Inaka Kurashi: Nan no Shima no Monogatari
Take a small peaceful Island in South Japan and a girl going there to live with her grandparents - the result is one of the most beautiful, relaxing, non violent PlayStation 2 games to date.
Sometimes you wake up in the morning and think, "Man, I need a break." Whether it's from school, work, or just rough times in life, we all like to get away for a while to forget our troubles and refresh ourselves. This is exactly what 15-year-old Tomoko is doing in Inaka Kurashi. After a hard period of schooling and exams, Tomoko's mother decides to send her off to an island in Okinawa for 2 weeks in March to stay with her grandparents. At first, she seems reluctant to this idea, but it is here where she will discover a whole new way to relax as she meets new people, take in the beautiful sights, and enjoy some fun activities.
The game is basically an adventure simulation, except the one thing which makes the game a lot more easier for people who bought it and don't speak Japanese is they don t have to actually answer really tough questions or talk to the inhabitants. The game is somewhat linear, so it's filled with set scenarios in which all the talking is done with cut scenes. There are a few moments where you might have to answer a question, such as during the scenario where you are asked whether you want to help your new friend find her dog. Or when the diving instructor asks you if you want to go diving today. But these are basic Yes and No ( Hai and Iie ) replies and anyone with a little katakana knowledge can manage. Since it is supposed to be a vacation, the whole premise of the game is to explore and take it easy. So, there's no gun fights, sword action, or blood and gore here. Perhaps that sounds a bit dull, but the game is done in such a way where you really honestly feel so relaxed and peaceful while you re playing. And you really never get bored because there is something to do everyday.
You start off in the town or village and this is only a small section of the entire island. Later, as the days go by, you will be able to explore the entire island on the bike your grandmother gives you. Everyday, Tomoko wakes up from her bed, talks with her grandmother a little bit, then you are free to go wherever you like. The first day, you explore the town and meet a few of the people there. The town is split up into sections that integrate perfectly with each other as you move along. Yes, there is a bit of loading between the sections, which hinders the flow a bit, but this is easily forgiven due to the spectacular graphics of the game.
The town has a few main locations which have events happening at the appropriate times such as the beach and the port. Depending on which day you are on, the event will occur. This keeps the game from becoming too boring. The people you meet depends on the day as well. On the first night of Tomoko's stay, a young girl and her mother visits the home. The girl is Izumi and the following day her dog, Wanji, will be missing and you help looking for him. This is just an example of one of the events and one of the persons you'll meet.
You are able to walk around for the whole day until sunset, then you must retire home. But, when night falls, you are able to explore the town at night. This is the time where a lot of the souvenirs will appear. Tomoko's bedroom has a drawer where there are 12 blank photos with question marks on them. When you find an item, it appears in photo where it gives a short explanation of it. The items can be found anywhere (on the beach or in a cave) and they shine brightly so you can see them. Once again, this is another activity that keeps the game from being uninteresting.
Besides the souvenir-hunting , there are 2 mini-games which are quite fun, even though it's only 2. One of them is learning to play a sanshin, a Japanese instrument similar to a banjo. Your grandfather teaches you and you play traditional Japanese songs like Sakura Sakura. The other mini-game is diving and swimming around in the ocean
looking at the various aquatic animals. The entire game urges you to explore the entire town in the day and night so you won't miss a scenario or a souvenir. This makes you press on even though you have already seen everything. When more of the island opens up, you'll bike through the trails around the island surrounded by beautiful trees and scenery of the ocean and visit new places. You can visit the lighthouse and take a look of the entire town from above or visit your grandfather in the fields.
The controls are very simple: the Square button brings up the menu which has the calendar so you can see which day you are on, a map of the island, and an option where you can return home quickly, if you don't feel like walking all the way home. The left analog stick moves Tomoko and pressing the X button at the same time makes her run. Later on in the game, when you begin diving and biking, the X button moves Tomoko in the water and pedals the bike. Very easy and responsive controls make for great play and no frustrations.