Flower, Sun, and Rain

SUDA 51 has made a name for himself as one of the most brilliantly insane minds in the gaming industry. That's not entirely accurate. Nowadays, SUDA has mellowed out into a series of games that indulge in ultraviolence and titillation in a grindhouse/exploitation sort of way, with a good mixture of self insert as well. However, he wasn't always like this. That reputation he's gained was earned in his early years, where nearly everything he made was so bizarre that it was nearly impossible to describe them or grade them within what were once thought to be the requirements and standards to be a game. Flower, Sun, and Rain stands out in particular for being one of the single most obtuse creations in his entire library of work. Considering SUDA is the mind behind Killer7, that's quite the feat.

Flower, Sun, and Rain is actually the name of a hotel on the incredible Lospass island, and it's where one searcher named Sumio Mondo finds himself. Mondo's job is to find precious things belonging to others, using a strange suitcase computer named Catherine to do so. It can somehow jack into most any object and crack codes and other such things through entering a proper series of numbers. If that seems odd to you, there's a reason for that. Even odder is that Mondo of all people has been brought to this island to find a terrorist and stop a bombing, yet even odder than that is the island itself. Mondo is somehow caught in a groundhog day style loop, each day managing to get a bit farther, but ultimately failing to stop an exploding plane every time. Lospass island is bloated with mystery after mystery, and the biggest mystery of all may be why Mondo is even here in the first place.

Flower, Sun, and Rain is actually a sequel in a long running mystery game series that SUDA and Grasshopper Studios had been working on for several years, but that doesn't really affect it much. Connections with past games don't really appear until very late in the game, and you don't really need knowledge of those past games to understand what's happening. Truth be told, the game makes a joke out of the extremely convoluted and almost idiotic plot it ends up revealing, and it fills itself with self awareness and misdirection. It's hard to tell what the purpose of every strange turn or odd joke is, but that isn't a bad thing. That bizarre nature is actually what makes the game so memorable; you can tell that something is trying to be said here, the question is what out of several different possible themes being thrown around. It's so complex that I may write a separate article just discussing this game in detail.

The game is fully aware it's odd to boot, with a presentation meant to create a feeling of unease and intrigue. All the character models are blocky improperly proportioned (which the game itself even points out), the music is a mixture of inviting vacation tunes and thriller themes slowly breaking down into something barely resembling music, along with several dread filled pieces. It's all based on famous songs as well, making the whole game feel like some failed recreation of what some sort of alien creature thinks Earth looks and sounds like. This is one of those games that takes low technical quality limitations and uses them to add to the atmosphere trying to be conveyed, and it does it all so easily. The DS version I played also replaced all voice acting with strange grunts and clicks, just adding more to the atmosphere. It's one of the most brilliant and perfect style choices I've ever seen.

The game itself is sort of like a puzzle solving adventure game. Kinda. Each puzzle there is to solve within the main game has a series of clues laid out during conversation with other characters, and once you find the object that requires Catherine to be solved, you have to check your island guide book to find a sequence of numbers that fits with the clue. Sometimes this is as easy as reading through a passage about or written by the major character of the day in question, or could lead to far more abstract and complex puzzles that require some outside thinking or math to figure out. Some of these puzzles even try to outright trick you into leaning towards a completely different answer through unnecessary information, conditioning unconventional thinking above all else.

This sounds simplistic and dull, but it works. Figuring out the trickier or more mind-bending puzzles really feels like you've accomplished something, and all because of your own intelligence and creativity. The answer is almost always outside the box of regular thought, but the game is clever in keeping things difficult by going into more conventional thought when you get a groove going. It's very lovingly paced out, each puzzle knowing just when to show up at the right time to keep you on your toes. It's a near perfect difficulty curve. It also plays into the game narrative itself; the use of the guide book has plot importance, but how you get assigned these puzzles is surprisingly clever. The game assumes that you, the player, are interested in helping the people around you, as this is the normal way in progressing in adventure games. Even after people stop acting as barriers, the game will come to a stop so you can try to figure out a problem for another character, and you might find yourself rolling with it and ignoring the main goal. After awhile, characters begin to comment on this absurd good nature, and even Mondo starts to get sick of his own perceived personality. It's a nice bit of meta commentary and plays into the game's main themes of free will and subjective reality.

Outside two maze areas, finding your way in the game is dirt simple. The entire island is mapped out in a very linear way, with long, straight stretches of road to run through in the later episodes. These segments are so boring that they nearly put me to sleep on several occasions, and that's not hyperbole; the dull, constant pacing mixed with the soothing music results in a nearly hypnotic atmosphere. It's really easy to get lost in these long, empty moments, and I'm not sure this was intentional or not. It's hard to say, knowing SUDA's track record with open worlds. They can be said to be introspective and reflective moments, I suppose; time to think about all the strange things you've witnessed in the plot. But having to occasionally re-angle Mondo's running direction can take you out of that mind set. Nice thought, but messy execution. Otherwise, the simple corridor set-up works perfectly with the game's style, preventing things from getting too confusing while you try to continue through the story.

The DS version, which is the only US version ever released, also adds in a lost and found list. In each episode of the game, three items can be found around the island, and clues are set on a clipboard in your room for each of the three item holding cases. These challenges are significantly more difficult and are some of the only times when you will find use of the memo feature. However, finding these items just unlocks little figures of stuff and people in the game. It's not a particularly interesting challenge, unless you want to challenge yourself with some brain teasers.

Flower, Sun, and Rain is a game all about mystery, and it seeps this from every part of its build. The story is purposefully filled with unanswered questions, the world itself is an unclear entity, and the ultimate message is buried in misinformation and conflicting ideas and subtext. Even the gameplay is a bit of a mystery. This game is just so obtuse that very few will be able to dig it, but for what it's worth, I loved it. A game this flawed and strange is exactly why I love SUDA 51; his vision is first and foremost, no matter how weird and insane it is. Throw logic out the window and consider taking a vacation to the Flower, Sun, and Rain, the only place with people that make more unfitting meta references then me and then point out how bad they were. This ain't Killer7 brilliance, but it's definitely something you'll never forget, and all for the better.


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