I like Japanese games. I always have. As for the why, that probably lies with my gaming education, with years of playing imports in my youth sculpting my taste. Indeed, the JRPG is one of my favourite gaming genres, as too the classic SHMUP, with both offering an insanity at radically different ends of the scale. The former necessitates levels of patience and tactical thought often not matched in western titles, while the latter requires reactions of a cornered snake, with players tasked with dodging, diving and striking at high velocity to remain alive.
There has, however, been one Japanese gaming genre that I’ve never touched. For reasons of both reputation and accessibility, the Romance-Communication genre that perpetually reoccurs each gaming generation in Japan, was a place that I never dared to venture. I mean, I couldn’t even if I wanted, as these titles are never ported, never translated into any other language and with the whole raison d'être being talking and listening to people, they offered little to me.
|You are based in Sapporo, however you explore wider Hokkaido during your trip.|
The thing is though, these sort of games have a very, very poor reputation in the west. Seen as dating sims for those incapable of forging real relationships - disclaimer: I have been happily married for five years - they very much occupy the dark side of the hobby and are looked down upon almost everywhere bar Japan. I was, to say the least, a little apprehensive.
|My real name doesn't work in hiragana so I chose to become 'Robaato Kusakabe'.|
The core game plays out like an interactive comic book / film, with you deciding on where to go and with who and then engaging in communication about a variety of topics. When talking to someone the player can interrupt or respond to something said by initialising the CBS, the Communication Break System. This system allows you to respond in a variety of ways that alter or dictate the course of the conversation. Of course, if the person you are with is just boring the socks off you, you can say nothing and ignore them, however this will obviously not help you build a solid relationship with them.
|You sit next to this woman on your flight to Sapporo. We didn't get on.|
After slowly playing this over the summer just gone - as I am no master of the language even I struggled to keep up with dialogue sometimes - while I can’t say that I was blown away or anything, and I certainly have plenty of criticisms about its execution (for example the animation could be better during communication), I’ve got to say that Kita e has helped me understand why these games sell so well in Japan. Just like any piece of fiction, these titles are escapist fantasies, world’s that you delve into and just ‘be’ in, just play a part in like you were in a play. Just because titles like Kita e want to emulate the real world rather than say World of Warcraft’s fantastical Azeroth, doesn’t make them any less valid.
|Kotori really likes her cat and lives with her mother. She also likes to talk, like a lot...|
|Yuko loves photography and will take pictures of you as you explore Hokkaido.|
Lastly though, I think Kita e is a gentle reminder of what it was like to be young. To wake up and realise your school was shut due to snow and that you had the day off and anything was possible. To get invited to go on holiday with a friend to a place you’d never been and with people you didn’t really know. To live your life blissfully ignorant of the world’s problems. If you play Kita e, maybe you to will, albeit for just a short time, forget too.
|Your end of game reward - a single kiss at 12:00 midnight on New Year's Eve.|