When I first turned on MangaGamer’s Go! Go! Nippon!, I was greeted with a cheerful logo and opening music. The interface was cute, and as I clicked on the necessary button to start the game, it asked me for my name (of a male character, of course) and for the current U.S. Dollar or Euro exchange rate for Japanese Yen.
The premise is simple. The main character is a guy who decides to meet up with two brothers in Tokyo for a week. These “brothers” turn out to be “sisters” (naturally), but all the same, they will gladly take him out sightseeing.
The main character is a Japanophile. He’s very excitable and reacts this way to everything he comes across. I’ll admit, his personality makes it very easy to move the conversation forward and prompt explanations on how different systems in Japan work, but it can come across as overdone because he does it so often. His personality is also written based off the assumption that his country is as different as possible from Japan — for example, he’s never heard of a debit card-based public transport system before, nor has he heard of 24-hour convenience stores before. To me, who’s come across both these things, the unfaltering enthusiasm seemed a little ridiculous.
The two girls, Akira and Makoto, are very knowledgeable, which is just as well because the unique feature of this game is the guide aspect. Their portraits and personalities are pretty obviously geared towards appealing to those familiar with Japanese culture … in the sense that they’re the two main archetypes of girls you’d expect from a usual visual novel. Makoto’s the older “onee-chan” type, and Akira (to put it lightly) is a “tsundere”. If you don’t know what these terms mean before you start the game, you definitely will after you’re done with it.
Go! Go! Nippon! is separated between into two distinct sections — the guide portion and the dating portion. This isn’t denoted by chapters or a “guide starting now!” notification, but when I was playing, I could clearly tell when the game decided to shift focuses and start talking about something different. The game, being only 7 days long, is very short. It has a bit of replay value in that you can get to see all the cities it has to offer, but past that, there isn’t anything that will make you want to play it again.
The guide portion of the game is well done. It tells newcomers to Japan what to expect, and while it may not cover nearly everything, it does mention interesting details about day-to-day life, such as the SUICA card and how to use the public transportation system. For example, Japan is not as accommodating of credit cards as America is. It even goes as far as to use the exchange rate you supplied at the beginning of the game to calculate everything in a currency you’re familiar with. Of course, the famous toilets Japan is known for are mentioned as well.
Go! Go! Nippon! provides a simple tour of many of the main districts of Tokyo and a few other cities, such as Kyoto, Yokohama, and Kamakura. Some are areas you’ve probably seen in popular games or anime, such as Ikebukuro or Shibuya. Other areas include Asakusa, Akihabara, Ginza, and Shinjuku. All are places a tourist would likely go to during their first trip to Japan. Akira or Makoto provide basic trivia — the origin of the area’s name, cultural customs when entering the area, what to expect, where the restrooms are — as well as historical facts that are very interesting. I hadn’t expected to, but I found myself learning a lot about the country while playing the game.
The best aspect of the game, I feel, is a button that appears during certain scenes. The “Show Photo” option pulls up your preferred Internet browser and brings you to Google Maps, where you’re dropped into the appropriate location and get to see the in-game sight you’re looking at in real life. It’s a thoughtful feature.
You can also choose the Sightseeing Album from the Extra menu at the title screen after you’ve completed the game once. This provides a synopsis of what the main character learned during his foray in the city, including all the trivia and key sightseeing points.
Despite all this, calling Go! Go! Nippon! a “guide” to Japan may be a bit of an exaggeration, since it’s essentially a quick crash course of each location. Additionally, many cities in Japan aren’t explored at all, since the game takes place over a week.
The dating aspect of Go! Go! Nippon! is even simpler than the guide aspect. Depending on which districts in Tokyo you go to for the first three days, you’re taken down the route for one of the two girls, which culminates in some “heart-to-heart” and a kiss. There’s some well-drawn art of the girls that you can view in a CG gallery after you finish one playthrough. You can also replay any scene or start from a specific day with the Scene Replay option.
I was honestly put off by the “dating” part of the game because I kept wishing that the focus would return to exploring Japan. The romance and the characters aren’t deep enough or interesting enough to warrant the amount of attention the game gives them. I think the main reason for this was that I approached Go! Go! Nippon! from the viewpoint of it being a “guide with visual novel aspects”. As such, the character-centric scenes just seemed in the way of everything, and kept making me think: “I want to learn about Japan, not read about these characters!”
About halfway through the first playthrough, I realized this was the wrong way to go about things. Go! Go! Nippon! isn’t a guide with visual novel aspects, it’s a “visual novel with guide aspects”. As such, the characters are ultimately the center of the game. That happens to be a problem in and of itself. The audience that is looking for the guide, like me, will likely be put off by the romance aspect. The audience that is looking for a visual novel with meaningful character-interaction won’t find anything here that will satisfy them.
Were the game aimed purely at newcomers to visual novels, one could say that Go! Go! Nippon! would serve as an introduction to both a style of game that sees little exposure outside Japan and to Japanese culture and sightseeing as well. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case and Go! Go! Nippon! can be very discordant, which is a shame, because it is rather entertaining to learn all about Japan in a visual novel format.
Food for Thought:
1. When the game opens up and asks you for the conversion rate between Japanese yen and US dollars, just enter what you think is logical and don’t think too hard about it. That is the only hint I have for you.
2. A pretty cool aspect of the game is that it displays both the Japanese and English text on the game screen at the same time without overcrowding the screen. This happens after we establish Akira can’t speak English.
3. I really liked the food pictures. One gave me a craving for some ramen…