Flower, Sun and Rain is the first DS game from game director Goichi Suda, aka Suda51. It started life as a Japanese PS2 game, but it's been ported over to DS presumably to take advantage of the feature-rich console. Or so you'd think...
Known by many as the mastermind behind classic style-driven games as Killer7 and No More Heroes, Suda knows how to make a game stand out and demand attention. Unfortunately this time there's so little gameplay it's definitely a case of too much style, too little substance.
There is a very loose story hanging on this fragile gameplay frame: you play as a 'searcher', and your job is to find things. You've arrived on the island of Lospass and you're to check in to the Flower, Sun and Rain hotel. You drive a Toyota Celica (“A car that only true connoisseurs can appreciate”) You carry a computer/suitcase combo called Catherine (“Why Catherine? Working with a Catherine is better than working with a Bob – that's all.”). It's all very extraneous and totally Suda's humour.
After an impressively long and high-quality FMV sequence, you reach the FSR hotel's car park, you meet a man named Peter Bocchwinkur and the game finally begins. “Jack into me and input your date of birth,” he says. Using Catherine, you can jack into objects in the game world, including people, but only when the game allows you to. This first little minigame (I use the term very loosely) presents you with an input and a number of different leads for you to try jacking with. This is no game, just trial and error.
That's okay! The game has just begun and already we're interacting with our DS! The minigames ahead will be much more fun and varied! Right? Wrong. There's another minigame (again, a loose term) where you need to input numbers into Catherine after successfully jacking with an object. This time it's similar to a combination-lock safe. That's right, you get to input some numbers!
The game is structured like the film Groundhog Day. Each chapter begins with you waking up, and each time you wake up is a repeat of the same day. You are told that you need to get to the airport on the island to prevent a bomb onboard a plane from exploding. Each repeated day, you get a little closer to reaching the airport only to be hindered by somebody in your way. By the time you've finished helping them the plane has taken off, it explodes and you wake up again. The person you have just helped has gone, and a little further on, somebody else requires attention.
To help you, you're given a Hotel Guide Book. You're free to read though this as often as you like, whenever you like. One thing you'll notice immediately is it's filled with numbers in all kinds of different contexts. Temperatures, football formations, dates, cocktail quantities, etc. Knowing which numbers you need to use in a certain situation is the crux of this game. Every obstacle in this game is overcome by finding and inputting the correct number in the correct place. That is the game.
At the start of each new day, you find a few clues on the table in your room. These are optional 'quests' and are different each day. If you fail to complete one before you finish the 'main quest' of the day, you cannot finish it. Don’t worry though - there's an option to go back to finish the ones you've missed upon completion of the game.
It's up to you to find the guests in the hotel to speak to and get clues from, but the game won’t progress until you find the right guest and solve their problem. In that respect it is entirely similar to Hotel Dusk: painfully linear.
There is a wide range of characters, all crazy and very much in the Suda51 style. Their dialogue is completely nuts and genuinely makes you laugh at the absurdity of the things they say! For example, the lead character named his car Giggs, and claims “people who name their cars are a select bunch.”
The graphics are a joke, looking pre-PlayStation in quality. The FMV sequences they've squeezed onto the cart must have taken up the room, because the textures are so poor you can barely make out what the signs say, or even make out what some objects are even meant to be! Take the drive to FSR at the beginning of the game for example, I'm sure it's a sequence meant to set the scene and while it works well in the FMV, it sure doesn't work using the in-game graphics!
On the other hand, the music is fantastic, and definitely one of the game’s highlights. Classical music taken from the likes of Debussy and Bach has been rearranged, jazzed up and tweaked, lending itself neatly to this bizarre, out-of-this-world, dreamlike setting.
The music is awesome, the characters are quirky and the story, is a little like 'Lost', but none of this can lift the game above an interactive story with a poor puzzle mechanic at its core. Let's hope Suda's next DS outing, The Silver Case, fares better. This one is strictly fans-only.