Here I am reviewing yet another eShop title from Level 5. In their continued experiment of throwing interesting games at the 3DS platform to see what sticks we have ended up with yet another title that is unique in its ways. Titles from these guys are not always winner’s in-terms of the end game quality but always are original in premise. As for the quality however I am more than happy say this breaks the trend and delivers an amazing product.
Here is a game that is all about the experience rather than the gameplay mechanics as a whole; it’s more a love letter to the ideal of the 1970’s rural Japan than offering a complex challenge to in order to keep you interested. Coming from Kaz Ayabe, a name not familiar outside of Japanese gaming circles, a game in this style comes as no surprise. He is the creator of a series called ‘My Summer Vacation’ in which you go on summer vacations, they are simple games that are designed to recreate the nostalgia of childhood holidays – these are low impact but highly atmospheric titles and the influence of these shines through in this title.
You play Sohta a young boy who has just moved into the small town of Fuji no Hana. Your family runs the local dry cleaners and you are left to explore the town to meet the neighbours. It is from here you quickly learn that every Friday night giant monsters attack each other in the field near this town. This links in with all the locals stories and how it affects their lives, it is a slowly growing plot that will keep you captivated the entire way through even while dosed out gradually. I will not delve much further into the story as that is half the magic of the experience but trust me when I say it’s astoundingly good and you will enjoy every second of its uniqueness.
You explore the town while finding new tasks to achieve based on the locals you talk to as progressing the story unfolds. You explore the streets, inside businesses around town, the back alleys and out into the fields near the town, it’s all handled in a non-forced and free flowing natural manner in which you almost never feel like you are trapped in particular spot. The dialog is concise and witty, always engaging and never strays to far from the essence of the characters presented. This is just one of the many ways it retains its charm.
Quests that you receive from these conversations can be done in a non-linear order and there is no restrictions around this allowing you to have multiple running concurrently. It’s handled very elegantly in that the entire story flows smoothly while allowing some freedom in how to progress with the goals.
Along the way you collect ‘Glim’s’ scattered around the town which are essentially gems that give you playing cards to battle other kids in the town to a monster battle inspired card game. It is an advanced version of Rock, paper, scissors with a few twists to it like hint cards and swapping cards and a simple yet effective levelling system that in execution will really allow you to flex your mental muscle to get the upper hand. Win a battle and you end up ruling over the other player, this is useful as the story progresses but I will not spoil it for you.
The real problem I’m have is conveying the real feel on hand – I can continue describing the mechanics and specifics all I won’t and you will still be no more convinced than when I began. This title is all about creating an atmosphere unlike anything else you would have experienced in a game for a very long time. This is a world fully realised in the highest degree, it’s more an artistic achievement than a gaming achievement. I would consider this Nintendo’s equivalent to Journey on the Ps3 – it achieves the same level of awe and wonder. It’s the intangible quality of this that makes it so charming.
Visually this is easily one of the most spectacular titles on the 3DS, no exceptions. Technology wise there is nothing amazing but the ascetics are AAA grade the entire way through. Backgrounds are done in a style that is reminiscent of Studio Ghibli’s works it is all done in a very soft and pleasing manner and as a whole is entirely infallible. The world is more solid, real and inviting than almost all games I have played before this. The place almost feels like a real place that could have/does exist and it is in part to the tremendous detail that is put into all the art work, everything has a place and is coherent.
To match is a top quality audio track in every regards and makes for a perfect match the rest of the title. Background effects are sublet yet complimentary to the visual style, you will never be confronted with a bad sound effect sample or an overly grating element as the whole package just fits together naturally. Music is equally high quality with some very memorable score’s recorded and stored in fantastic quality. There are only a few main tracks but they are not worn out over the play period. A great use of simple tracks and orchestra are used to recreate both the small town feel and the big action feel of 70’s Japanese action shows.
Sohta does have a running inner monologue throughout the game and this is the single source of voice acting in the entire game. Being an eShop game I’m sure there was no time/money to actually translate it into English but with it being kept in Japanese only adds to the overall impact of the title in keeping it unique.
I put all this praise on this title and yet I only gave it a four out of five. There are two minor issues with this game that hurt it from being a near perfect title. Firstly this game is short, very short. I finished it and all side quests in just a little under two and a half hours. It’s a shame that it had to be so short because in a way it makes the game feel like a single chapter of a large game that doesn’t exist. Maybe one day it will. To make matters worse is the high price point for this, coming in at just over $10 AUD at the time of the writing it can be a little off putting to the vast majority of potentially buyers. My advice is by ignoring those factors you will benefit with being exposed to a magical product.
It is not everyday that a title of this calibre comes our way. This is a game that has a heart, a brimming unbridled soul that is simply inspiring. If you want to know what a game can bring to your experience then this is a title you must check out, a game of this quality would be a winner on any platform it arrived on and it’s even better that 3DS is the one to receive this modern day classic. And yes I will call this a classic already. This is a title that will not age with other titles; it is an ever green game that will stand out from the rest for years/decades to come simply based on the inspiration out lo on what a game can achieve.