There is nothing quite like the thrill of visiting a major city for the first time.
Genre: Action, Adventure
Developer: Granzella Inc.
Publisher: NIS America, Inc.
FRANCHISE: Disaster Report
Release date: 7 Apr, 2020
There is nothing quite like the thrill of visiting a major city for the first time. This is especially true if you are not from a large city yourself. You might think your home town is pretty big until you see your first skyscraper and realize just how different other cities can be. Do you know what else can make a city appear a lot different even for its current lifelong residents? One thing I can think of is massive earthquakes that shake the earth so savagely they practically destroy everything in their path.
Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories is the fourth in the Disaster Report series. You might not have heard of that series or maybe it fell off your radar because the third in the series wasn’t localized outside of Japan and Raw Danger! (Disaster Report 2) was originally released outside of Japan back in 2007, almost five years after the original Disaster Report. It’s an interesting series though. Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories is a simulation of surviving a massive earthquake. Your character which you can customize yourself and even give your own backstory to has gone to this city for whatever reason you chose it to have gone for. Unfortunately, those plans go awry as a massive earthquake literally rocks your world. Still reeling from surviving a bus overturning, the world around you begins to crumble as you try to figure out what to do. This is where the gameplay element comes into it. While your backstory adds flavour to your character’s story it really doesn’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things. You will see it mentioned in dialogue here and there, but overall the main story remains the same. The actual story and play are what makes Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories interesting.
Be the Best (or Worst) you can be
Often times in games you can make choices and those choices really don’t do much. After the decision is made it impacts that tiny little bit of the story in some minor and usually inconsequential way and then you continue on. Sometimes your choices can have long-reaching effects though and it’s then that the choices you make will matter. Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories has the latter mechanic. Your decisions impact the game in different ways and also impacts the NPCs around you. Will you offer an act of kindness or cruelty? Will you take action or ignore it? Everything weaves itself together to build towards whichever ending you deserve. Sure, the majority of the game is mostly the same regardless of what you do, but your actions impact the story with enough changes to keep it interesting. With that said, sometimes your interactions with NPCs can be quite inconsequential so not absolutely everything you do matters. The game remembers things you do and mixes it back into the story later on as a subtle nod to your past. The overall way the game tracks which path you are taking comes from the morality points slider. If you act saintly and help everyone including the starving kitten, then you will get far more positive interactions and story than if you have been a complete jerk to everyone. Because I tend to experiment I have unfortunately not seen every possible ending yet, but I have played enough personality styles to start to feel a bit of a difference in the story. A good example is when you are acting the shop keeper. You can either charge people the regular prices for goods or overcharge them. Once you have their money you can either put it in the register or pocket it. Playing the Good Samaritan in my first run, I found I was starving and thirsty later on due to being pretty much broke and unable to afford anything to eat or drink. I retried at this point and was a total jerk. Manipulating my way through the game and taking advantage of the situations any way I could. I was living on easy street, as rich as I could be and able to afford anything I wanted including a really overpriced bathroom key.
Survival of the Fittest
Your basic needs need to meet as you scramble through the chaotic world. You need to eat and drink and use the restroom. Finding food and drink can be quite difficult in the crumbling ruins of the city. Often times it is overpriced and without much way of earning money, it can be a real struggle. Bathrooms are plentiful though (and oddly even in a disaster with the building falling down around you ensuring you go into the correct washroom still matters!) Another important factor to watch is your health and stress. Health can be restored with first aid supplies and stress can be easily relieved at save points. Health is sort of an important factor as your character will die if it falls to nothing…although the game is quite forgiving and lets you just resume where you left off kind of making the health bar kind of inconsequential in the end. The game resorts to a lot of cheap tricks to sap your health, but it actually helps keep it interesting. As you move around the city, aftershocks occur that cause tremors that can cause you to fall down if you don’t brace yourself. Parts of the city also started to crumble raining debris down on you if you don’t find shelter. Overall, the survival element is quite decently done.
The Crumbling Buildings Aren’t the Only Challenges Encountered
One thing that isn’t decently done though are the controls and environmental interactions. The keyboard and mouse felt very awkward to navigate so I resorted to playing with a gamepad. The default layout even on the gamepad was a bit awkward but I did manage to figure it out. I don’t like changing from the defaults as I always want to review based on how the developer intended the controls to be. When you are in an open area such as the streets, the controls work decently enough and the camera is fine. When you are inside some of the buildings, such as the apartments, things tend to get kind of wonky. Pressing the controls in one direction can cause your character to move in what feels like an entirely different direction sporadically. The camera won’t let you really see where you want to see so it becomes a bit of blind mess as you try to muddle your way through. It gets even more problematic when you have to swim. Now you have to deal with the awkward interior navigation as well as depth adjustments too. Rather than continuing to be faced with having to constantly backtrack through the apartments searching for items while listening to my stomach grumble, I decided to end it all and reset to come back there with a backpack full of food and a whole new outlook on life. Oddly, a cosmetic item I found in my first playthrough I couldn’t find again in my second playthrough so not sure if it was a bug or just an issue with the swimming elements combined with the unreliable camera preventing the item’s marker from showing up. I realize it helps with the whole “find things to survive” element of the game, but if collectables could have their markers either permanently displayed or show up much further away would be better. Without the marker, you can’t collect it even if you can see the item.
