In the thriving era of console galge where eroge ports did not make up the majority of releases, school life stories reigned king. From Tokimeki Memorial to Memories Off, the cute 2D girl in a colorful school uniform became the face of the genre. Then it is to no surprise that when F.O.G, a company that claims to be the opposite of trendy, comes out with a game whose cover is a realistic photograph of a road and some grass, it didn’t generate much talk. The game and its premise is something that you’ll find only when you’re looking for it on purpose, and I’m pretty sure that the amount of people looking for a game about meeting 2D girls while traveling through Hokkaido in a Google Street View-esque system is far from high. But that’s just what makes the game stand out in the sea of school-life galge, along with the fact that F.O.G is still alive today.
The protagonist of the story is Souma Tetsu (name changeable), a 20-year-old journalist on a mission to spend a month traveling Hokkaido on his motorcycle and writing a blog about his travels for his company. But this isn’t just a regular job, for the concepts of traveling and photography hold a very personal meaning for him. His dead father was an award-winning photographer whose best piece was a shot of his dead mother, and him and his beloved deceased childhood friend often went on trips together. Rather than going to university, Tetsu got taken in by an acquaintance of his father’s, who offered him a position as the writer of a traveling magazine. With this, he gets to journey together with the motorcycle that once belonged to his childhood friend,
Persistent throughout the game is both the excitement of adventure and a sentimental reflection on the past that slowly, but surely, surfaces as Tetsu continues his travels. This is the most prominent in the solo route, which is most definitely worth going through as it is arguably the most cathartic route, ending on a higher note than the heroines’ routes. The theme of meetings and departures runs strong in every route, shown by the fact that Tetsu and the heroine will never end up together, no matter what. There is romance, there is conflict, and there is a moment of hope, but every relationship ends in separation. Fuuraiki makes a point to show the world through Tetsu’s inexperienced eyes, and then slap him in the face with the heavy complications that are inevitable in reality.
This game also distinguishes itself from other console galge by having older-than-average heroines. When popular works featured high school-aged heroines, this particular title has its youngest heroine at 18 and the oldest at 26, with the other two being 20 and 21. Unsurprisingly, the older the heroine, the messier her drama is and the more painful the separation. However, even if there are no entirely happy endings to be found, what’s more important is that both Tetsu and the heroine gains something from their meeting, and are both able to move forward from their past selves. The other central message that the game aimed to convey is that parting only serves as a beginning for new meetings, and that those who only dread separation are unable to move on. This is both evident with Tetsu’s past that he as to face, as well as the backstories of each of the heroines. Fuuraiki had a clear vision with its themes that were consistent, even if the individual stories of the heroines aren’t that unique. You can see most of the twists miles ahead of the protagonist, and while their resolutions may not be satisfying, the development of the characters is.
Also, despite how the endings are, there is still enough cute icha^2 in the middle of most of the routes to enjoy.
But enough about the story for now. Another crucial feature of the game is its system that offers a high degree of freedom and makes the game truly worth being called an adventure game, unlike most visual novels that like to call themselves such. You basically get to travel through Hokkaido by motorbike in first person view, choosing to make turns when you get the option. When you arrive at a location, you park you bike and get to walk through the area screen-by-screen, like a simplified version of Google Street View with 2001 PS1-level image quality. All the locations use real photos that the development team took on their actual trip to Hokkaido, including the roads. Every street is a different image, when they could have easily recycled one generic street to cut corners. While the PS1-quality photos look pixelated, there are enough good shots of interesting locations to really give you the sense of nostalgia that you might not even know you had for Hokkaido.
Speaking of interesting locations, there are loads of them in the game. From famous tourist spots to isolated natural areas to some hotspring on the top of a mountain, there is always somewhere interesting to go. There are also hidden spots that aren’t initially dotted on the travel map, for an element of exploration. Aside from parts of the story (especially later down a heroine’s route) where you are forced to go to a particular location, you have full control of where to go. As long as your stamina doesn’t run out, you can keep traveling for the day. You can also take photos of the various locations, and then use them in your blog entry that you write at night.
As for going after the heroines, if you fail to meet them in the first time you get the chance to, you are locked out of their route. For two of them, it means having to meet them on the very first day. When walking through a locations with a heroine, you can take a photo of them instead of just the background. There’s a selection of a few generic poses you can make them do, but there seem to be some event-exclusive ones like this time where they bought something to eat in the scene before and taking a photo immediately after results in a eating pose.
At night, you can write a blog post, check your email, and read comments on your blog. You can also go straight to sleep, but your editor did say that you have to blog at least once a week. The game lasts for 28 days, which is more than enough to visit all the locations, provided that you’re on one of the less restricting routes (or solo). It’s pretty immersive, with you opening up your ghetto typing software on your laptop. Speaking of which, I have no idea how Tetsu managed to have a power source and internet every day while spending the night in a tent in the forest, especially since it’s what I presume to be 2001 in the game. Maybe Japan just has amazing internet service. I want a piece of that internet.
Souma Tetsu – The 20-year-old protagonist. He knows his way around the basics of traveling and generally knows what he’s doing, and despite having lost both parents and his best friend, he’s still got that immaturity and inexperience you’d expect from a barely-adult greenhorn. The game feels very 青春, with each location being meaningful and refreshing through Tetsu’s narration.
Tokisaka Itsuki – A 20-year-old young lady, sort of in the main heroine position. You meet her by a lake. She’s beautiful and feminine, but also a bit passive and has something weighing down on her mind. She claims to have gotten in an argument over her friend and fellow canoe club member, who left and when back to the city before she could apologize. I found her route to be the most balanced, with probably the least bitter ending. Also best girl.
Takizawa Tamae – An energetic girl who is also traveling Hokkaido on a motorcycle. It’s her first time and she has no idea what she’s doing, but she enjoys teasing Tetsu. Her background is kind of surprising for her initial personality and character design, but it follows a very common template, albeit without the whole “saving the heroine” part in the traditional sense. Her route develops the romance pretty quickly, but also has messier drama in comparison, with plenty of arguments and a more painful separation.
Saitou Fuyu & Natsu – A pair of identical twins taking a break from school to visit Hokkaido. Fuyu is the feminine, more indoor-type older sister who is actually a fan of Tetsu’s articles and the travel magazine he belongs to. Natsu is the polar opposite younger sister, being strong-headed and an energetic tomboy. The two share a route, with the romance happening with the older sister. There’s a very good reason for this. This route is the “cleanest” (in several meanings), but also the most lacking in development because you don’t spend as much time with the heroine as in the others. I actually had the free time to visit all the locations in this route.
Morioka Yumi – A secret character (well, not-so-secret now) who appears in the last week of the game if you’ve managed to avoid all the other heroines until then. She’s a 26 year old woman you meet in a car accident involving a a cow running onto the street, and also seems to be a reference to F.O.G.’s debut game in which you play hanafuda. For a gimmick unique to her route, you have to win against her at hanafuda whenever you want to take pictures of her. Despite having the shortest-developing relationship, she also comes with the messiest drama. On one hand, you’d expect a 26-year-old woman to come with some sort of history. On the other hand, her route is probably a harder kick to the balls than the others, if you happen to like her.
The solo route reveals more about Tetsu’s past and his childhood friend. It’s actually a very good way to end the game. Even though you read about his childhood friend, the game never shows you her face or her name. I guess the rest is up to your imagination, as the writers probably wanted to keep her as the best girl in Tetsu’s mind by being as vague as possible.
Visuals & Audio
The character art is clean and colorful, like what you would expect from a later 90’s/early 00’s anime style. Since all the backgrounds are realistic photographs, the CGs looked a bit odd at first, but you get used to them later. The art is polished and mostly good, but the CGs look a lot nicer and more detailed than the sprites.
The photographs are neat. They’re mostly composed of nice-looking pictures that a decent photographer might take on a trip. There are also a good variety of generic sprites for the random NPCs that you run into in locations or fellow campers that you have a chat with. This makes the game a lot more lively as opposed to games that just leave one-time side characters spriteless.
Oh, and there are a lot of photos. Aside from the standard location photos, there are also event-exclusive scenery shots, close-ups on animals that catch Tetsu’s interest, etc. You can see that the development team enjoyed their trip.
The BGM consists of a bunch of instrumental tracks that really enhance the mix of excitement and nostalgia you’d get from a traveling game. Most of them are of the relaxing variety. The voice acting, or there lack of, leaves much to be desired though. Not only is the game something like 5% voiced, the voice quality is also low. But what can I say, it’s a PS1 game.
A unique traveling galge that deserves a play if only to see its unusual system. The story is also satisfying despite the endings being a downer. An unusual premise, an original system, older-than-average heroines, and the sentimental story makes Fuuraiki really stand out from the crowd, even if it never gained the traction that other galge did. There’s a PS2 sequel, as well as a third installment that came out on PC in 2013 and got a Vita port this month. I plan on playing both of them. I also wonder how F.O.G. is still alive when so many other makers/series from that time are dead.
P.S. My favorite locations were the hotsprings because I’m a weeb who dreams of visiting nice hotsprings every day in the shower.