Flower Sun And Rain

A deep-rooted suspicion on these shores is that Japanese gamers get the more experimental, challenging games that would go unappreciated by our rootin’-tootin’ American sensibilities. But if the DS port of 2001’s PlayStation 2 mystery-adventure Flower Sun And Rain: Murder And Mystery In Paradise is any indication, it turns out we aren’t missing much. While FSR is certainly engaging, its mechanics don’t translate into something most Americans would consider fun.

Things start off simply, with “searcher” Sumio Mondo—a professional finder of lost belongings—arriving on the resort island Lospass, hired to locate a time bomb set to annihilate a plane on the island’s airport. However, nothing in FSR is straightforward: The island is named “Lospass” because it’s apparently lost its past. Basically, it’s stuck in a time loop that can only be remedied when you retrieve the explosives. But it isn’t that easy, as every day, you get inches closer to the airport before getting caught up in someone else’s bizarre tale of loss, like a luchador who’s lost his fighting spirit, or a middle-aged dancing rabbit-man who’s lost his ladylove. Because such obstacles prevent you from getting to your destination, every day ends with a plane exploding and you again waking up in your hotel bed in a Twin Peaks meets Groundhog Day twist.

Unfortunately, FSR’s gameplay isn’t anywhere near as intriguing as its story. Most of its “mysteries” are solved by locating number sequences tucked away into articles in a 49-page hotel guidebook and “jacking” them into a target with Catherine, your suitcase-shaped computerized traveling companion. Any puzzles that aren’t explained in the in-game book wind up being straightforward math equations. Worse still, these brain-dead puzzles are increasingly dragged out, with each day requiring you to traipse around greater and greater distances. The later levels completely degrade you by forcing you to go from one end of the island to another, with every character you meet happily mocking your eager obedience to complete strangers. But that satire of largely unquestioned videogame conventions would have sharper teeth if it weren’t sandwiched between unrewarding, boring tests of your reading comprehension and math skills.

Beyond the game: Rather than upgrading the ugly graphics, this update has 50 new, easily missed puzzles that yield new costumes.

Worth playing for: The story, which perfectly nails a dreamlike tone and is full of surprises from beginning to end.

Frustration sets in when: If you aren’t doing math or reading, you’re walking very slowly to do math or reading. 

Final judgment: A patience-trying acquired taste.

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