Sumio is a ‘searcher’. He searches for things, that’s his job. He claims the word ‘lost’ isn’t in his vocabulary, which must make it difficult for him to write down his job description. However, even professional finding-guy Sumio has problems when he finds himself stuck with a massive list of missing items to find, a bomb to defuse and an endless temporal loop making the same day repeat itself, Groundhog Day-style, slowly driving him mad. Also, there’s a ghost in his hotel room. It can only be a weird Playstation 2 port of Flower Sun and Rain for DS.
Flower, Sun and Rain, for the Nintendo DS, tells Sumio’s story. Developed by Goichi ‘Suda51‘ Suda of Grasshopper Manufacture – the same crazy maniac behind No More Heroes and killer7 – we can tell that this game’s not going to be a walk in the park, unless that park also serves as a garden for a mental asylum. But, if it follows Suda51’s past performance, it will be a hefty slice of originality cake, served with ultra hip syrup and zeitgeist ice cream. Also some M‘n’M’s.
So here’s the set-up. Sumio has been called to the idyllic island of Lospas (‘Lost Past’) by the manager of the Flower, Sun and Rain hotel. It’s only when he gets to the island that anyone bothers to tell him that the whole place is stuck in a temporal loop. He’s been asked to find a time bomb that’s been hidden on a plane – a seemingly simple job for an expert like Sumio – but he’s having trouble finding his way out of his hotel. You see, the whole island is full of people with problems – and all of them get in Sumio’s way. On his first day, they take up too much of his time and the plane ends up exploding. But he wakes up the next morning and… he’s been given another chance. It’s the same day as it was yesterday. Can he do it this time? Or the next? Or the next?
Helping Sumio out is his ‘partner’, Catherine, who is a peculiar laptop-style device with a rotary dial. Sumio seems reluctant to explain to people that Catherine is a machine and not an actual person, so his comments like ‘I put the Guidebook inside Catherine’ get some shocked responses. I guess he does it for comic effect. Anyway, Catherine has a series of plugs that are somehow able to ‘jack-in’ to any and anything in the world (including people) and… unlock them? I think that’s what it’s supposed to be doing. Either way, when Sumio has a problem to fix, his sole method of response is to stick one of Catherine’s plugs into the item in question and dial in a numeric code via the dial. This is how most of the problems on Lospas are solved, and it doesn’t make any sense.
To get those codes, Sumio must do some detectivin’. Most of his information will come from the Guidebook mentioned earlier (you see that? That’s called ‘seeding’. That’s how you write a good quality Flower, Sun and Rain review). It’s a huge book full of seemingly pointless pieces on local attractions, celebrities and art. Of course, you have to read it all to find the hidden clues. I would say it’s a pain having to read an entire book throughout the game, but if you were the kind of gamer who had a problem with reading in games, then you would stay the hell away from FSR anyway. It’s very text-heavy (think Trace Memory or Hotel Dusk). You also learn information from reading notes left around the island, and by unravelling the nonsense that the locals are talking about. Handily, you are provided with a memo pad for scribbling down notes via stylus. There is very little Broken Sword-style object or environment interaction here. Heck, there’s probably even less than Phoenix Wright.
The game is extremely difficult. So much so that, if you don’t instantly manage to unravel the opaque manner in which gameplay elements are discussed and explained, you can very easily get stuck at the first hurdle. Logical gamers, ‘Escape the Room’ fans and professional puzzle-solvers will rejoice at this intense fire-wall of difficulty, although some of them may object to every puzzle boiling down to an illogical code system. Sadly, that’s the only group I can recommend this game to – code-crackers and hardcore puzzlers. For anyone else, the game is just a little too screwy. The graphics are absolutely awful, even for DS, and the whole gameplay environment is just too peculiar. It’s hard to explain, but nothing really seems to sit right – there’s no logical explanation for a lot of things, and no introduction or hand-holding when there needs to be. I know this is an intentional product of Suma51’s design, but weird for the sake of it is frustrating and infuriating.
You’re not going to get much of a chance to do anything while controlling Sumio. It’s all text, all the time, and when you’re not standing around tapping your way through a conversation, you’re controlling your ugly and awkward avatar around boring, boring, boring locales. Doing nothing. I’m not saying that the dialogue isn’t worth reading – it’s hilarious in points, and mostly dramatic or at least coherent enough at all other times to tell a compelling story – but it throws away any ‘interactive book’ qualities by being massively complex and challenging to make any progress in.
Flower, Sun and Rain for DS is not a bad game. It’s just difficult and very text-heavy. If this sounds ideal to you, then it’ll taste of sugar and gumdrops. It’s completely non-mainstream – niche, in fact – and while that’s off-putting to a lot of casual or straightforward gamers, the more alternative amongst the gamer set will love how wacky and off-the-rails this ride is. Essentially, it’s a masterfully written detective and mystery story to rival Twin Peaks, presented through the cerebral fish-eye lens of Alice in Wonderland, but as dense and literate as War & Peace and will slice your thought process in two like… like… I can’t think of a literary example. Um. Like Flower, Sun and Rain. The Flower Sun and Rain release date in the US is March 31st 2009 but is out now in Europe. Flower Sun and Rain gets a 6 out of 10
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Related: Soul Bubbles review, Sonic Chronicles The Dark Brotherhood review