When you’re in a long distance relationship with another person, how do you maintain that relationship? How can you be sure the other person feels what you think they feel for you? Can their words be enough, or will they always leave something to be desired? And who exactly do you have a relationship with? Does the other person only exist as an idea in your mind, or are they something more than that? Would things be any different if the two of you met face to face? Perhaps most important of all, does any of this even matter?
As the small handful of you who regularly read these blogs should know by now, I’ve developed a fascination with realistic games. I don’t mean the kind of AAA realism that renders heroic fantasies through a hyperrealistic lens, but the kind of realism that sees everyday life as valuable in its own right. Yet this realism alone isn’t enough to win me over. The most interesting games don’t just accept their realism and call it a day (how shallow an experience would that be?), but push further to make some meaningful commentary through it. Ihatovo Monogatari caught my interest because of what it had to say about the warmth of community life, just as Yuuyami Doori Tankentai explored the crushing isolation one feels when they’re denied that warmth.
This would explain why Gokinjo Boukentai feels so lacking: because while it may share that fascination with the real, it lacks any structure to give that fascination meaning. So despite whatever charm its world may hold, that lack of any meaningful structure gives the game no choice but to confuse simplicity for relatable childhood charm.
Video games could use more smaller experience. I don’t mean that they need shorter games, although that wouldn’t hurt. And I don’t mean that they need more indie developers working on smaller projects; that scene is handling itself fine as it is. Rather, I wouldn’t mind seeing more games that concentrate on the minutiae of ordinary life. There’s value to be had in that. There are stories worth telling, and ideas worth exploring that games with a larger scope might not be able to handle.
These are the thoughts that come to mind as I write about Ihatovo Monogatari, the obscure SNES retelling of Kenji Miyazawa’s stories. (Miyazawa himself even makes a guest appearance toward the end of the game.) Ihatovo is by no means a big game. It’s basically nine loosely collected tales joined together by the hero’s search to complete a set of seven notebooks. Yet this loose set-up is precisely what allows the game to work its magic. Ihatovo hones in on the warm and sentimental feeling of life in a tightly knight community. Every fiber of its being is focused on drawing you into that community, explaining why it’s able to do so so well.