Kita He ("to the north") is the first game in the uniquely Japanese genre of dating simulations to hit the Dreamcast. It's not exactly a cold-blooded search for the ultimate girlfriend as was the case in the genre's original classic, Konami's Tokimeki Memorial. Instead, this game is billed as a "travel communication" simulation by its creators.
The idea behind Kita he: White Illumination is that you are a young Tokyo native on summer vacation in Hokkaido, the northernmost island in the Japanese archipelago. While you sightsee your way across it (in fact, this game was partially funded by the Hokkaido tourism bureau), you will interact with a number of different women and girls, conversing using the strangely named "Communication Break System," or CBS, and perhaps getting just a little bit closer to them. The character designs are varied, with eight different females to interact with. You begin your vacation in the Haruno household, in an apartment shared by Kotori Haruno and her mother. Kotori is the first of many girls you will meet in this game, as you traverse the sightseeing and shopping spots throughout the cities of Hokkaido.
The game is full of charm, from the upbeat J-Pop opening theme to the marginally animated girls who share your time on this northern island. The feature it lacks, to all but those completely fluent in Japanese, is any possible accessibility. The game, unlike others even in the same genre, has extremely limited playability. This is due to its methodology, which is incomprehensible even to those seasoned import veterans who have successfully made their way through games like Tokimeki Memorial or Sega/Red's Sakura Wars for Saturn. The basis of this game is conversation, so if you can't follow the conversation there is essentially no point to it. There are a few minigames you can try that may lift you from the doldrums you might be experiencing: Guardian Wing, an extremely basic shooter; a UFO catcher you can use to win polygonal stuffed animals for later use in wooing the girl of your choice; and a Karaoke bar, where you play a variation in the currently popular music-reaction genre of games. Unfortunately, this does nothing to combat the sense of helplessness the average import buyer will feel. Even most of you die-hard anime fan will have a hard time getting anywhere in this game, which is a shame. The game is very appealing; it just has no inroad for anyone but its intended market - the Japanese.
Technically, the game is unimpressive. The graphics consist entirely of two-dimensional backdrops with anime girls plastered on top of them - typically with only their mouths and eyes moving as they speak and blink. The loading times are excessive, as well. When there is music, it is entirely unmemorable. The performances of the voice actresses are nice, knocking up the sound score, and the minigames actually do manage to push a few gouraud-shaded polygons around from time to time. While not a technical achievement, it is an aesthetic one: This is one of the first console games of this genre to take advantage of the processing power of this generation to deliver crisp, high-resolution artwork. The opening movie, unfortunately, is not really something that could be classified as "anime." It's more of an animated collage of portraits of the girls set to music.
What really needs to be addressed in this industry is the viability of games like this in the American market. Many American gamers look down on this entire genre of games as pathetic, but these games are not, nor are they meant to be, replacements for human interaction. No one but the most socially hopeless need rely on the smiling face of an anime girl for a glimmer of love. Most people who enjoy these games simply like anime. They like games and enjoy resource-management simulations. Games in this genre have more to do with Monster Rancher than pornography. Also, this game is very Japanese in tone, even ignoring its genre. The backdrops chiefly consist of real photographs of Hokkaido locales; although this is unique, it irrevocably sets this game in Japan, which is an impediment to any localization that tries to hide the game's origins. There probably isn't any danger that Sega is interested in localizing it anyway, although it is a quality game. Someday, we hope, a developer will take a chance on a game like this and publish it in our country. Until then, you must look to the import market and take chances on dubiously playable games like Kita he. Unfortunately, in this game's case, it would be more prudent to seek out an art book based on the game's character designs than the actual game itself, as the wall of kanji just won't crack for anyone but those fluent in the game's tongue.