Disclaimer: expect spoilers. If you trust my opinion in anyway, buy Rakuen, play the game. One of the better experiences I had this year and game that now holds a very special place in my heart.
It’s about 1:30 in the morning. I’m here at work, doing the tasks at hand. But as I play the scenes in my mind, as the sound track plays in the background, I can’t stop sobbing. I can’t stop crying. I can’t get this game out of my mind.
While every game is judged on its own, there is a common requirement I have for a story driven game: If by the end of the game I care about the little pixels on screen, if I feel happiness and sadness with things that my rational brain knows aren’t there, I know I’ve played a very special game. A game that will stick with me years later, when the soundtrack comes up in a random music shuffle. A game that my active mind will drift back to at any given point.
Rakuen is that kind of game in ways I wasn’t expecting. I wasn’t expecting to sob, not cry or tear up, but sobbing like I just lost a family member. Like I lost my best friend. Hell, I’m crying writing this thought down.
Every single story hit me in a way I didn’t think was possible. Stories that didn’t shy away from pretty crazy topics. Topics that normally would have been sanded away in a Triple A game for fear of rubbing someone the wrong way. Each one made me smile, made me laugh, and made me cry. It’s an emotional roller coaster I couldn’t put down. Maybe I’m predisposed to this sort of game. I don’t mind expressing emotions and I sure as hell don’t mind crying when it comes to my games, but it takes a very specific type of game to get me to where Rakuen took me.
It’s weird my relationship with hospitals. It’s always been a place of eerie comfort. My father is a doctor so hospitals are sort of like my second home. That sterile air, white interiors, and even the cafeterias bring a feeling of familiarity that I’m pretty sure doesn’t happen to most people when they think of hospitals. I can remember growing up visiting my dad’s office, using the hospital computer, and noticing the things from home he brought to decorate. The one thing that always sticks out was a Super Mario Brother 2 glass, painted with shy guys, Mario, and Wart. It was always there. I realize as I write this now that maybe that was my fathers way of having a piece of me always in the room, something that when it was late at night and he is finishing reports that would bring a smile to his face. It wasn’t like he played games, that was my thing. Maybe that’s why this game hit me way harder than I thought. Maybe it was the personal connection with that place. Maybe it was relating to the boy and his mom as they explored the hospital and the hidden rooms that reminded me of my dad taking me through back doors, hallways, and stairwells to get to various places in the hospital.
To put a pin in this quick thought I’ll close with this: When some one asks me what can video games do or if a video game can be Art, I’m going to point them to Rakuen. I’ll tell them the story of Morizora, the war between the bad and rad shrooms, and future hip hop legend Lil Budz. I’ll introduce them to the land of the Leebles, the Monsieur’s tea, and the amazing band that is No Holds Bard. I’m gong to explain the hardships of Winston, the marble worlds of young Sue, and the tale of a boy and his Mom at the end. A tale that is every bit as magical as a Ghibli or Pixar movie and just as emotional. A tale that made me cry like I haven’t cried in years. And if after all that they still can’t wrap their head around the idea that games can be Art, then nothing will. Rakuen is a work of Art and I’m glad Laura Shigihara decided to share that with the world.