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The Bold Experiment of ‘Flower, Sun, and Rain’

A look back at the stylish, niche DS adventure game.

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Flower, Sun, and Rain– for fans of Suda51, this name might ring a bell. Although for most others, it may be met with a level of confusion. This game was originally released by Grasshopper Manufacture on the PlayStation 2 in Japan in 2008, and was brought to the US for the Nintendo DS in 2009. It’s quite the mixed bag of an experience, to say the least. It serves as a semi-sequel/companion to The Silver Case, which interestingly wouldn’t get localized until nearly a decade later. It very well may be Suda51’s most under-the-radar US release. There is a reason for this- as a game, it’s difficult to get into. Though beneath the imposing exterior lies a uniquely written adventure game. Seeing as this game never saw much attention after its initial release, it’s worth looking back onto this fascinating piece of Grasshopper Manufacture history to see what it did right, and what it did wrong. As it turns out, it did quite a bit of both.

flower, sun, and rain

Where Flower, Sun, and Rain immediately shines is in its worldbuilding, helped considerably by a lengthy guidebook to the settings around the player, as well as plenty of quirky characters and a fascinating plot. Things start off simple: Sumio Mondo was called to Lospass Island to stop a terrorist from setting off a bomb within a plane, though things quickly take a turn strange when each day starts to seemingly repeat itself. Every day ends with a plane flying through the sky and blowing up, reminding Sumio that he has failed his task. Then he wakes up in the same hotel room, only to find the entire island around him seems to have “reset”. The player will experience a different version of the same day, endlessly repeating until they get to the bottom of the mystery of this island that seems to be stuck on repeat. Not only the plot, but the dialogue itself is always entertaining. It’s presented in a stream-of-consciousness style that Suda51 games do so well, and while you won’t always understand exactly what is going on, it’s hard not to be enthralled by the hilarious, anything-goes nature of the conversations. It’s a unique psychological mystery that goes to a wide number of unexpected places, and is certainly one of the best parts of a game that is balanced out with less-shining aspects.

The game itself consists of the player running around as Sumio, looking for the next puzzle to solve or character to talk to. That alone isn’t a bad thing- what’s bad is the fact that you’ll be running around for huge stretches of time. Getting from place to place can take an easy 5 minutes of pure running. There isn’t much to look at or do on the way there, either. It’s just you, the player, holding down buttons on the D-pad until you’ve reached your destination. It’s not even as simple as holding down the “forward” button, either- the camera is so wonky that players will have to constantly adjust the direction Sumio is running in order to prevent him from running into a wall. It’s slow and monotonous gameplay that will test even the most patient of players.

flower, sun, and rain

If that wasn’t enough, we haven’t even gotten started talking about the puzzles. Simply put: they’re insane. They often involve extremely obtuse clues that the player will need to use the in-game guidebook to find the answer to, use strange adventure-game logic, perform fairly complex algebraic equations, or any combination of the three. Furthermore, every puzzle answer takes the form of a number that needs to be entered into a specific object in the game world. It’s a novel concept, to be sure; though it’s safe to say that this is one of Suda’s many video game experiments that did not entirely pan out in an effective way. Points for originality, at the very least. Unfortunately, “original” does not always equate to “good”. And while Suda51 certainly has provided several original and effective gaming experiences, this system of puzzles may be his least-successful experiment. Strangely enough, the characters of the game will often break the fourth wall and acknowledge the fact that this game isn’t all that fun- Sumio himself will lament his boring job of finding random objects and entering numbers into them on more than one occasion. Even the game knows that it’s a bit of a painful experience to play, and it suffers alongside you. It is monotonous on purpose. And while this is intriguingly postmodern, it’s still not all that fun to actually play.

