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Flower, Sun and Rain

Platform(s): Nintendo DS
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Developer: Suda51

About Brad Hilderbrand

I've been covering the various facets of gaming for the past five years and have been permanently indentured to WorthPlaying since I borrowed $20K from Rainier to pay off the Russian mob. When I'm not furiously writing reviews, I enjoy RPGs, rhythm games and casual titles that no one else on staff is willing to play. I'm also a staunch supporter of the PS3.

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NDS Review - 'Flower, Sun and Rain'

by Brad Hilderbrand on July 6, 2009 @ 2:50 a.m. PDT

Flower, Sun and Rain is an intriguing mystery adventure very much in the vein of Groundhog Day. You play a detective charged with locating and defusing a bomb by solving thought-provoking puzzles with a wealth of bizarre outcomes. Solving the mystery of what is happening to him and his surroundings is necessary before he eventually goes insane.

Genre: Adventure
Publisher: XSeed Games
Developer: Hand
Release Date: June 16, 2009

As a writer, one of the hardest things to do is go back and look at your early works. Examining early efforts and seeing all of the grammatical errors, poor sentences and abundance of empty words makes one cringe and look away quickly. In a way, I imagine Suda 51 and the rest of his team at Grasshopper Manufacture must feel the same way about the DS release of Flower, Sun and Rain. This title, a remake of the PS2 game only released in Japan, was Grasshopper's second game, and was it ever a sophomore slump. While I'm sure the idea was to make the game "quirky," the obtuse story, terrible gameplay mechanics and ugly visuals all contribute to it being, quite simply, bad. Even hardcore Suda fans are going to have a tough time finding the appeal of this one.

The adventure starts when Sumio Mondo, a "searcher" (think high-tech private eye), is summoned to Lospass Island and the Flower, Sun and Rain hotel. The hotel's manager has gotten wind of a terrorist plot to blow up a plane, and it is Mondo's job to figure out who's behind the attack and prevent the bomb from going off. On his first day visiting the island, Mondo gets no further than his front door when he is asked by a fellow hotel guest to help solve a problem, and Mondo's nice guy, can't-say-no attitude takes over. Upon completing the mission, though, the ill-fated plane explodes, which you'd think would signal that game's over.

Surprisingly, the game continues and Mondo awakens the next morning and things are reset, as though the explosion had never happened. Every morning starts with a wakeup call and a cup of coffee, and then ends with the plane going up in flames yet again. This process repeats itself ad nauseam in a "Groundhog Day" fashion as Mondo slowly unravels the darkest secrets of the island.

But how is Mondo to make these discoveries? Well, that is the job of his trusty computer, Catherine. At certain points in the game, Mondo will be able to "jack in" to items and even people around the island and input numeric passwords which allow him to advance the story. Figuring out the numbers needed for the puzzles comes down to paying close attention to conversations and leafing through the island's guidebook, which you get at the start of the game. All of the puzzle answers are contained in the book, but the trick is discovering where they are and what exactly you're looking for.

Sadly, these puzzles are the first of the game's many failings, and the whole ordeal just feels broken from the outset. Some puzzles are exceptionally simple, merely requiring you to find the highlighted digits on a certain page of the book and plug them in. Others require more heavy lifting, tasking you with completing math or logic problems with solutions are not at all apparent. I lost track of how many times I had to consult a strategy guide to make it through the game, and I still don't understand where some of the answers come from.

This leads directly into Flower, Sun and Rain's second major shortcoming, a general lack of direction in both puzzle-solving and navigating around the island. When you do face the more difficult puzzles, don't expect anyone to help point you in the right direction or how you'll need to go about solving them. Often, there isn't really any indication that a puzzle is coming up; you'll be talking to someone or examining a piece of evidence when Mondo will suddenly jump into a long-winded, mystery-solving soliloquy, and off you go. Should you fail the puzzle you weren't prepared to tackle in the first place, then prepare to be dumped back into the world and forced to examine the object or person again and once more listen to Mondo's speech. It's boring, tedious and frustrating in every way.

Still, puzzles aren't anywhere near as boring and tedious as simply navigating the island, which is the very definition of filler. Due to the fact that the island is designated an "environmental protection zone," you'll be forced to walk everywhere you go on pain of death. This is annoying enough when you're in the hotel and have to go from the first floor to the roof using only the stairs, but it is made infinitely worse once you venture into the wider world. The game will send you off to all sorts of far-flung locations with absolutely nothing but long stretches of open road between them. On more than one occasion, I walked for five straight minutes with absolutely no interruption, save the loading of the next screen. Try and find another video game where you've walked in a straight line for five minutes without a thing to do along the way. You are probably drawing a blank, and if another game has come to mind with a similar mechanic, then I'm sure it was terrible too. Even worse, the developers clearly knew all this walking was boring and awful because there are moments in the game when you're teased about it by other characters. So here's a tip for next time:  Instead of taunting me for having to endure your awful gameplay mechanic, don't implement it in the first place.

Also don't plan on enjoying the scenery on your seemingly endless walks because this is one of the most visually hideous games I've seen in a long time. The original version of Flower, Sun and Rain was released in 2001, and this version retains all the blocky, ugly visuals that were present back then. Environments are muddled, texture-less and downright atrocious to look at when you get up close, and the characters are just a pile of polygons with clothes and faces painted on. I can't even chalk up the visuals to the same retro influence as No More Heroes because that would be an unfair comparison. While that game was a lighthearted nod to the nostalgic, this game is just hideous.

For a while, the story in Flower, Sun and Rain is enough to sustain you and help you power through the myriad poor gameplay choices. The yarn that the game spins is intriguing and entertaining, with enough humor sprinkled in to keep things lively. The middle chapters really shine, as a few unexpected plot twists compel you to play on. Things fall apart over the last few acts, though, as the once-promising story dissolves into an inexplicable and incomprehensible mishmash involving hyenas, silver eyes, dreams and immortality. It's at this ill-advised surrealist turn that the title's last vestiges of fun disappear and you lose what little faith you might have had left in the game. I was totally lost by the final cut scenes, but I don't think I cared anymore anyway.

Those who currently think highly of Suda 51 and his creations would be wise to avoid Flower, Sun and Rain, lest their praise and adoration be crushed forever. While Suda's previous games have always been offbeat, they were still made of fundamentally solid stuff and proved to be highly enjoyable experiences in their own right. This game, though, stutters at every turn and ultimately doesn't work on any level. There is absolutely no reason to buy, rent or even think twice about this game. It will only continue to break your heart over the course of one repeated, anguish-filled day.

Score: 5.0/10


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