by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
In Alan Moore’s famous graphic novel The Killing Joke, the Joker famously quips, “All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy.” But what about the opposite? Can one great day, a day filled with introspection, action, and understanding, rekindle the flames of life and passion in someone for whom they’re about to burn out? This is the central question of developer GameTomo Team’s 2.5d narrative adventure game Sumire, an experience that uses simple gameplay mechanics to explore surprisingly mature issues and themes.
As the game opens, the titular Sumire, a young girl living in a small Japanese village, is feeling pretty close to rock bottom. Her grandmother, with whom she was extremely close, has died. Her father “went into town” and never came back, leaving her mother an emotionally empty shell. She doesn’t have the courage to speak up to her crush, who is about to be moving away. Her former best friend has moved on to a new social circle and become quite the bully. It’s obviously a tough spot for a young girl, and, predictably, Sumire has largely given up hope that things are going to be getting better any time soon. Luckily for her, magic is in the air, and a mysterious talking flower appears in her living room with a simple request. If Sumire picks it and shows it a wonderful day, the flower will let Sumire see her grandmother one more time. Sumire agrees, of course, and, at the request of the flower, creates a list of everything that she wants to accomplish and sets out to make it happen before the sun sets and the flower must return to the mystic realm from which it game. The game’s fairy-tale atmosphere is aided by lovely watercolor-style visuals and calming guitar background music tracks. The colorful, somewhat-washed look fits with the magical story and adolescent narrative perspective, and each area is rich with detail. Character movement animations are a bit awkwardly stiff, but those are a small mar on what is otherwise a beautifully presented game.
For the duration of the game, Sumire takes the player on a relatively short, relatively linear journey to check off tasks like “feel love” and “visit the special place” from Sumire’s list. Throughout her day, she’ll also meet a number of other characters (both human and not) with task requests of their own for Sumire to complete. As they’re prone to be, the tasks of both Sumire and those around her are all easier said than done, and, to complete each, Sumire must face hard truths about herself, her past, her future, and her view of the world around her. From a gameplay perspective there’s nothing terribly complex going on. The game is divided into a handful of main areas (Sumire’s house, the park, a magical tree, etc.) that are mostly interconnected, and the player will have to bounce back and forth between them to find objects, talk to people, and make decisions about how to move forward with the tasks at hand. Some small level of additional complexity is added by a coin economy and some time-sensitive quests, but these complications are never demanding and will only likely be an issue if the player wants them to be. Some mini games are also peppered throughout, ranging from a “red light, green light” style movement game to a fairly fun mini trading card game. Each one only pops up once, and I found them to be interesting little diversions that never overstayed their welcome.
As Sumire works her way through her list, the game explores some fairly mature and potentially dark themes. Abuse, murder, betrayal, loneliness, and death are all present to some degree, and I was pleasantly surprised that, in general, they were handled with a relatively appropriate amount of nuance and weight. There are a few pieces of the game, such as the story behind a spooky house in town, that seemed to stick out a bit as less deftly handled, but I found the interpersonal relationships to be mostly realistic and affecting. Not all of Sumire’s experiences are on rails, though. Throughout the game, players are regularly given choices that feed into a good/bad karma system. The karmic alignment of the decisions find themselves all over the spectrum from subtle to on-the-nose, but the decisions themselves are often compelling enough that I did find myself wanting to stay consistently on one side or the other like I normally end up doing in games with systems like this. As expected, not all of the decisions seem to make huge differences, but plenty do. While the game only took me about 2.5 hours to complete, these decisions do encourage multiple playthroughs, though subsequent plays won’t be able to recreate the emotional response the first playthrough does.
My only real complaint with the dialogue and decision making in Sumire is that some potentially huge decisions were never brought up by anyone else and didn’t seem to have an outward effect on the story beyond shifting my karma a bit. For example (and skip to the end of this paragraph if you’d like to avoid a mid-story spoiler), at one point there were three girls whose souls were trapped in an alternate world, and I had to choose whether to save them or let their souls rot. I saved two, but I let the other, a particularly nasty bully, rot. It was an intense scene; her body became overgrown with mushrooms until she became nothing but fungus food. After I went back to the real word, neither of the other girls (or anyone else), ever asked about her, and I never faced any follow up or direct consequence for what was by far the most morally reprehensible thing that happened during the game. It was an odd narrative omission, but choices like these were in the minority, with most playing out with some level of direct cause and effect.
Sumire is a short, straightforward game that knows what it wants to do and doesn’t weigh itself down with fluff or filler. While those looking for more involved or complicated gameplay mechanics will want to look elsewhere, Sumire rewards those interested in a more relaxed experience with an emotional, well-written game that’s not afraid to approach emotionally mature subject matter.
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Occasional mini games add some variety to gameplay, complex themes are generally handled well, painterly visuals look great
Some animations are stiff, some decisions don’t seem to have noticeable consequences