One of the FSR’s greatest strengths, and also one of its most unfortunate pitfalls, is its guidebook. There is an entire 49-page virtual guidebook that can be accessed anytime from the pause menu that details the various attractions and events of Lospass Island. The topic of these pages can range from a detailed description of a landmark, the menu of a restaurant, an interview with a local celebrity, or more. From a worldbuilding standpoint, this guidebook does wonders, as it makes the relatively bare-bone world around you feel completely alive. There’s a surprising amount of text to read through and it certainly makes the world of Lospass much more interesting to live in. However, the integration of the guidebook with the game’s puzzles leads to far too many obtuse conundrums that most players will not be able to solve without the use of some sort of walkthrough.

flower, sun, and rain

A peek inside one of the 49 pages inside the guidebook. Humorously, the image of the wedding couple was plagiarized by an artist at an ArtRabbit exhibition in 2017.

We’ve spent a good amount of time critiquing the game, and while there is much to critique, the sheer amount of good that this game accomplishes should not go unnoticed. Alongside its memorable characters and atmosphere, its music is also excellent, and is surely one of the best out of Grasshopper’s catalog. It features some catchy original tunes, and as well as many remixes of existing music. These remixes range from jazz such as the Gershwin’s “I’ve Got Rhythm”, to Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédie No. 1”. It’s difficult not to fall in love with the updated keyboard-infused arrangements, and they definitely do justice to their source material. When Sumio is running around through the same bland environments, the soundtrack will always be there to put a pep in your step. Unfortunately, the sound quality of the original soundtrack was moved down considerably in the process of translating it to the DS, though the re-translated portable soundtrack is still a joy to listen to. Seriously, is this not the greatest?

flower, sun, and rain

Judging Flower, Sun, and Rain by the aspects of what traditionally make a game “good”- namely, by how much fun it is- it ranks pretty low. It basically requires a guide in order to solve the monumentally obtuse puzzles, there is a great deal of downtime spent simply walking, and there is often a lack of direction given to the player as to what their next objective should be. And yet, there’s an undeniable appeal to the game. In spite of these gameplay flaws and the fact that the graphics somehow manage to look N64-quality, there is a mystery here packed with personality that is just waiting to be uncovered. There’s even an incredibly cool shoutout to The Silver Case towards the end that puts the cherry on top of the whole experience. It features some of Suda51’s bravest experiments, and though not all of them may prove to be successful, it remains a thoughtful creation thanks to the sheer amount of detail in the world of Lospass Island. It’s a game that is dripping with style, and this is a rare case of style alone making up for substance. (Just make sure you have a walkthrough on hand for this one.)

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Most Important Games of the Decade: ‘The Walking Dead’

A look back at one of the most critically acclaimed narrative based point and click story games of the decade: Telltale’s The Walking Dead.

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The story-based video game has been around for a long time but there has been a spike in popularity in them in the last decade. One of the most influential and critically acclaimed narrative games is the 2012 game Telltale’s The Walking Dead, which initiated a tidal wave of choice-based games that still continues today.

Lee Everett, the protagonist of the first season of The Walking Dead Game.

Telltale Games was created in 2004 and had a significant library of games established — including games based on Back to the Future and Jurassic Park — before the release of The Walking Dead. It was the zombie point and click adventure that shot them to triple A game studio status though. The game took on similar mechanics to their other games but introduced a more cinematic style. Player choice is a key element in regard to dialogue choices and important decisions within the story. These shape the player character, Lee Everett, and change his personality to suit the play style. This was one of the most endearing features of the game, allowing players to experience scenarios slightly differently depending on your choice.

The Walking Dead

Lee and his ward Clementine had a strong connection that led to a lot of the emotional moments in the story.

