I’ve never been considered to be an artist by any stretch of the imagination. I can’t sculpt, I can’t paint and I certainly cannot draw. I lack a certain compétence needed to be an artiste. In fact, in the fifth grade I was assigned an art project for homework and my finished product was so bad my own mother was embarrassed by it. She promptly redid the entire piece and I scored an A but I knew from that moment on I was no van Gogh… That is until I played GRIS. With a few simple movements I was able to turn a bleak canvass into a vibrant landscape filled with delicate splashes of color and serene landscapes radiating with life and wonder. By the end of the game my pièce de résistance was one that even Mom would be proud of.
Developed by Nomada Studio from Barcelona, GRIS is their first title release. It follows the story of a young girl who is dealing with an unexplained trauma in her life. Told only through stunning visuals and a captivating score the game explores the five stages of dealing with grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It is up to players to restore hope within the protagonist and help her begin to heal.
The game opens on a blue-haired girl named Gris resting in the palm of a hand that’s made of stone. As she rises her dress begins to flow and she starts to sing an alluring tune until she abruptly loses her voice. The hand holding her begins to crack and she falls through, tumbling endlessly against a pale blue sky. As she continues to fall the sky shifts from shades of blue to shades of reds and yellows until all color fades away. Once on solid ground Gris slowly walks with her head and shoulders down, defeated and utterly alone. She looks up at the sky one more time before setting off in a run across the barren landscape where her journey begins.
In the most basic sense this game is a 2D platformer with simple puzzles to solve. There are no boss battles to be fought and unless you put the controller down there’s no way to lose. Each level requires players to jump simple obstacles to locate small bright stars that when strung together create a constellation and allow you to progress to the next level. After each level Gris returns to a central area that continually transforms as she unlocks different areas of the game.
The dress Gris wears grants her extraordinary abilities that aid her in her quest. Over the course of the game she will discover these new skills which allow her to morph into things like a cube of stone to brace herself against impossible winds or a manta ray to swim deep below the surface.
As Gris evolves so does the aesthetic of each stage of the game. For example the first level features a color pallet of black, white, and gray – which makes sense since gris in Spanish translates to gray. The landscape is littered with barren trees and crumbling monuments. It’s stark, cold, and lonely…if the first stage of grief had a face it would look like the beginning of this game. But beyond the dreariness is an abundance of color waiting to be discovered and released. Over time players will unlock bursts of color which alter the landscape creating an interactive world of art. Each level expands on these colors creating dynamic environments waiting to be explored.
But as Gris’ world becomes brighter a darkness continues to lurk in the shadows. Taking the form of a screeching bird or ravenous eel the darkness can be overwhelming and even suffocating. Fortunately Gris encounters some characters along the way to help her escape its clutches and aid her on her journey.
As this watercolor masterpiece comes to life on screen, its rousing original score carries the weight of Gris’ emotional journey. We’ve all experienced stages of grief but to actually see and hear it is an entirely new experience. And while there’s no narration to guide you through the story the game is littered with symbolism. Gris loses the ability to sing at the start of the game and must endeavor to regain this ability. It’s not uncommon when experiencing trauma to lose oneself, until over time we eventually heal and find our voice again. I believe Gris is a metaphor for the voice within each of us; each one just as important as the next and worth fighting for. Additionally, the characters Gris meets along the way can also be seen as representations of our own friends or family helping us cope and guiding us through a troubling time. I don’t want to give too much away but the game unravels a truly a powerful message, that while open to interpretation, left me in tears by the end.
GRIS is vibrant, elegant, and offers a striking take on an otherwise sensitive topic. I think I may have played the entire game with my mouth open, in awe of its beautifully polished and meticulously crafted environments, all hand-drawn and painted by artist Conrad Roset. To say this game is a masterpiece is truly an understatement. It’s an absolutely mesmerizing experience that will simply take your breath away.
GRIS is currently available on Steam and Nintendo Switch.
Check out the trailer below: