I doubt publisher NIS America foresaw the very specific moment we would all be in as a people when they planned to release the English localization of the previous Japanese exclusive adventure game, Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories, in 2020. It’s the latest sequel in a series that, here in the United States, has sort of an identity crisis with some entries under completely different names and others never getting localized. I certainly did not know how different day-to-day life would be a couple of weeks after requesting to cover it, as soon every major country would be fighting against the pandemic threat of the COVID-19 virus. Spending some time with Summer Memories these past few weeks, it has been challenging not regularly making connections to the real world crisis we’re currently living through.
Summer Memories has you playing as a created character who came to the big city for a job interview, but they soon find themselves desperately trying to escape it, as the city has been thrown into chaos following a destructive earthquake. As you push forward and collect necessary supplies, you will run into various characters who are also picking up the pieces in the aftermath. Summer Memories is very much an adventure game, as you will spend your time in the game exploring areas, finding key objects, and backtracking. While you do need to manage your hunger and other light survival mechanics, this isn’t really the focus. There’s no combat or a main objective apart from pushing forward to survive. I found it reminiscent of early survival horror games, but you know, without the survival horror. What it does have, is a sense of optimism.
There is a B-tier movie energy about Summer Memories, a coating of cheese, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. This not only presents itself in the game’s visible production value—which may not have been the highest and that’s totally fine because I would argue we need more games in the middle—but also its peculiar writing that often finds a way to inject levity into the situation. Yes, you are rescuing people being crushed by fallen debris, but you are also putting on a full chef’s outfit while talking to someone who is maybe having trouble taking care of their business in a bathroom. Two very different and distinct tones.
The game’s cast of non-playable characters that you will run into vary from the very grounded to the colorfully eccentric. The way you choose to interact or assist the characters you meet will progress the game and net you either negative or positive karma. You may think that this moral system would color in how the rest of your character’s story plays out, but really it’s just here mostly as aesthetic. It’s here to solely paint a picture of your character, which I was totally fine with. When asked to respond to a character you can choose from a handful of responses that vary from being kind, rude, funny or even horny. Given that solidarity has very much been on my mind as of late, I had a hard time even considering any other response that was not the kindest one possible. But the fact that even in a moment of crisis you can choose to put the moves on someone, then hilariously fail, also reflects the game’s sense of humor.
While this could also be read as tone deaf given this is a game about a natural disaster, I found it uplifting, especially given the current state of things. I choose to believe that developer Granzella wanted to make a game about a moment of serious crisis, but also wanted to inject a sense of humor into it to reflect that sense hope people need during such desperate times. Granzella after all is a developer residing in Japan, a country that has come together and survived many natural disasters, so I would trust their perspective on the subject. Playing their game has actually given me some light comfort.
Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories is an interesting game in many respects. It’s interesting that this modest game that was originally released in 2018 in Japan, from a cult favorite series that has had sporadic localizations under various different publishers, is finally getting a wider release two years later. It’s interesting from a design perspective as it is reminiscent of early 3D adventure games and even some survival horror games. But it’s certainly most interesting that it has re-emerged during this worldwide crisis. Which is ultimately why I continue to find myself drawn to it. I just find it sort of fascinating and comforting. I say all of this from a fortunate and sort of privileged position. As I live in the middle of the United States, where the virus is present but has not claimed many, and am able to work from home as well as have the time to play video games. In these weird times, I’m glad I have a strange game like Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories to spend time with.
This game was provided by a PR representative of the game and played on a retail PlayStation 4 Pro.