Every element of Journey of the Broken Circle seems designed for simplicity. The colour schemes, the artwork, the gentle soundtrack. Even the protagonist is just a circle, with a little wedge missing so it rolls a little awkwardly. But it uses this simplicity to explore some of the most complicated facets of the human experience.
The game opens on a cold, snowy landscape with an incomplete circle rolling along on its own, lamenting its loneliness in the barren space. It wants to find its missing piece, it wants to feel whole. Journey of the Broken Circle immediately embraces one of the most common feelings people go through. The metaphor for finding meaning through relationships is clear and easy to absorb. The simplicity of the faceless circle makes it easy to project your own emotions onto it and reflect on your own relationships as you go along with it on its journey to fill the gap in its life.
Throughout the game, the circle meets a variety of different characters that could fit. Each one represents a different type of relationship. Each one starts off well enough. They give the circle the ability to explore exciting and beautiful new places that it couldn’t reach on its own. Eventually, they each realise they’re not as compatible as they might seem. Minor disagreements sour over time and snowball into bitterness between the circle and its companions. It explores how people get caught up in each other’s lives and shows how easily they can end up hurting one another if they don’t go their own way when the time comes, even when they start off perfectly happy.
The gameplay shifts slightly with each new character the circle connects with. On its own, you roll along and occasionally jump. You can latch onto walls to climb with Sticky the pine cone and float through the air with the balloon. The controls are fairly simple and the way they change just a little adds to the allegory in the way that relationships that, perhaps unintentionally, divert the course of your life.
While the imagery and story do take focus throughout, there are puzzles that reflect the challenges of each chapter of the circle’s journey. These start off fairly simple and get increasingly difficult. Sometimes, they get so frustrating that you can understand why some people give up on dating and get cats instead.
After every breakup, the circle descends into dark caverns, dwelling on everything that went wrong. It has a lot of paths to travel on its own, but there are other characters around that offer comfort, words of advice, even a hug. Here, the Journey of the Broken Circle gets very existential, examining different kinds of relationships, their role in people’s lives and in their search for greater purpose and meaning.
The Journey of the Broken Circle is a lovely story of self-discovery that is almost therapeutic to play. It is a minimalist romantic tale that plumbs the depth of human emotion, examining angst and anxiety and impermanence. The music and the artwork are both beautiful and it is surprisingly easy to relate to the blank protagonist. For a game populated by talking trees, circles and balloons, it depicts a universally human story in a genuinely lovely way.