Following the releases of Killer7 and No More Heroes, Japanese game developer Suda51 (Goichi Suda) built up a cult following in the Western world, and though many of his games didn't make it overseas, things are changing with the Nintendo DS port of Flower, Sun, and Rain. Despite a stylish and engrossing--not to mention completely ludicrous--storyline and cast of characters, this remake of a 2001 PlayStation 2 adventure game is sadly bogged down by some critically flawed gameplay. With that said, if you're a serious fan of Suda51's eccentric games, are a connoisseur of math and word puzzles, or are fiending for a portable adventure game, Flower, Sun, and Rain just may be the game for you.
Sumio Mondo is a so-called searcher who specializes in the finding of lost objects. When he is hired by the manager of the Flower, Sun, and Rain hotel, he unknowingly dives headfirst into a mystery several magnitudes larger than he could have possibly imagined. Located on the isolated resort island of Lospass, the titular hotel serves as ground zero for Sumio's investigations, which inevitably get sidetracked due to his nice-guy, doormat personality. Though he was hired to track down an explosive-rigged airplane to stop a terrorist attack, he has a difficult time getting to the airport, because the other guests make him find answers to their problems. Upon resolving a guest's situation, he witnesses the plane he's looking for fly overhead and explode, then wakes up in bed to relive the same day with different problems to solve again, and again, and again, each day further questioning his reality. There's never a dull moment on Lospass Island thanks to the bizarre cast of characters Sumio encounters, such as a schizophrenic fallen angel, a pirate-themed luchador, or a fourth-wall-breaking brat and his jerk father, and each one has a puzzle that needs solving.
Sumio's most valuable tool is Catherine, a silver briefcase that can connect to everything from a drink shaker to a human eyeball, and once it's jacked in, fixing any problem or uncovering any secret is as easy as inputting the right numerical code. The trick, of course, is in finding said code. Story solutions can invariably be found in the Lospass Island tourist guidebook Sumio receives upon check-in at the Flower, Sun, and Rain hotel. You're only given one or two subtle hints as to what you need to look for in the 49-page virtual book, which makes finding your answer often frustrating, and on top of that you often need to solve logic or math problems. You can retry a puzzle as many times as you need to if you fail, but you have to sit through Sumio's longwinded monologue about mysteries in mysteries every time he cracks open Catherine, and though it's amusing the first couple of times (and often provides further clues), it quickly loses its charm. In addition to the main story puzzles, you're presented with a daily list of optional lost items that you can add to your personal collection so long as you can find them and solve the obscure riddles they present.
As interesting as Sumio's job seems, simply getting around Lospass Island is aggravating. In the first half of the game, when you're restricted to the Flower, Sun, and Rain hotel, getting where you need to be isn't too bad because it's a pretty small place. But as you begin to venture outside, it quickly becomes apparent that you're always going to be on foot, and the constant backtracking between distant locales is boring and frustrating. The atrocious camera makes it easy to lose your sense of direction (even on a linear pathway!) because it likes to swing back and forth and around. Though the bottom screen always displays a geographical map of the island, it never shows your location or even which way you're facing, which makes it completely useless.
Though it was far from a visual masterpiece when it first debuted on the PlayStation 2, Flower, Sun, and Rain's dated graphics and low-quality textures look even worse on the DS. In short, the 3D graphics are awful, and the locations are only vaguely recognizable as what they're supposed to be. There's also an odd dichotomy between the 3D graphics and the stylized, often striking 2D artwork that frequently pops up as you explore the island--the guidebook is filled with fantastic graphics and the character portraits are richly detailed, which makes their equivalent 3D representations all the more disappointing. Conversely, the music is a feast for the ears and includes many excellent arranged versions (or rip-offs, according to one character in the game) of classic and recognizable songs. Though Flower, Sun, and Rain doesn't feature voice acting, each character sort of mumbles something along with static to provide some measure of personality, in much the same way the characters from Animal Crossing communicate.
At its heart, Flower, Sun, and Rain is an excellent adventure game that deals with a lot of complex themes, but it's unfortunately dragged down by the constant backtracking, poor graphics, awful camera, and sometimes nearly incomprehensible puzzles. But if you can look past these flaws and put in the work to really get into it, you'll find a cool, engaging, and frequently comic mystery that only gets deeper and deeper.