guess right.

Combat in Away is literally you hitting every enemy with your stick, when you’re playing the main protagonist. You only have this one melee attack available (well, technically you can charge up your attack, but it’s difficult to time), and even after hours with Away, I still struggled to get the hang of the proper timing. Even though enemies have nonexistent AI and simple run straight towards you, you’ll only be able to hit them when they get close enough when your reticule turns red, which is a very fine line of you getting hit back. I can’t even count the times I got hit when I shouldn’t have, or mistimed my attacks.

While visually Away is stunning, the combat and gameplay hinder it more than I expected. Combat feels dull and frustrating, and even though you can eventually unlock a shield block, fighting projectile enemies until that point is frustrating to say the least. Where you need to strategize is the friends that you recruit. You’re only able to play one character at a time, and can freely swap between, but you’ll want to use your companions first and foremost for numerous reasons. The main being that it’s only a Game Over when your main character loses all his health, if your companion does, you just lose access to them for the rest of that playthrough, so you need to think of them more as extra health or shield for your main character.

Also, some of the friends are vastly overpowered, especially the sorcerer that can throw fireballs from afar, negating the whole combat issue mentioned above, or the bat that can freely drop hearts for you to pick up. The tradeoff though is that your companions can only be used for a limited time, as they have an energy bar that depletes when attacking, so you can’t use them indefinitely. It’s an interesting mechanic, not very well fleshed out, but you use it to your advantage as best as you can to avoid any restarts.

Not only is enemy AI nonexistent, but the later enemies simply have higher health bars that require more stick whacks to defeat. The first enemies you encounter will only take one or two swings to defeat, but near the end, knights can have up to 10 health. The AI is so brain-dead that they get pushed back a little for every hit, then come straight at me again, so you can actually just stand in one place as they come at you over and over.

As you progress in your adventure, you’ll need to go into three mini dungeons to pull levers to unlock the boss dungeon. Beat the boss and you’ll gain access to new worlds and lands, where more friends can be found. While the boss fights aren’t very interesting, the dungeons themselves seem slightly randomized, though I did venture through a few of the same ones a few times. While I won’t spoil the ending, it should only take you a handful of hours to earn enough unlocks to take on the final boss, which was one of the biggest jokes and let downs that I can remember.

The visual aesthetic of Away: Journey to the Unexpected sold me right away, as it’s absolutely gorgeous with its blend of 2D and 3D and bright colorful environments and characters. Below the surface though, the rest of the experience is as bland and uninspired as you can imagine a boy fighting with a stick would be. It’s tough to recommend when it’s only redeeming quality is how pretty it looks, like a gorgeous date you picked up that happens to have a terrible personality and annoys you.

Overall: 5.0 / 10
Gameplay: 2.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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