I am endlessly fascinated by the romanticisation of the Japanese countryside. The delightful magic-realism that portrays it as this boundless expanse of wind-washed fields, furry monsters and sleepy suburbs home to some of the best coming of age stories, is a great comfort to me. I love immersing myself in the forever sun-soaked worlds of childlike wonder if only to escape from the crushing disappointment of adulthood. The Kids We Were embraces this enchanting sense of magic-realism and offers one of the most compelling mystery adventure experiences I’ve had the pleasure of playing.
“Unsurprisingly, the writing in The Kids We Were is masterfully done.”
It is fair to say that you won’t be doing all that much in The Kids We Were. Rather, for the majority of your experience, you’ll be swept along through the central narrative with small distractions keeping you busy along the way. Frankly, I found this to be a refreshing diversion from some of the more open-ended experiences I’ve had lately. It ensured that for the most part my focus was on the expert writing and thoroughly enjoyable characters.
The Kids We Were tackles themes of loss, death, grief and how it all ties back to family in a genuine and heartfelt way that was reminiscent of the 1988 classic Grave of the Fireflies. While it isn’t ever as heavy as that film, it rarely shies away from its challenging themes. Instead, it expertly grounds it and contextualises it through the use of magic realism. The game’s more science fiction elements allow the writers to beautifully address what would otherwise be depressingly bleak issues.
Unsurprisingly, the writing in The Kids We Were is masterfully done. It is a phenomenal showcase of not only how to write from a childlike perspective, but also how to deal with such emotional topics succinctly and respectfully. It weaves humour, thought-provoking topics and moments of elation so gracefully that I found myself moved on more than one occasion.
“Each scene is framed in such a way that allows for long unbroken shots such as those found in traditional Japanese cinematography.”
Of course, The Kids We Were is a mystery adventure game, and as such frames all of its larger themes within the context of a time-travelling escapade. The various mysteries presented to you are all established and framed in an entertaining way. It ensures that you’re neither left in the dark nor dulled by the whole experience.
These mysteries combined with the game’s established excellent writing and overarching themes makes the entire experience incredibly thrilling. Additionally, it is clear that the developers understood that their limited visual style may be to the detriment of the game’s narrative. Each scene is framed in such a way that allows for long unbroken shots such as those found in traditional Japanese cinematography.
Furthermore, The Kids We Were’s soundtrack has enough range and tone to fulfil the emotional needs of each scene. The tracks for exploring the world take centre stage and are bouncy and uplifting in order to evoke a sense of exploration. On the other hand, tracks that play during more emotional scenes take a back seat are feel far more supplemental. This ensures that they don’t distract from the overall emotional resonance of a scene thus allowing the script to move you.
“The Kids We Were truly embodies the magic of those legendary Ghibli films and offers an experience unlike any other.”
Outside of the story, there isn’t all that much for you to do. You can explore every nook and cranny of the moderately sized town as well as converse with its residents. In doing so, you’ll unlock coins as well as collectables. These collectables are the highlight of the game, as they not only look incredible but also come with an endearing description.
While these distractions don’t offer much in terms of gameplay, they do allow the narrative to be at the forefront of the overall experience. It is fair to say, however, that The Kids We Were is an almost entirely story-driven game with little in terms of gameplay. If you were looking for something a little more substantial, you certainly won’t find it here.
However, I never found this to be a problem. Throughout the entirety of The Kids We Were I was gripped and found myself on the edge of my seat. Its narrative is as beautiful as it is compelling and its world is so brilliantly brought to life that I had a lot of fun immersing myself within it. The Kids We Were truly embodies the magic of those legendary Ghibli films and offers an experience unlike any other.
The Kids We Were is available right now on the Nintendo Switch.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on Switch, code was provided by the Publisher.