The depth of the characters and dark nature of the narrative are the best aspects of the game. The player takes on the role of Lee as he is on his way to jail at the dawn of the zombie apocalypse. After a car accident leaves him stranded, he stumbles upon a little girl named Clementine. Lee becomes her protector as they and a group of survivors try to survive in the walker-infested world. This simple story of a man with a troubled past attempting to protect a little girl at the end of the world is incredibly engaging and it is difficult not to get emotionally attached to both Lee and Clementine. The system wherein certain characters will remember Lee’s words or actions is also a nice feature that can guilt trip you over your choices, particularly if you see the words “Clementine Will Remember That”. Lee is an interesting and complex character whose attitude and personality can change depending on player choice and Clementine is a loveable child who doesn’t fall into the “annoying kid” stereotype in most games. Both became beloved video game characters who set a precedent for likeable protagonists in gaming.

The Walking Dead

The cast of characters in The Walking Dead’s first season all had their complexities.

The legacy of Telltale Games and The Walking Dead still continues within the gaming community. Telltales unfortunate downfall in September 2018 was a great loss to story-based gaming but many have been influenced by Telltale’s work since. Dontnod adapted the episodic formula for their Life is Strange games, another fantastic narrative series. Others who had previously worked for Telltale helped bring other great story games to life. The co-writers of the first season of The Walking Dead game set up the company that created the 2016 game Firewatch, for example. More writers of the series launched Night School Studios, responsible for Oxenfree (2016) and Afterparty (2019). The Walking Dead catapulted Telltale Games to stardom, leading them to take on a slew of projects — possibly leading to their downfall. Despite this, the game has carved out a place for itself in history as one of the best point and click narrative adventure games that established a trend of games that encourage strong storytelling and complex characters.

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Most Important Games of the Decade: ‘Dark Souls’

Despite the difficulty and learning curve, gamers are still flocking to the Dark Souls series, and the genre it spawned, in massive numbers.

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Dark Souls Remastered Review Nintendo Switch

Over the course of the last decade a lot of games have made large and influential impacts on the medium of gaming but few have done so as significantly or triumphantly as Dark Souls

The pseudo-sequel to Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls took the framework of the original title and altered it considerably. Gone were the many individual stages and hub area, replaced by a massive open world that continuously unfolded, via shortcuts and environmental changes, like a massive metroidvania style map. 

Dark Souls also doubled down on nearly every aspect of the original. The lore and world-building were elaborated on considerably, making the land of Lordran feel more lived in and expansive. An entire backstory for the game, one that went back thousands of years, was created and unfolded through small environmental details and item descriptions. 

Dark-Souls-Remastered-Darkroot-Garden

The bosses were bigger, meaner and more challenging, with some of them ranking right up there with the best of all time. Even standard enemies seemed to grow more deadly as the game went on, with many of them actually being bosses you’d faced at an earlier time in the game. Tiny details like this didn’t just make the player feel more powerful, they added to the outright scale of the entire game.

Still, if we’re here to talk about the biggest influence Dark Souls had on the gaming world, we have to talk about the online system. While the abilities to write messages and summon help were available in Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls improved on and enhanced these features to the point where they changed the game considerably. 

The wider player base made the online components work more consistently as well. Rarely were players left standing around for 15-20 minutes waiting to summon or be summoned for a boss fight. There were more messages on the ground to lead (or mislead) players, and the animated spirits of dead players warned of the hundreds of ways you might die while playing through the game. 

Dark Souls

The addictive nature of the game and its rewarding gameplay loop would lead to the establishment of the Souls-like genre. Like with metroidvania, there are few compliments a game can receive that are as rewarding as having an entire genre named for them.

Since 2011, the year of Dark Souls’ release, dozens of Souls-likes have emerged from the ether, each with their own little tweaks on the formula. Salt and Sanctuary went 2D,The Surge added a sci-fi angle, and Nioh went for a feudal Japanese aesthetic, to name just a few. 

Either way, Dark Souls’ influence has been long felt in the gaming industry ever since. Despite the hardcore difficulty and intense learning curve, gamers are still flocking to the series, and the genre it spawned, in massive numbers. For this reason alone, Dark Souls will live on forever in the annals of gaming history. 

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‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

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Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

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