Fuuraiki 4 (1)

Fuuraiki 4 is a recently released “travel adventure” for the Switch (and PlayStation 4), and the latest entry in a series that debuted on the original PlayStation all the way back to 2001. The game casts you in the role of a writer travelling around the Gifu region of Japan during the summer, aiming to outperform your peers in a month-long competition with the quality of your articles and the stunning photos you take to accompany them. And so you hit the road and go… pretty much wherever the heck you like, whenever you feel like it.

You travel everywhere on the back of your trusty Yamaha MT-10 SP motorbike (the game officially collaborates with the bike company as well as helmet manufacturer Arai), and your rides are presented as a linked series of short panoramic video clips of real stretches of road that you can freely look around as you go. While riding along, road signs — the game’s only use of English text — or several thumbnail images will occasionally pop up, allowing you to choose where to head next. It’s also possible to mark a desired destination on the map and have the correct route automatically selected for you on your journey (this still gives you the option to steer away at any time) or forgo these sections entirely and instantly appear at any location of your choosing.

So why waste any time on the road at all then, especially in a game that uses (very well done) canned footage to show your travels? Because there’s a special sort of joy to be had in taking in the scenery as you ride through tunnels or see distant villages go by as you travel to who knows where, to go head off somewhere you didn’t even know you wanted to go to before you set off that morning, to find a secret spot on a country road that wasn’t on the map.

Once you’ve arrived at your destination, the view switches to an image of your surroundings accompanied by a box across the bottom of the screen used for dialogue, internal monologue, and anything else in need of a textual description — so far, so standard adventure game-y. However this familiar setup comes with one huge twist: Your view is usually not a static shot but a full 360 photograph of where you’re standing, and on this fixed spot you’re able to turn in any direction you please as well as look up and down. This helps create context; each point along your arrow-guided path becoming one part of a single continuous whole, and unless you go looking for flaws — and you do have to actively seek them out — this creates a believably seamless scene, largely free from the “fishbowl” effect that sometimes occurs when this effect is used.

You can take as many photos as you like at any point during these relaxed wanderings — even when you’re looking at a bus stop, staring at the sky, or in the middle of talking to someone — moving the camera around and getting the focus just right to take the perfect shot. You then have to choose just two of these images to accompany your article on the day’s events, although as your character can only write about one location per day no matter how many places you visited (also ensuring Fuuraki 4’s focuses on the quality rather than the quantity of your daily experiences) you have to consider which combination is going to best impress the competition judges and generate the most likes and (fictional) comments.

Along the way you’re bound to bump into a few friendly faces, although in stark contrast to the photorealistic scenery these are represented by hand-drawn 2D images, often skilfully incorporated into a scene rather than standing directly behind the text box, adventure game style (impressively this is also true even in free-look 360 shots). It’s not “realistic” as such but it is a deliberate style, and one that works; the people you meet are an expressive bunch, and Fuuraiki 4’s player-controlled panoramic view system really brings to life something as simple as talking to someone standing next to you – being able to “turn” from a beautiful view of the area to see a person by your side doing the same.

Three of the young ladies you haphazardly meet on your travels can optionally blossom from travelling friends into romances, sharing their own unique perspective and knowledge of the places you visit. The tone of these scenes suits the game’s hazy summer tone perfectly, less “Have I done enough things right to make her want to kiss me yet?” and more “Isn’t it wonderful to spend time with someone you really like somewhere you both find fascinating?

As visual as the game is, it’s the text that elevates Fuuraiki 4; building up a rich personal experience of everything from the obvious sights and sounds to the sensation of wind, water, and even history: Travel to Sekigahara and you can learn about the famous battle that took place there, actually looking out from a tourist vantage point and tilting your point of view down to read real-world signage. This does, unfortunately, mean you need a competent level of Japanese reading ability to get anything at all out of the game. After all, those early mornings when your writerly self’s waking up and preparing a fresh coffee, talking about the equipment used and the pleasant aroma, or the times when cool water rushes over hot feet standing on smooth pebbles are going to look like a simple slideshow of somebody else’s holiday without your avatar’s descriptions to turn them into something more substantial.

Fuuraiki 4’s the perfect holiday for people who can’t go on holiday, something to enjoy spending time with rather than consciously aiming to complete. It conjures up a laid-back mood unlike anything else, of days spent poking around places and buildings you might never visit yourself, of the simple pleasures of blue skies hanging over lush green trees on a sunny day. If you can play it, you should. And if you can’t? You should ask publisher Nippon Ichi very nicely if they feel like granting a particularly unlikely translation wish.

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