Forgetting our small grievances with games is something we as players do often; it’s easily done when we find the rest of the game so enjoyable. Flower, Sun, and Rain, however, is a game whose many flaws are not only numerous and glaring, but might also be intentional.
This should be no surprise to anyone who’s ever played a game developed by the ever-eccentric Suda 51. His games often straddle a line between uniquely interesting and needlessly frustrating. Flower, Sun, and Rain doesn’t stray too far from most his other games, either; There is hardly any “playing” to speak of, and the majority of your interaction with it comes from walking to a destination, and solving puzzles.
My inherent problem with it isn’t with the adventure game mechanics it employs (it would be difficult the convey the story otherwise), it’s that it doesn’t do it well. All of the puzzles are literally reduced to numbers by your suitcase, Catherine, which at first will illicit one of two reactions from the player – either, that this game will be too easy because any answer can be deduced with enough guessing, or that it’s creative to have the player learn to distill every clue they get into numbers in some way.
The answer, for me, lies somewhere in between. Of course, if you get a puzzle in which the answer is only one number (the game gives the number of digits for each solution), you’re going to guess, but even still I found the puzzles had only two difficulties: Too easy (almost each and every answer is found in a page of the in-game guidebook), and too hard (ones that require you to make unreasonable leaps of logic and offer no clues as to what frame of mind you should even be in). For those that are worried about the game being too hard, though, most of the harder puzzles are optional (they give you extras and unlockables), so if you’re only looking to breeze through the story, it’s likely that you won’t need a FAQ.
But whether or not the story is worth playing through (and ultimately whether or not you should buy the game), depends on both how much you’re willing to put up with both the flaws in the game and the nature of the game’s story. As you run around, getting from one puzzle to the next (which, because the game’s Groundhog Day premise, involves a lot of backtracking early on and a long fits of running through desolate areas later on), the game will try as hard as possible to get you to stop playing, and I don’t think this was unintentional.
For example, the game makes frequent mention of how dumb it thinks your character, Sumio Mondo (and you by proxy), not only when you fail to solve puzzles, but also when you don’t apparently “get” what’s going on (which, to their defense, was often the case for me).
It’s also self-aware in a very direct way; aside from some obvious “this is a game” metaphors in dialogue, a few characters knowingly acknowledge the existence of the player, as well as some inconsistencies with the game (“Our 3-D models look nothing like our character art!”). The
characters are all pretty oddball caricatures of video game template characters in a very off-putting way, spouting nonsense then preaching to you about how you shouldn’t be helping them. All of these things lead to a vibe of “Why are you playing this game? Go do something else!”, which, in hindsight, seems to fit Suda’s profile quite well.
All of these off-putting details, on top of some irksome mechanical things (exhaustive menu backtracking, the fact that it’s impossible to walk straight for too long, which means that you have to pay attention to what you’re doing on long stretches of walking), are made further frustrating by the fact that the game hints at some bigger mysteries, but never delivers. It has some interesting scenes here and there, but even when it goes off the deep end, the ending doesn’t really amount to anything. This could have perhaps been another intentional quirk, but it doesn’t make it any less maddening to know that all of your patience was met with little reward.
With as many problems as there are with the game, it’s hard to recommend it to anyone who isn’t already a huge fan of both adventure games and Suda 51, which is why it’s odd say that despite all the stuff it had me put up with, I ultimately enjoyed it. It has something of mischievous charm; I gritted my teeth through my frustration, but was eager to continue the game time and again. I became particularly attached to Sumio, not only because of his role as my avatar, but because his reactions to situations were pretty spot-on with mine.
Though the game has a purposefully confusing ending, the moments in which the mystery is being unraveled are all done with a perfect balance between revealing too much and avoiding progress, and for the most part, the individual days on the island are all very distinct scenarios, if a bit formulaic. It’s best to play the game in short bursts rather than longer stretches so that you don’t become too frustrated with either the story or the game itself.
If you choose to endure the game’s many problems you’ll likely be upset by the ending, but, as an experiment in storytelling game design almost from beginning to end, Flower, Sun and Rain may be a case where the ride is more important than the destination.