Another issue you may encounter is finding your way through the city. It’s not always clear what you have to do next. Sometimes unrelated tasks need to be cleared before the story can move forward but there is no clear indicator as to what you should be doing it in the first place. This I suppose could be attributed to the realism of dealing with a natural disaster. Even when what you have to do appears clear to you, paths that seem obvious won’t always allow you to access them which will force you to try to seek out alternatives. Eventually, once you start getting a bit exasperated at not being able to find the solution you will retrace your steps and suddenly you can access the area you initially tried. This is caused by the fact the game needs you to line up with the path just right for it to register your interaction. It looks like you need to climb up there? Learn from my mistake; keep retrying from multiple angles before giving up. Think you already tried it that way? Try it again! The prime example of this I have is a collapsed office building. You can hear a woman calling out from inside and what looks like an obvious ingress point near the corner. I tried that point multiple times before beginning to explore the area to find the “correct” way in. Eventually, exhausting all other options, I went back there and tried some more and then I got in. I also had the same kind of problems with anywhere I needed to crawl under. You see someplace where crawling might work for you? You get down and press forward and nothing happens? Get back up and/or move a tiny bit and try again. Odds are it will work for you! Other than these issues, the rest of the gameplay was basically fine… except for that dingy…!
Are you a people person
The world is alive enough, there are people everywhere. Some of them are panicking, some of them clustered around listening to the news, some are would-be heroes and others ready to take advantage of the situation. The people are interesting in general. The way they interact can be a bit unusual at times, but I suppose we could attribute that to different cultural norms. Your own interactions impact those around you but even just backing off and watching the scene unfold can be interesting too. I usually like to avoid spoilers when writing a review but I feel the next two minor spoilers are worth sharing and don’t really detract anything from the game’s experience. The reason why I am sharing them is because it gives you a taste of what the quests are like in the game. If you want to avoid the spoilers, skip to the next paragraph, otherwise read on. One of my favourite characters is someone I helped out of a difficult situation. He was stuck in the washroom without any toilet paper! The horror! After doing the fetch quest to retrieve the toilet paper for him he proceeded to pat me on the shoulder as a thank you and then informed me the water wasn’t running in the bathroom. He then went to the front of the store and proceeded to gouge the customers (including yourself). He was an impostor though, and the real manager shows up and chases the charlatan away. You later encounter him again and he is back to his old tricks. He also remembers how you reacted to him earlier with a little bit of dialogue. It’s a kind of nice slice of life as you know not everyone will be a saint when there is a tragedy to exploit. There is also a rather goofy scene later on where you rescue a lady from under some debris. Shortly afterwards there are a couple of men who take a keen interest in taking turns … dating her without consent… they quickly overpower you and the lady and tie you both up. Then after tying you both up they proceed to, and this makes perfect sense I am sure you will agree, have one of them walk in circles around the area while the other rests up against a pole and both totally ignore the two of you. This allows you to scoot around the area and hide almost in plain sight until you can free yourself from your bonds by using a tape dispenser.
The Sights and Sounds of Summer
Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories doesn’t actually look too bad considering it has been in development for quite some time. People might call the graphics a bit dated, but in all honesty, I don’t really think that the current quality detracts anything from the game. The large structures crumbling and falling around you is a bit of treat if you happen to be looking in the correct direction and also are not directly in the impact area. The various NPCs have enough details to keep them interesting and allow you to recognize people you have met before much more easily. I’m thinking of you con man! The generous variety of outfits you can wear coupled with the decently robust character customization options helps you personalize your character’s looks how you want them to be. Even the various locations you visit have enough visual differences to keep them from looking copy pasted. As mentioned earlier, the only visual I have any kind of complaint with was the item markers, simply because they are easy to miss through no fault of your own.
As you progress through the various areas, you will unlock the ability to revisit the areas in VR. This makes it feel more like you are actually there rather than just watching from the safety of your home. Sure it gets a bit repetitive having to replay an area in VR to experience it that way rather than just playing it straight through, but it’s still a nice option to have.
The sounds on the other hand are mixed. The soundtrack to the game is quite well done, it’s sufficiently atmospheric to keep the game interesting while taking a backseat to the action and ambient sounds. The ambient sounds can get a little irritating at times, but it does help make the game feel a little more immersive. The characters all speak in Japanese, which is something I am used to now, but it does actually cause a bit of a problem. When you are taking to NPCs, their dialogue is translated to you in text. This allows you to know what they are saying to you, however, ambient sounds such as someone calling for help, isn’t translated to text for you. This means anything they might be shouting to help you find them is likely a bit lost on you. Plus with the ambient rumbling and other sounds being so prevalent often times their cries might go unnoticed for a while. Overall though, the sound effects and vocals of the game seem to be well done.
So, should you pick up Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories? If you have played any of the previous games, you should know it continues in the same vein as its predecessors (with similar jankiness to be honest). If you enjoyed those even with their faults, you will more than likely enjoy this title as well. If you are looking for a somewhat realistic simulator that allows you to behave however you want (within reason) during a natural disaster, then you would probably enjoy this title. The choices you make have enough of an impact that it keeps it interesting and actually allows you to replay the game without it being too monotonous. Some of the quests in the game seem a little silly and I am curious to what on earth they were thinking. For example, when you are in a multi-building apartment complex trying to find materials to make a rope out of, one of the residents tells you that one of the other people living there has old sheets lying around and you can problem go get some. You then have to swim underwater to find the sheets… it’s at least five stories of apartments per building in the massive complex and you are telling me only that one person has sheets? Different cultures maybe, but sheets would be pretty common in apartment buildings here in the western world!
It was a paradoxical game for me. I wanted to press on so I could see how the game would unfold, but at the same time, I would get frustrated and wanted to stop because I wasn’t sure if I just hadn’t solved the area yet or if the game just didn’t register that I found the path yet because the camera angle was slightly off. With some more polish and a more responsive camera, this game could actually have been far better. With that said, even in its current state, it’s still worth giving a play to. It’s one that I think I will Save for Later.