Flower Sun and Rain
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2009-07-26 Nintendo DS Adventure T (Teen) Marvelous Entertainment / XSeed

Flower Sun and Rain began as a Japanese PS2 title in 2001, and while it may not be a name that's familiar to most Americans, having come from the mind of Goichi Suda (who also gave us killer7 and No More Heroes, among others), it garnered a cult-like following of fans, with enough interest apparently trickling overseas to warrant a DS port in North America.

Flower Sun and Rain is an interactive murder mystery title that places you in the role of Sumio Mondo, a searcher accompanied by a briefcase-computer named Catharine that allows him to jack into the minds of humans or tamper with electrical equipment to gain information.

Mondo is summoned to the Flower Sun and Rain Resort on mysterious Lospass Island by Edo Macalister, the hotel manager, who begs Mondo to stop a terrorist cell from planting a bomb inside a plane set to take off from the island. What makes Lospass Island so strange, and ultimately dangerous, is its warped flow of time that causes one day to repeat, much like in the film Groundhog Day, for those who are familiar with the 1993 Bill Murray classic.

What would normally be a very straightforward gameplay experience of tracking down and stopping the bad guys becomes a convoluted mess of a story involving a dozen or so inconsequential secondary characters (actors wishing for a reprieve from the press in the secluded hotel, lucha libre wrestlers looking to train without their opponents spying on them, psychics, scientists and so on), each of which has a problem that can only be solved by Mondo's searching abilities.

As such, Mondo becomes distracted with their trivial needs and wants, which are resolved via use of Catharine and the game's puzzle solving system, and ends up wasting so much time that the terrorists succeed, the plane explodes in the sky, and Mondo winds up unconscious, only to wake up in the same time as before, with no bomb, and no plane crash, but a progressively lighter grip on reality, as the island's powers slowly drive him insane.

Using either the stylus or the D-pad for all game controls, the basic flow of gameplay sees Mondo speaking to one character, who then offers a clue as to who to speak to next. You then make your way across the resort to talk to said person who either gives you the final clue as to what item you are searching for, or tells you to speak to yet another character.

The text-based dialogue is mercifully correctly translated, but takes a very shoddy stab at humor and contains enough monologues to make even Shakespeare shake his head in shame. The story overall tries to be too many things - it's happy and light-hearted one minute, as you watch an actor spouting off nonsense with a mop on his head, only to turn somber and even a bit evil the next, as a woman turned angel throws herself into the plane's path, sacrificing herself apparently to save the souls of the innocents on board.

When you finally do reach the end of the day's puzzle, you'll find they often revolve around the hotel guidebook you are given early on, which contains articles about most of the characters in the game, and standard information about the resort's amenities. By turning to the guidebook on a regular basis, you are able to solve Catharine's jack puzzles by figuring out the correct numerical code to unlock whatever item you are trying to hack.

As an example, to unlock a soccer-ball shaped suitcase, you must enter a code for a particular soccer field formation; or, in the case of a hopeless drunk who longs for a taste of summer, you must arrange the volumes of a fruity drink's ingredients in a particular order.

And while some puzzles do require the help of every character available to you in the game, most are easily solvable after speaking to only one person. However, in order to unlock access to the locked item in question, you still have to go through the linear step-wise pattern. So much for allowing you to figure things out on your own - the game spells out everything you need to know as to not allow you to ever get stuck.

That being said, the game's storyline still contains a draw that is hard to explain. For some, the weird and frequent appearances of a woman and her pink crocodile sprinkled throughout this already random plot might be enough to make them throw their DS aside in disgust, but for others, it just may be enough to keep them going, even if only to shake their heads in amazement and wonder as the story becomes even more bizarre at the next turn.

Goichi Suda's diehard followers will undoubtedly find something to love with Flower Sun and Rain, but they will probably be the only group of consumers to not be almost entirely turned off by the game's horrid appearance. To put it bluntly, the game is downright ugly: blocky textures, rampant clipping, and a lack of anything resembling fine details just to name a few of the massive problems here.

Conversely, the soundtrack here is the exact opposite. A mix of calming, tropical tracks and more upbeat pop and even rock offerings are played throughout, which fit well with the current mood of the story, and luckily play loud enough so as to cover up most of the sound effects, like the garbled voice work done in an indescribable language that makes Simlish seem tame by comparison.

All in all, Flower Sun and Rain is a hard title to judge. As you make your way closer and closer to the airport, and subsequently the bomb (each day allows you to get a bit closer than the last), the main story does experience enough twists and turns to make at least this gamer play through to the end, if only to see what or who was causing the island's time warp. However, the numerous side-missions (read: filler material) that constitute the majority of gameplay are tedious and repetitive, thereby diminishing the larger draw the game might have had without them.

Special thanks to Sarah Irvin and XSEED for providing a copy of this title.