Flower, Sun and Rain DS
Game designer Goichi ‘Suda51’ is well known for creating games with striking visuals, new twists on old genres, bizarre characters and surreal plotlines. The most prominent examples of his work are Killer7 and No More Heroes, but before either of these games came Flower, Sun and Rain.
You see, FSR is actually a DS remake of a game that was released way back in 2001 on the PlayStation 2, sadly the visuals are much more reminiscent of early PS1-era games with horribly blocky polygonal characters and eye-wateringly bad textures. Make no mistakes; this is a truly ugly game to behold.
The audio doesn’t do much better either. Voices are represented by a Simlish-style gibberish babble that doesn’t take long to become annoying. Sound effects such as footsteps and doors are flat and irritating. The music is either nauseating elevator muzak or horrible MIDI versions of classics such as Bach, Debussy and Gershwin. These 8-bit bleeps and bloops remove any charm from the original classics.
So, if this game is such a presentational mess, why would anyone bothered persevering through it? Luckily, the plot and characters are good enough to redeem Flower, Sun and Rain from being a complete write-off.
The player is cast as Sumio Mondo, a professional ‘searcher’ who has been called to the titular Flower, Sun and Rain hotel on the remote Lospass Island by hotel manager Edo Macalister. Edo tasks Mondo with finding and stopping a time bomb that has been placed on a plane that is due to leave the island’s only airport within the next 24 hours.
Mondo takes his job seriously and resolves to head directly to the airport, but is sidetracked by other hotel guests and island residents who all need his help with a variety of problems. These distractions result in the plane taking off and exploding before Mondo can even get near the airport. However, the next day Mondo wakes up in his hotel bed and is shocked to find that the previous day has not even happened yet. And so begins a Groundhog day-style time loop scenario that sees Mondo constantly being diverted from his task by the needs of others.
Mondo’s biggest asset is his ‘partner’, a silver briefcase which he has named Catherine. (This leads to some humorous innuendo when Mondo disgusts people by telling them he’ll be putting important items inside his partner…) Catherine can ‘jack in’ to people and objects and by inputting a certain number; the player can unlock the mysteries of the island.
The gameplay takes the form of controlling Mondo on his quest, by talking to the ensemble cast of eccentric characters, finding out their problems and helping them by figuring out what number Catherine must use to solve each mystery. Helping you along is a rather handy guidebook to the island that Edo provides at the start of the game, and much of the time once you’ve worked out which page of this book is relevant to the current task, you’re halfway there.
Jacking into a target presents you with a pointless bit of trial-and-error gameplay as there is no way to figure out which of the nine particular jack heads will provide a successful connection. The difficulty of the various number-puzzles varies wildly. Some require no thought at all as you’re provided with a ton of clues from the character and there will be only a single number on the relevant guidebook page. Others present you with almost no hints and some obscure logic clouding the correct answer. Only rarely do the conundrums hit that sweet-spot of being satisfyingly challenging without being frustrating.
The game is extremely linear, and although there are bonus lost items that can be searched for there is really no point of deviating from the path that the plot sets before you.
Some aspects of FSR seem to have almost been designed to frustrate the player. It takes almost two weeks to finally escape the confinements of the hotel, but once you do, you’ll begin wishing you were back there. Apparently, Lospass Island is some kind of eco resort, and vehicles have been banned from the roads. Mondo must rely on his feet as his only mode of transport, and many tasks force you to trudge back and forth across the Island along inexplicably featureless and lengthy paths.
After having battled through the tedious gameplay and hideous design, the wonderful characters and dialogue feel like a reward. Conversations are simultaneously baffling, unintelligible, hilarious, unexpected and fascinating. The fabulous cast includes a maid who finds comfort in crawling under guests beds as they sleep, an alcoholic angel, a former professional wrestler-turned-pirate who won’t take off his Luchador mask, a naïve Japanese student who is forever chasing after her male pink talking man-eating crocodile named Christina, a soccer-obsessed French systems engineer who delights in testing Mondo with cryptic phone calls and sinister threats and a Federal agent who uses the unique investigate technique of guesswork.
Best of all though has to be the excellent self-referential nature of FSR. Mondo constantly bemoans the repetitive nature of his tasks, voicing the feelings of the player exactly. This attitude is personified by Shoutaro, a neglected kid who amuses himself by constantly irritating Mondo by repeatedly breaking the fourth wall and criticising the poor game design. Standout lines include, “This plot is terrible. Who would believe a terrorist attack on a practically deserted backwater island?”. “Our 3D models look completely different from our 2D art. It’s rubbish.”
When Mondo threatens to hit the kid if he doesn’t shut up, Shoutaro retorts that the game will be removed from shelves if it contains instances of child abuse. This makes it all the more amusing when Mondo punches the child square in the face.
With some shocking plot twists just past the halfway mark, the story actually becomes amazingly compelling, and the unpredictability of the plot keeps your stylus firmly glued to the screen.
Flower, Sun and Rain is like a cake with a filling of captivating characters and story, surrounded by a terrible game. If you can make it past the horrible audiovisuals and laborious gameplay then there is some fun to be had here, but you really have to work for it.