By Ishaan . July 3, 2009 . 1:56pm
Flower, Sun, and Rain begins with a montage of in game cuts mixed with live actors performing scenes from the game set to the song “Anata no Tame ni.” Most of this montage consists of protagonist Sumio Mondo running through hallways, forests and along roads and driving his car at breakneck speeds. The intro is very avant garde-esque, and it sets the “feel” for the entire game, which is similar in nature.
A friend of mine who decided to check the game out recently asked me why he was running around so much and commented that it looked kind of silly.
The answer to this question is two-fold. Sumio Mondo is a Searcher by profession: someone who is hired to find things for people. He is running because he in search of something. But he is also running because he’s trying to get somewhere. The intro is representative not only of what you’ll find yourself doing a lot of in the game, it is also symbolic of Sumio’s race against time and fate to crack his latest case. This and more, which we’ll get to in just a bit.
Flower, Sun, and Rain begins with Sumio and his partner, Catherine heading to a rendezvous point to meet with Peter Bocchwinkur; a broker that hooked Sumio up with his latest client; a Mr. Edo Macauster, manager of the Flower, Sun and Rain hotel. Upon arrival, an introductory conversation ensues between the slightly cynical Sumio and the friendly, laid back Peter. As friendly as he is though, Peter takes his job seriously. As the broker, he needs to make sure Sumio is the real deal. And thus, you are asked to prove your identity as the real Mondo.
What ensues within the next moments is a back-and-forth ladened with innuendo, confusion, breaking the fourth wall and a general sense of WTF. “Catherine,” if you didn’t already know, is a briefcase fitted with some sort of advanced decrypting technology that you can use to solve puzzles. Sumio pulls out one of the many jacks Catherine is fitted with and proceeds to insert it into Peter’s eye socket, all the while thinking, “What a weird guy. Saying things like “Put it inside me.”
Yes, Peter does actually say that. Along with something to the effect of, “It’s my first time, so take it easy.”
He then punches in his date of birth using Catherine, which obviously isn’t proof enough for Peter. And so, you are given a short test – one that eases you into the game’s puzzle-solving – after which Peter and Sumio drive off to the hotel. Does any of this make sense?
None whatsoever. But Flower, Sun, and Rain isn’t about sense; it’s about search and discovery, a concept many will likely find hard to wrap their heads around.
Sumio Mondo is one of the most memorable characters I’ve had the experience of playing as in a video game. He’s straightforward, slightly cynical and has quite the flair for witty retorts. Yet, he’s also one of the biggest pushovers you’ve met. He’s down to earth, yet he names both his briefcase and his car (whose name is Giggs, in case you were wondering). He isn’t a morning person and likes his breakfast slightly cold. And he has a thing for nurses, which are just about the only kind of women he seems more attracted to than Catherine, with whom he is almost infatuated.
It’s little details like these which make Flower, Sun, and Rain the experience that it is. Sumio is as real as they come, and not only is he a welcome change from what you’re used to seeing in Japanese games, he is also extremely likeable. You’ll find yourself rooting for him all the way.
“Well, that’s great and all, but what is this game about?”
Flower, Sun, and Rain is Goichi Suda’s take on Groundhog’s day. Sumio has been hired by Edo Macauster, manager of the Flower, Sun, and Rain hotel on Lospass Island – named for its “lost past” in case you hadn’t figured that one out – to deal with a terrorist.
Lospass, as Macauster tells Sumio, is stuck in a time loop. The same day keeps repeating itself, and each time, it ends the same way: with a plane getting bombed shortly after it takes off from Lospass airport. Sumio’s job is to find the terrorist behind the bombing and to prevent the plane from blowing up.
Flower, Sun & Rain is divided up into 18 days. Each day begins the same way. Sumio is woken up by a call from Macauster, letting him know that breakfast is ready. Groggily, Sumio forces himself out of bed and falls with a thud to the floor, still half asleep (or so it seems). He then proceeds to down his morning coffee before attempting to make it down to the hotel lobby for breakfast.
I say attempting because the entire first half of Flower, Sun, and Rain consists of you trying to climb down three flights of stairs to the front desk to meet with Macauster. Only, somehow, every single day you get sidetracked by someone that needs your help. Whether it’s some idiot who’s lost his bag, or a drunken lady that wants another drink but is too sozzled to go get it by herself, this game loves mocking you by allowing you to explore every part of the hotel but the lobby for the first few hours, all the while throwing the most outlandish and random supporting cast at you. And it does so frequently.
But that’s OK, because these characters are what make Flower, Sun, and Rain’s unique narrative possible. I almost want to say the narrative is ahead of its time. Characters will sometimes talk in a fashion that will make you wonder whether they’re addressing Sumio or you, the player. The game doesn’t just break the fourth wall; it blows it to hell.
Like No More Heroes, FSR is almost a parody of itself. The hilariously melodramatic dialogue combined with Sumio’s frustrated, often sarcastic reactions make for a very enjoyable read. Although, initially, you won’t have a clue as to what’s going on, the game soon settles into a very comfortable pace. The theme for this first half of Flower, Sun, and Rain is “getting nowhere quickly,” which is another aspect of the game that the intro is symbolic of. It is about the Searcher searching.
And then, it takes on a rather sinister twist just as you approach the halfway point. The plot turns from outlandishly superstitious to unsettling sci-fi. Something is very wrong on Lospass Island.
Characters change personalities. Faces you once looked forward to seeing now make you feel like punching them. Sumio himself undergoes quite the personality change over the course of the game, and the second half is where this really starts to show.
The second half also answers a lot of questions framed early on. Just what is Lospass Island? Why is the same day repeating itself over and over? And why the hell can’t you ever get out of bed without falling flat on your face?
If the first half of FSR was about the search, the second half is about discovery. But it’s also about predictability and growth and resilience. There are layers upon layers to Sumio and the events that occur around him. And it is here that you discover that Sumio runs because he is searching for himself.
Earlier, I said that Flower, Sun, and Rain was almost ahead of its time. I take that back. Despite originally releasing in 2001, Flower, Sun, and Rain is still very much ahead of its time, and well ahead of several other games I’ve played through from a narrative standpoint. The one downside though, is that the game requires knowledge of Grasshopper Manufacture’s The Silver Case. If you haven’t played that game – and how could you, since it hasn’t been localized yet – some of the ending will definitely be lost on you.
But that’s OK, too, because Flower, Sun, and Rain is as much about the search as it is about the discovery. As much about the journey as about the end. Let’s put it this way: if Killer 7 dealt with political issues and NMH with societal issues, Flower, Sun, and Rain deals with psychological ones.
If you enjoy a Murakami novel, you’re going to have a blast with FSR. If you haven’t read Murakami, you might want to pick this game up anyway so you’re better informed the next time you get into a “games as art” discussion. Because when we talk about games as art, this is most likely what we’re referring to.