In Replay, we take another look at handheld and mobile games that have defined genres and pushed boundaries. This week, Peter Willington takes a holiday on the mysterious island of Lospass.
If you haven't played Flower, Sun and Rain: Neverending Paradise, there's only one thing you need to know: it's the brainchild of Goichi Suda, creator of off-the-wall cult classics like Killer7 and No More Heroes.
If you haven't played Flower, Sun and Rain: Neverending Paradise, there's only one thing you need to know: this feature on Pocket Gamer will contain a few spoilers.
If you haven't played Flower, Sun and Rain: Neverending Paradise, there's only one thing you need to know: it's a game that repeats itself, with a few minor changes in each iteration, constantly.
Repetition, repetition, repetition
In Flower, Sun and Rain: Neverending Paradise (from this point forward, we'll refer to it simply as FS&R: NP), we are introduced to the island of Lospass, the titular hotel upon it, the strange guests that reside within it, and a mystery spanning its entire length and breadth.
It opens with the arrival of Sumio Mondo, a man whose job is to "find things". We're told that we must seek out and defuse a bomb on a plane at the island's only airport.
Sumio is continually sidetracked by seemingly irrelevant requests and tasks from the populace, and he fails his objective. He watches the explosives on the aeroplane detonate as it flies overhead.
The game then cuts to the next day, with Sumio waking up in his hotel room. He rises, dresses, sips at his coffee. It's a process countless millions across this planet repeat every single day, but in the world of FS&R: NP the protagonist will do this again and again on the exact same day - Groundhog Day style.
Each morning, he will get ever closer to his objective. Each morning, he will fail. He's destined to be distracted by the petty squabbles of hotel guests or tasked with solving a problem that blocks his path. That's a struggle we can all relate to: our attempts to do something meaningful are almost always held back by the mundanity of everyday life.
This is partly what Suda is exploring: the mediocrity of life (even in a beautiful island paradise), and how we all desire to fight against it.
Expand your horizons
However, as the area to which Sumio can gain access expands, Suda displays his greatest achievement. He demonstrates the power that movement can have in affecting the way we experience a game.
When you are constrained to wandering about the Flower, Sun and Rain hotel, you yearn to leave and see more of Lospass island. When you are forced to walk to a location on the other side of the island, the long trudge there and back has you aching for the wallpapered corridors you know so well.
But, the backtracking and slow movement hammer home just how tangible this place can feel. As you traipse across the same totally empty stretch of road by the beach for the ninth time, waves of intense familiarity wash over you.
By the end of the game, when you're given instructions to head to a specific area, you will never become lost - you will always know just how long it will take to get there.
And to ensure you're always paying attention, soaking up as much from your travels as possible, Suda pulls off a stunning trick that critics initially dismissed as a fundamental problem: a shoddy camera. You fight to keep Sumio - and, later, other playable characters - framed at times, often running into walls because of it.
You have to remain focused on the slow, methodical, and (arguably) tedious task at hand, and in doing so you see Lospass from every angle. You begin to ascertain where its landmarks are and their relationship to one another when seen from a distance. You have a sense of place, a sense of time, a sense of atmosphere - something very few games pull off.
As with every game by Suda 51, there's more that can be said about FS&R: NP, more subtleties lying beneath those detailed here.
However, if you haven't played FS&R: NP and are thinking of starting, there's only one thing you need to know: you should.