Gris Review — A Masterpiece of Outstanding Beauty That Captivates You and Doesn’t Let Go
Gris by Nomanda Studio is a story without words as you follow the internal struggles of a lost soul who is trying to make her way through the world and find herself again.
There have been very few times throughout my gaming life that I really look forward to playing a game and that said game ends up living up to my expectations. Usually what happens is that it’s nothing that I thought it would be — the story isn’t very well done, or it’s just not very good from start to finish leaving me in a hopeless mess wondering “Why can’t I just find a really captivating and meaningful game?”
This was my fear when I asked to review Gris. On the box, it was everything I crave in a game with its deeper meaning, its approach to mental health issues, and its artful style, but I wasn’t hopeful that it would actually pan out. After all, trailers are made to show all the good parts, right? Well, this time at least I was so very wrong. None of the trailers did Gris any justice whatsoever and to say that Gris is a work of art, truly underplays the magnificence of this title.
Gris is a very troubled young woman who is in the depths of despair and sorrow. I found myself wondering what made this soul so unhappy — what was her story? I started to realize that how she got to this place really didn’t matter because it was more about the journey from here on out and what she needed to do to heal.
There are no spoken words in Gris, nor will you find yourself dying from a misplaced jump or enemy — what you will find is the beauty of a free-flowing artistic marvel. The visual aspects of the hand-painted watercolor and Indian ink by Conrad Roset combined with the alluring score by Marco Albano told the story much more than any scripted narrative ever could. You knew exactly what was happening or about to happen when the orchestral music started to become more intense or soften.
One example of this was when Gris was making her way through a vast, desolate desert. You could hear the wind rushing through the sand in this strange land, accompanied by the velvety caress of a violin, but then suddenly the music would change into a more violent and urgent symphony giving me the heads up that a strong, red wind was coming my way that would knock me to the ground, giving me a small break before starting up again. Thankfully, my dress was on my side and I learned that I could turn it into a heavy block that would anchor to the ground on command to withstand these gales, helping me to continue on my path until finally, it has eased and then vanished.
When I played this particular scene, I understood its meaning entirely. The strong, aggressive cyclone represented Gris’s sorrow, pain, and hopelessness that had always wanted to bring her to her knees given any opportunity it could get. But Gris eventually taught herself how to face it and grew that little bit stronger to eventually face it, making it lose its power over her.
As Gris’s story started out, the landscape was black and white and extremely barren. This gave a really good indication of Gris’s emotions at this time and how her world was perceived. I spent a little while just running as there’s really no such thing as walking in this game – you either stand still or gallop. As Gris ran, her black dress would fan out behind her that was in stark contrast to her bright blue hair.
I finally came across a small orb and then another one further on that when touched, it would connect with Gris and follow her, becoming entwined with her dress. At this time I had no idea what this meant, but as I furthered on a little I came across some dots in the sky and when I stood near them, the orbs flew up from me and connected together to form a constellation bridge, allowing me to get to the next platform.
What I found most beautiful was the scattering of red rose-like flowers in this otherwise colorless void and when you ran through them, the petals would fall slowly to the ground making it drizzle red velvet drops. I think the developers added this to give the feeling that hope was on the horizon and just within reach if Gris could just find the strength to keep pushing forward. It really was a very meaningful touch that didn’t go unnoticed by me.
As I ventured forward, I came across four very large stone statues of women that were scattered in a tower. All of these women were cracked and broken in some form and they also were all in a frozen state of anguish. Again this is where the developers so cleverly manifested Gris’s grief into other forms of art throughout the gameplay. I was truly astounded at the level of detail that was put into Gris — it made me want to soak in every particle the artist drew, analyze it, and forever hold it in my mind.
After some time without much color, it was a feast for the eyes when Gris came across a vibrant, lush forest of greens and reds. Of course, the color change was an indication of the state of Gris’s mind — the more color meant the better she was slowly starting to become. This segment was brimming with life from small strange creatures scurrying along the thicket floor to the choir of birds tweeting in unison.
A curious little block critter eating falling apples started to follow Gris. At first, I thought this was added for the cuteness factor, but eventually, I realized that this creature was here to help me, but only if I helped it in return by knocking fruit from some nearby trees. It would then open places that weren’t accessible otherwise, allowing me to continue to my next destination.
The puzzles in Gris could be a little challenging for me in parts, but this wasn’t the game’s fault whatsoever, it was completely my own. When I came across a puzzle that I had to figure out, I was eager to solve it as quickly as possible because I was excited to get to the next area in as little time as possible — this was a major faux pas on my behalf.
Gris purposefully taught me that to solve something, you needed to look at the bigger picture and to slow down because only rushing it made it harder, hence losing the whole meaning of the game. By allowing myself to become mindful, slowly work something out, and to completely absorb my environment, I could then solve it in a much quicker period. Lesson learned Nomada Studio.
There really wasn’t an area I looked upon in Gris that didn’t have some aspect of outstanding beauty in it, which is a true testament to Conrad Roset‘s pure natural creative skill. One of his visual wonders was a scene involving a huge angry blackbird that out of nowhere set upon me in a manic chase sequence, morphing into hundreds of tinier birds as it soared through the sky in pursuit of Gris and then morphing back again as it stands in front of her.
The fluid beauty of this moment will stay with me for a long time, not only because of its captivating flowing animation but the meaning of the blackbird. The bird symbolizes Gris’s pain — its irate squeal throws Gris to the ground, and as seen with the fierce wind, she battles against it, with her dress becoming her savior.
With each defeat comes more vibrant shades that immerse Gris’s world. From the underwater Alice in Wonderland-style world with its magical mushrooms, illuminant fireflies, luscious waterfalls, and deadly gigantic snapping eels to the peaceful and surreal environment of the upside down macrocosm that came alive with butterflies and flowers. Each world that I was lucky enough to experience gave me something to take away.
There is one moment towards the end of the game that brought a lump to my throat. I felt that I had gone through this long and traumatic journey with her to then see her find joy again. You will know it when you reach it, but it carries a similar weight to other memorable emotional moments in the history of the gaming medium.
Gris is a game you not only play with your mind but your heart and soul, too. Don’t be surprised if by the end it takes a little of you with it. From the very first opening moments until the closing seconds, Gris weaved a web of despair, pain, promise, and joy that I didn’t want to untangle from. When looking at other platformers like Celeste where you experience the emotional undercurrent of trauma and pain, I felt Gris gave a better pull into that world than Celeste could.
Not only because Gris’s pain was a visual one, where her sorrow and struggles manifested into “real” beautiful, yet haunting entities, but also because it made you feel Gris’s anguish without any narrative. All Gris had to rely on was music and art to do what other titles only wish they could with words, and in my opinion, that not only requires boundless talent but an in-depth knowledge on how the human psyche ticks.
Gris will continue to be relevant for years to come due to its importance in society when talking about loss and mental anguish. Art also should be an important aspect of gaming and I believe as we travel through the years, we will notice that incorporated more and more within the titles we play. Gris will be among the blueprint of standards that lined the way for that to happen even more so.
To call this a simple 2D platforming video game would be to discredit the meticulous work and passion the developers put into this title, not to mention the breathtaking craftsmanship and mental health story you travel on with Gris. The only thing left for me to do now is to play it over again and I can’t wait.