With its original five-episode length extended to eight, Minecraft: Story Mode has cemented its position as Telltale’s longest-running individual season. And while I was quite fond of the initial four-episode introductory arc despite having no experience with the source material, the series’ shift to more self-contained installments from Episode 5 onward have caused it to stumble a bit. It’s become more difficult to get invested in Jesse’s world-hopping adventures when the conflict keeps changing and the recurring characters get little time to shine.
The season finale, A Journey’s End?, doesn’t do quite enough to avoid these same flaws, but at the same time, it gave me an experience much more akin to the series’ better days. There’s a bigger sense of focus to its plot, great pacing, and some of the best action scenes we’ve seen yet. If you’ve stuck with the series up to this point, there’s little reason to skip this mostly satisfying finale.
The previous episode concluded with new ally Harper finally showing Jesse and company an apparent way back to their homeworld, but it turns out there’s still one more world to visit, as Harper secretly hopes for the group of heroes to stop an ongoing threat involving her former comrade, Hadrian. Now a manipulative tyrant, he’s captured the locals and forced them to go through gladiator-styled fights and trials in hopes of earning their freedom, and Jesse soon finds himself forced to win the games if he wants to finally go home.
With an emphasis on sadistic trials and crooked higher-ups, it feels pretty likely that Telltale drew from series like The Hunger Games for this premise, though the fact that the world allows vanquished fighters to respawn keeps it from feeling too dark.
There are several competing fighters that Jesse gets to know throughout the episode – a welcome change of pace from Episode 7 only having two new key players and Episode 6’s gimmicky cameos – and while they’re a bit one-note, there are still some good moments for these newcomers contained within the hour and a half episode, particularly a heavyset female fighter who gets the most screen time. A subplot revolving around their worship for the one combatant to ever earn freedom ends with some clever events that tie into the motivations of both the prisoners and the villains, too.
Dialog delivery remains as solid as ever, especially with veteran voice actor Jim Cummings as the scheming Hadrian. Unfortunately, Jesse’s comrades Ivor, Petra and Lukas get put on the back burner in terms of focus, and while it’s fun to see old companions Axel and Olivia return later on, their screentime is similarly limited. Their first appearance does at least pack one of the series’ best jokes, as another character makes a misguided callback to the series’ saddest moment.
And as it turns out, impactful moments are what this second half has lacked. The series has never been frequently heavy like Telltale’s other contemporary games, but I remember liking how the constant threat in the first four episodes took a visible toll on your party, and created an ominous mood at points. The compact and breezy atmosphere of these later episodes really lacked this, and while I doubt that will matter to Minecraft‘s many younger fans, it feels like one of the series’ biggest missed opportunities to someone like myself, who’s well-versed in the developer’s more mature stuff.
The standard mix of button prompt-driven action scenes, dialog choices, and light exploration and crafting elements offers no surprises, but they’re generally put to good use. While there aren’t any choices in dialog or key plot points that stand out greatly, the action scenes in the second half of the episode rank among the series’ most energized, elaborate, and creative.
Pacing is also solid, even with all the downtime in between fights. In terms of presentation, there are also some appealing environments at a few points, and the soundtrack has some standout instrumentals for the first time in a while – I legit want to find an MP3 of the song playing during the opening credits. On the technical side, Telltale’s trademark hitches aren’t very prevalent on Xbox One, though the recurring issue I’ve had with the sky briefly turning black made one more appearance.
While the later moments of A Journey’s End? wrap things up reasonably nicely (outside of the awkward last moment, which I legitimately am unsure of whether it’s supposed to be sequel bait or a failed joke), the fact that Telltale almost doubled the initial season of Minecraft: Story Mode makes me think that we’ll likely see a return to this quirky world at some point. Given the solid quality of episodes 1, 3 through 5, and 8, I’m interested to see what happens if we’re ever given another chance to adventure with the Order of the Stone, but I do hope the developer brings back the storytelling qualities that ultimately made the first half overall superior to the extended portion.
This review is based on the Xbox One version, which was provided to us.
Though not without faults, and certainly not as impactful as the previous story arc's finale, A Journey's End is both a return to form and an enjoyable conclusion for Minecraft: Story Mode.