Whether you’re well-versed in cyberpunk lore or not, it’s a little unnerving when a total stranger you’ve just walked up to bluntly insists you jack-in to his eyeball. It’s even weirder when you oblige by opening up your trusty computerized briefcase that’s curiously named “Catherine” and proceed to jab a plug into the guy’s cornea. Then again, those who’ve grown accustomed to Suda51’s recent work (Killer 7 and No More Heroes) might not find such an unusual request so alarming.
Delving further and further into the updated DS remake of one of his earlier, Japan-only PS2 releases, Flower, Sun, and Rain, reveals the designer’s knack for crafting progressively complex layers of strangeness to propel the adventure onward runs amazingly deep. It’s this unabashed proclivity for bizarre storytelling that exerts a vortex-like power, drawing you deeper into the twisted tale. Even when some of the game’s crucial design elements begin showing signs of wear, it’s hard to fight the current once you’re neck deep.
Called to the island of Lospass for work, Sumio Mondo, a professional “searcher” who locates missing things with the aid of his hi-tech, computerized briefcase, is drawn to the island’s sole resort, the Flower, Sun, and Rain hotel, where he learns the guests and the entire island itself are trapped in some kind of cyclical time warp. Besides getting to the bottom of this temporal anomaly, Mondo’s client, the hotel’s owner named Edo, has also contracted him in hopes of stopping a terrorist plot to blow up the island. However, each day ends the same way (a plane flies overhead and erupts into a ball of flame) before the cycle resets and starts again. Despite the time warp, everyone retains their memory of the previous day. Mondo winds up struggling to keep his wits about him and complete his mission, while being waylaid each day by the needs of the hotel’s tenants.
The eccentricities of the assignment and the bizarre characters you’ll encounter increase exponentially the more you proceed to explore the island’s mysteries. While the tasks you’ll undertake along the way vary widely, it’s the often puzzling and amusing interactions with the locals that give Flower, Sun, and Rain much of its unusual charm. Playing mind games with a soccer-obsessed Australian who’s not afraid to push dangerous boundaries to suit his own amusement, helping a masked wrestler get his fighting mojo back, mixing drinks for a trashed lady who insists on obtaining a means to slay undead creatures, and attempting to throttle a bratty youth who playfully breaks the fourth wall by dissing elements of the game itself are among many other outlandish interactions you’ll wind up in. As you can imagine, the dialogue spawned from such encounters frequently takes unexpected turns that yield highly entertaining results.
Beyond the cornucopia of people you must deal with and attempt to help, adventuring through this highly linear quest puts you in the path of numerous puzzles to solve. Oddly, the game’s cyberpunk-inspired puzzle element is purely based on numbers and codes – something that may alternately prove to be titillating or a major turn off. You’ll frequently come across objects and even people you can jack-in to using your computer briefcase. Doing so involves a cool-but-simple touch screen mini-game where you must select the correct plug and jab it into the interface. Once connected, you’ll turn a dial to input the proper code in order to solve the puzzle. Successfully unlocking the mysteries that lie hidden in the subject or thing you’re connected to is entirely dependent on obtaining the right sequence of numbers. Some answers are far more obscurely than others. Most of these can be found hidden within the expansive hotel manual you’re given at the onset of the adventure, but wading through the text to piece together the proper codes (even with the clues dropped during character conversations) can be a major chore at times. Since all of the gameplay beyond simply exploring and talking to people involves these code-intensive puzzles, it’s easy to grow to dread them as they become harder to solve. Managing to not get horribly stuck does improve the game’s enjoyability a great deal, but the likelihood of reaching an impasse (even a temporary one) is high.
Moving Mondo around in third-person using the D-pad feels imprecise and awkward. Balancing this out, the new touch controls are a more accurate means of navigating the island and interacting with objects. It’s easier to go where you like by tapping the map on the touch screen and holding the stylus in the direction you want to move. Also, the stylus-based jacking-in system and dial turning input utilized in the game’s puzzles are well implemented additions.
The game’s artistic direction is a fine fit for the odd story, but the minimalist visuals look like they were culled from the original PlayStation instead of the PS2. Characters are very blocky and environments are only slightly more detailed. Inside the hotel, you’ll move back and forth across a lot of the same rooms. This quickly grows repetitive, until you’re given the opportunity to venture further out into the island. Unfortunately, the protracted periods where you’ll hoof it around on the large island on foot give you lengthy opportunities to soak in the general lack of detail in the scenery, as you slowly cross expansive stretches of pixelated terrain. In comparison, the game’s audio is more pleasant. All text dialogue is accompanied by voice work delivered in warbled gibberish that’s as entertaining as it is peculiar to listen to. The music consists of revamped instrumental classics.
Flower, Sun, and Rain suffers from an extremely dated presentation and a strict, not entirely likeable, code-based puzzle system. These elements gradually wear on the nerves, yet they’re not enough to drown the entire experience. The sheer quirkiness of the game’s completely oddball story, unexpected humor, and downright weird character interactions is a rare treat. Though the game’s distinct personality easily outshines its major flaws, not everyone will be able to fully appreciate the mixed bag of delights it has to offer.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.6 Graphics
Even with some interesting people and settings to check out, the super dated visuals are a drag. 3.6 Control
The D-pad movement doesn’t work well, but stylus controls are reasonably tight. 3.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Funny garbled dialogue and interesting musical re-hashery is a good fit. 3.7
Progressing through the 18 days worth of bizarre encounters is time consuming and worth doing for the overall strangeness of the story experience. The code-heavy puzzles aren’t nearly as compelling.
3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.