My blog has no consistency control, which is why I end up writing about a children’s adventure game shortly after I gush about an ex-porn game chock full of elements appealing to those with eighth grade syndrome. Well, if you’d rather be a fourth grader than a teenager, then BokuNatsu might be worth checking out. It’s a leisurely game with no true goal and nice scenery.
Boku no Natsuyasumi 4 is the fourth installment in the BokuNatsu series of adventure games that aim to create the atmosphere of a nostalgic Japanese summer. You play as Boku, a fourth grader who goes off to his uncle’s house in the countryside to spend his month-long summer vacation. He has to keep a picture diary for homework, and at the end of every day, he will write a maximum of three events into his diary depending on what he did that day. Boku can do things such as bug-catching, fishing, exploring, swimming, collecting monster-shaped erasers, and training his bugs to participate in tournaments. There is no actual goal in the game, but there are various events that you are encouraged to participate in such as bug tournaments, drumming in the festival, hanging out with the local kids, et cetera. There is also a suggested aim of finding 5 pieces of a “legendary treasure map” which is Boku’s uncle’s poorly-disguised attempt at giving the kids something to do.
BokuNatsu 4 takes place in a set of small islands. Initially you’ll have access to half of the island Boku’s relatives live on (named Kocchi Shima, literally “Over-here Island”), but places open up as you advance your days in the game, including Acchi Shima (“Over-there Island”) and Tonari Shima (“Neighboring Island”). Although you can travel to Acchi Shima by riding the ferry, it costs money so the best and most interesting way to get around is by swimming. Boku can jump into the ocean in several places, and swim to other islands or dive underwater. Not only is there a rich underwater environment to explore (full of caves, sunken ships), you can also pick up various objects in the sea. In fact, diving underwater for empty bottles is one of the only ways Boku can earn money, and if you’re interested in collecting Monster Erasers, finding them underwater is the best way. Plus, the more items Boku finds underwater, the longer he is able to hold his breath and dive.
Each day, you are given free roam across the map, but Boku will be forcibly dragged home to eat dinner at 6 pm. After dinner, it becomes night so swimming and going to other islands is forbidden. Bugs are found everywhere, and there are several locations where Boku can fish. There are a total of 150 bugs and 30 fish to collect, and getting them all is no small feat. Some bugs are able to participate in bug tournaments, which means you can train and level them up to participate in the big tournament held by the local kids. Be warned: they are strong! Fortunately, you can carry over 3 bugs into a New Game+, giving you a chance to keep training some of your bugs instead of having to reacquire and train them.
There is a time limit of 31 days, and depending on what you managed to accomplish in those 31 days, the ending changes. There is no real plot to follow so as to speak of, and the characters are flat and exist only to play a role in order to complete Boku’s ideal nostalgic childhood. There’s the childhood rival who’s also the son of the family Boku is staying with, the strange older sister who likes manga, the uncle who works at the place that makes ships, the mother who stays home and cooks and cleans…everything adheres to a certain template in order to construct an atmosphere where nothing strays from the pleasantly standard rural Japanese home. The scenery is very nice, consisting of beautifully illustrated backgrounds that skillfully capture the rural Japanese atmosphere. Most of the game foregoes BGM for silence and summer-like sounds such as birds chirping and cicadas’ cries.
I enjoyed BokuNatsu 4 as a relaxing, feel-good kind of game. I don’t find it compelling enough to go for a second playthrough (still, I’m not satisfied with the results of that bug tournament!), but it was an interesting experience different from other plot-free games involving fishing and catching bugs and generally living life.