- John Bush
Game Review #490: Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: John B
Publisher: NIS America
Category: Action, Adventure, Simulation
Release Date: 4.7.2020
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Getting into a cult classic series is always a tricky proposition for me. Will I get the series’ in-jokes or traditions? Will the series’ traditional gameplay mechanics make sense to me or be adequately explained in the game? So I was a little bit apprehensive when Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories for the Nintendo Switch came across my review desk. It’s a niche classic series that hasn’t been around in a while; this game was actually cancelled in 2011 after an earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Ironically it’s about surviving in a Japanese city during a natural disaster, and all of the heroism and evil that can bring to the surface in people. It’s a very uneven game, unfortunately, and for someone like me who is new to the series there is little to recommend it to new players.
Choose Your Adventure
Before the story starts, players can select either a male or female protagonist (I went male, if that makes any difference). You’ve come to Hisui City for some personal business that you can set, such as a business meeting or a job interview. While riding the bus to your destination, a massive earthquake rocks the city, toppling buildings and destroying roads. Players must guide their protagonist on a journey through the ruined city, discovering pathways though the destruction and meeting characters to help (or swindle) along the way. The story provides plenty of twists and turns, but not a lot of hints. If you’re stuck and trying to find a way forward, don’t expect much in the way of help from the game. Just tough it out and keep looking around; there’s always something you missed. Sometimes I needed to put the controller down and take a break it got me so frustrated not having any idea what I could be missing, though.
One of the game’s greatest strengths is the remarkable number of branches it offers players to explore as well as the choices offered through those branches. You can choose to help people, bring them with you, or just ignore them and move on. It provides a pretty good degree of control, and provides some dramatic and meaningful scenarios, but I do have to say that it felt incredibly disjointed. Characters would enter and exit the narrative abruptly, and if you went to another area too soon you were never able to return and finish something you couldn’t see a solution to in that area. For example, one NPC named Danny gets the crap beaten out of him. I told Danny I’d find him a doctor; after talking to every NPC in the area, nobody could help and I couldn’t go to the previous area. I went to the next area thinking maybe I would find a doctor there, but I couldn’t, and I also couldn’t return to Danny to see if he was OK.
Furthermore, while the story is very open-world and has a ton of branches, honestly when I finished the game most of them just felt half-finished because I couldn’t figure out how to proceed with them. Several characters were introduced and then… I just never saw any opportunity to do anything with them. Did I miss my chance? Did I miss something during my exploration? I have no idea, and I ended up leaving the game feeling a little frustrated by the lack of clarity. There is an epilogue sequence that opens up after you beat the main game that cleans up a lot of dangling threads, but it doesn’t do much to alleviate the feeling that I missed a lot during my playthrough. I found Danny in the epilogue and gave him a hug… but didn’t get any closer to finding out what happened to him. While the story has very dramatic, tense, highs, ultimately so much of it comes to nothing that I have to wonder what half of it even meant.
Scratching and Surviving
Survival is fairly straightforward; do what you have to do to not die and/or protect the people you’ve promised to protect. Your actions are restricted to running, ducking, and using the interact button on interactive objects, such as collectibles like new costumes or quest objects. When aftershocks hit, and they hit often, you can duck to protect yourself. Generally, just stopping running is enough to protect you. If you keep running during an aftershock, you fall down and lose some health. Oh, I almost forgot; you can also yell out… but I have no idea what that does, and that’s not the only thing that seems to exist without a clear reason or in-game application.
What is This Even For?
There are a number of systems in the game meant to enhance the simulation of being in a disaster zone – I’m just not sure what they actually do. You have hunger, thirst, and bathroom meters; when you are hungry or thirsty, you have to eat, and when your need to use the bathroom is high, you have to use the bathroom. Only, well… do you, though? I played through large portions of the game with either an empty stomach or full bladder, and didn’t notice any kind of negative consequences or anything. The game never made note of it, except for some icons in the corner and my avatar put his hands over his stomach when he was hungry. Also, doing good things nets you moral points, while doing bad things nets you immoral points. I beat the game and the epilogue and I have absolutely no idea what those points are for. None.
I Don’t Think The Switch Can Handle This
The graphics look a little last-gen, which, considering the game began development for the PS3, makes sense. The textures are a little rough but things generally look OK and run smoothly – but not always. When you get into a bigger or busier area with a lot of NPCs, there is frequent graphical stuttering and the visual quality takes a noticeable dip. The game’s audio, however, is a notable high point; every major story event (and a lot of minor ones, too) is fully voice acted in Japanese, and the game has some high quality J-Pop songs that play during pivotal reflective scenes that set a somber mood quite well. But also, look at the butt on this guy in the next screenshot. LOOK AT IT!
All the Rest
Overall, I came away from Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories with a very mixed impression. The story has some great scenes, but feels very disjointed and ultimately incomplete. The gameplay is solid and consistent, but contains many subsystems that are not explained and seem to have no actual effect on gameplay. It does, however, have lots of cosmetic items to collect, from different costumes to cool compass icons, and I am an ardent proponent of awesome cosmetic items. Finally, while the graphics aren’t hideous, they’re not great either, and the occasional stuttering doesn’t help. Disaster Report 4 has a really cool premise, but I just don’t think it nails the execution well enough to be more than mediocre.
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*A game code was provided for review purposes