Flower, Sun, and RainESRB:
Platform: Nintendo DS , DSI
Developer: Marvelous Entertainment
Publisher: Xseed Games
Flower, Sun, and Rain for the Nintendo DS is an intriguing mystery adventure which reminds me of the movie Groundhog Day (more on that later). You play as a detective charged with locating and defusing a bomb by solving thought provoking puzzles with a wealth of bizarre outcomes. In your role, solving the mystery of what is happening to your character and his surroundings is necessary before he eventually goes insane. Originally released on the PlayStation 2, but never available outside of Japan until now, Flower, Sun, and Rain is an early work by the famed game designer Suda51. This updated DS version features all the creative quirks that made the original a hit and it uniquely utilises the touch screen to solve mysteries, offering players a more intimate experience.
As interesting as Flower, Sun, and Rain was eight years ago on PS2, its graphics were for hardcore fans. Unfortunately the PS2 is more powerful than the little DS and the game shows its shortcomings this time around. Back then it was seen as a having colourful, although somewhat blocky, graphics that were a bit different for its day. The DS version tries to replicate the interesting and artful flair of the original, but it comes up short as it ends up looking worse with its much lower resolution and lack of texture filtering. Part of this can also be attributed to the disparity in art styles. For example, the 3D character models, especially their faces, look very abstract when compared to the finely-drawn portraits in dialogue windows. It's a shame that the DS hardware is mostly at fault though given that the game elicits a definite island feel if you will, from the amber shores and lush background foliage, but you will have to squint to appreciate it.
Technically, Flower, Sun, and Rain displays its fair share of clipping and I also noticed some framerate issues popping up now and then. While I did like the opening cut scene, it was somewhat tough to watch. The full motion is laughable and it reminded me of the old CD-Rom games of the early days of gaming. It really is too bad, as this game could have easily been a great PSP, XBLA or PSN Network title with so much more to offer on more powerful hardware. That being said I got to hand it to the development team for trying to do something like this on the DS.
Some of the best parts to Flower, Sun, and Rain are the music that accompanies the game. It has a nicely mixed Classical Jazz air to it. I found myself thinking a few times that I may seek out the soundtrack. There is no voice acting in the game which is a disappointment as it would have furthered the story and helped envelop the gamer in the goings on on-screen. In certain situations dialogue comes up as a sound effect, which you can clearly hear the high compression rates needed to make the game fit on the small DS card. The hissy and tinny sound at times is a bit distracting, especially when wearing headphones; which is the best way to play any DS game.
The story of Flower, Sun, and Rain has you beginning on an island where there is a bomb on a plane which you have to stop from blowing up by the end of the day. This continues day after day, like being caught in time loop (hence the Groundhog Day analogy in my introduction). You are armed with your trusty computer, affectionately named Catherine. It sounds like a cool game, but I found that it was slow, plodding, and extremely repetitive. The PS2 version was no hit either, but the game had more room to fully expand its story and develop its plot nicely.
The DS game starts out with a ridiculously long FMV sequence that I found pretty painful to watch, especially at the low resolution that it, and the rest of the game, is displayed in. There are quite a few of these segments scattered throughout and they cannot be skipped. They seem to do nothing to drive the story as they are so small and jumpy that you’ll be hard pressed to find them of any use. I don’t think it’s entirely the content though as the hardware also plays a part in the disappointment.
Flower, Sun, and Rain places you in the role of a hero who is every bit as eccentric as No More Heroes’ Travis Touchdown, and one of my favourites, Killer Sevens’ Harman Smith. Sumio Mondo is a wise-cracking wall breaking detective whose job is to uncover secret truths that lay just beneath the surface of the world around him. He has been hired by the proprietor of Lospass Island's Flower, Sun, and Rain hotel to uncover and derail a terrorist plot. The games story is a PG-13 ‘Alice in Wonderland’ like affair that begins weirdly enough, and incrementally jacks the absurdity factor up to levels beyond all measurement. To continue the metaphor without spoiling anything; the Mad Hatter and his buddies are no match for the weirdoes who constantly gets between Sumio and his destiny. Most of the game’s dialogue is incredibly cryptic, almost to the point where it is impossible to make sense of any of it. You may not understand much of what goes on, and sometimes you'll even question how well you understand your own language. However, there is a distinct and fascinating narrative thread that manages to capture you just enough for it to tie itself into several intricate knots. You'll definitely want to see how far down the rabbit hole goes, to finish off the comparison.
Sumio's quest is to get to the airplane and do the job he has been hired to do. However, it seems everyone on Lospass Island wants him to solve their own personal problems, and he gets sidetracked often. Sumio doesn’t have the combat/ninja like skills of Sam Fisher, or the street smarts of Solid Snake. So how does he go about solving Lospass's troubles? He’s got what he likes to call the Ultimate Computerized Unlocking Device. This is his computer, a seriously weird tool he affectionately refers to as Catherine. Catherine is a jack-of-all-trades divining machine that literally jacks into any object, inanimate or otherwise. For example, the game's first puzzle actually requires you to jack into someone's left eye and input your date of birth. Also in Sumio’s possession is a book, a cheat sheet if you will, that basically contains every hint you'll need to solve the mysteries of Lospass Island.
A pedometer located at the upper left of the DS's touch screen tracks every step Sumio takes. Simply put, there is way too much navigation and backtracking in Flower, Sun, and Rain. You will run, and then you'll run some more, and you'll walk down a short hallway, and to top all of that off you will run even more. After that, you'll solve a puzzle with help from your Guide Book and then you'll run some more, followed by even more running. Finally, you'll see a cut scene. Every now and then the monotony is broken, but the tedium is often impossible to shake off as there is a lot of time spent walking or running.
For a game that prides itself on being so off-the-wall Flower, Sun, and Rain makes use of a very simple control scheme for the most part. The d-pad is what you'll use to guide Sumio around Lospass Island. You can use the stylus and touch screen as well, but it feels sluggish like you are guiding a boat by its anchor. I found it a tad uncomfortable and stuck with what felt best, using the d-pad. Also, when prompted by a red exclamation point, you can investigate points of interest by tapping the DS’s bottom screen. This eliminates some of the clunkiness, but control issues poked its ugly head up in numerous spots for me.
Sumio can access Catherine at any time as she contains your Guide Book and handy memo pad for note taking. It is also where you can tweak some of the game and game saving options. When you encounter a puzzle that needs solving, Sumio will automatically open his trusty companion for reference. After that it is just a matter of finding the correctly shaped jack for the object's plug. Using the DS's touch screen, you must choose one of several jacks and drag it from Catherine to whatever needs to be jacked into. This process can be a bit of a trial-and-error affair, but it's not too frustrating as the wrong jack doesn't result in any kind of negative consequences. There is a certain fuzzy warmness that creeps in as you progress and solve a few puzzles in a row. Most puzzles are solved by inputting sequences of numbers with a combination of dial and plugs. Performing all of these actions is not overly complicated, unlike all of Flower, Sun, and Rain’s somewhat mature subject matter. One thing of note, the DS’s two shoulder buttons are completely unused. I thought they could have been mapped to move the sometimes annoying camera around, but no biggie I suppose.
Flower, Sun, and Rain bears all the trademarks of a Suda51 title, but it's not even close to his studio's best work. There's a fair amount of content here along with about 50 new puzzles specific to the DS version. These are found within the game as they are hidden at various points around the game world. They present a bunch more math problems based on items found in their vicinity; however, they are not necessary to complete the game. You will also notice that they can be easily missed if you do not poke around every inch of space to find the one hot spot that will activate the jack-in point.
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