…Boku no Natsuyasumi 3: Summer Holiday 21st Century!
From the box art, all I can make out is that it’s a game about a boy going to a rural paradise for his summer holiday. Kids’ game, or heart-rending fake childhood simulator for depressed Japanese people stuck in horrible jobs in an oppressively huge city? We shall see!
Well, first impressions – the character models are extremely creepy. Their vacant stares recall pod people. It’s like they remembered to model everything except the face, and scrawled blank smiles on with crayon as an afterthought.
It appears we’re in Hokkaido – the last bastion of unspoiled rural countryside in all Japan and eternal romantic childhood motif for unhappy Japanese artists/filmmakers. A scary-faced wee girl is singing a Japanese kids’ song in the back seat of a car whilst we get lovely view of mountains and flowers. And cows! Who doesn’t love ‘em.
I’m deposited in a countryside house straight out of My Neighbour Totoro. There’s a tractor nearby with UNCLE FARM written on it. It would appear there’s nothing much to do except talk to my eerily cheerful family members and run around the beautifully drawn countryside – the backdrops are in sort-of 2D, and they are quite lovely. I can collect bugs and look at things to get fun countryside facts about birds and cows and agriculture. It’s all very idyllic, but in a distressingly uncanny way. I just don’t like their faces.
I can slide down a grassy hill on a piece of cardboard, dive into the lake, ride a conveyor belt (sadly not into a grinder – I don’t think this particular summer holiday can end in horrific tragedy)… and that appears to be it. Maybe I get a bike later on? At the end of every day I eat dinner with my perfect family and write a diary in baby Japanese – even I can read it without reaching for the denshi jisho – illustrated by kids’ drawings of mountains and family. Sweet. But still, sort of eerie.
I still can’t quite figure out who this game’s for. The simplicity might suggest it’s for kids, but there’s also a distinct lack of action that might only be tolerable for laid-back adults. The longer I play it the more depressing I’m actually finding it – like Ghibli films, it seems to yearn for a time long gone in Japan when childhoods were carefree and farming was a reasonable occupation. Come to think, I see a lot of salarymen playing this on the PSP on their commutes. The game’s either a way to relive happy childhood memories or, more likely, invent one that never was.