The Kids We Were Review: A Sweet, Heartwarming Time Travel Adventure – Rock Paper Shotgun | Dauktion

Back in the fog of 2013, a bunch of Japanese developers got together to create a series of short 3DS games called the Guild series. Led by Ni No Kuni creators Level-5, it had some pretty notable contributors: Keiji Inafune, Goichi Suda, Yoot Saito, and Yasumi Matsuno among others. But there was one game that stood out to me as something very special. It was the much lesser known Attack of the Friday Monsters of Millennium Kitchen, a sweet slice of life adventure that saw you as ten-year-old Sohta walking the streets of his small Tokyo suburb on a hazy summer afternoon in 1971. It was a tender celebration of childhood nostalgia and fantasy, with just a hint of menacing undertones, both from the people Sohta meets in his neighborhood and the eponymous Friday Kaiju monsters that may exist in the real world or not.

I mention all of this because The Kids We Were is probably the only game I’ve played since that has even remotely captured some of the magic of Attack Of The Friday Monsters. You won’t find any kaiju here, but this is a similarly nostalgic portrait of pastoral Tokyo, seen through the eyes of young Minato on his summer vacations, first in the present and then in the 1980s, when he finally travels back in time to the future, when his parents first met as children. With three days to correct past mistakes, this is one of those gentle coming-of-age stories that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy in all the right places, even when there’s no actual “game” to speak of.

Like Friday Monsters, The Kids We Were is more of an interactive 3D visual novel than anything else. I wouldn’t even call it an adventure game in the traditional sense, since your main goal for its six-hour runtime is to simply move Minato from one story beat to the next, soaking up his cutscenes and dialogue. There are secret coins that you can locate if you search for them, but their sole purpose is to purchase dozens of collectible retro capsule toys that you can view from the in-game menu. Developers Gagex even say outright that their inclusion is simply a means for them to share their collective nostalgia for Showa-era paraphernalia, with their admittedly quite delightful flavor text often breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to the player.

A small voxel child stands on an old Japanese street in The Kids We Were

I know I say this a lot, but the sky in The Kids We Were has a lot of Makoto Shinkai energy.

A screen describing seasoned seaweed in The Kids We Were

The descriptions of the capsule toys are actually quite nice.

Apparently, Minato’s main purpose for time travel is to solve the seven local mysteries of the sleepy town of Kagami, the solution of which is said to reunite his broken family in the present, save his father and sister from an untimely death, and generally make everything hunky again- dory. The mysteries themselves are classic kids’ detective club stuff. There’s a haunted train, a ghost in the bathhouse, a monster in the school pool, a weird smiling woman who fetches naughty kids after dark… These are the kind of rumors that have made for perfect summer vacation fodder in books, anime, and children’s films for years.

And as with many local folk tales, any tentative reference to the supernatural usually turns out to be quite commonplace. That’s not to say the mysteries here are unsatisfying. In fact, the truth behind many of them is surprisingly moving, touching on heavy subjects such as domestic violence, bullying and alcoholism with a deft and sensitive screenplay that, most importantly, still knows how to tell a good joke when the situation calls for it.

Unfortunately, the process of actually untangling fact and fiction in The Kids We Were is more restrained overall. Rather than searching for clues and clues on your own, tackle each puzzle when the story is good and ready. You don’t solve these mysteries so much as the game tells you the answer, and this is where I felt my inner intuition begin to rub slightly at the top. I don’t expect the freedom of an Obra Dinn or an Outer Wilds – this is a mobile game after all – but a kind of puzzle, any Puzzle would not have been wrong here.

An old man asks two young children to bring him some alcohol outside a supermarket in The Kids We Were

Sure sir…

The town itself doesn’t have the same sense of place as Friday Monsters either. Kagami’s voxel temples, shops, and bathhouses are all pretty and pleasing to the eye, as are the colorful sunsets and starry night skies, but they also lack the nooks and crannies, alleyways, and side streets to really make it come alive when you’re between swing back and forth with the goals. Another sensible hangover from the start of mobile life, but after a few hours I was walking around more or less on autopilot. In search of insidiously hidden coins, I occasionally smashed into walls and objects to quickly search for pixels, but the appeal of those blocky streets quickly faded as the game progressed.

Still, when the story is so serious, it feels dour to berate it too harshly. Its heart is in the right place, and if anything, I wish there were more slice-of-life games like this one. Many games start domestically, but they often leave it behind in favor of something more spectacular and fantastic. I want more games like The Kids We Were that have the confidence to focus on the monotonous rhythms of everyday life and evoke the same feelings as the films by Makoto Shinkai, Mamoru Hosoda and Hirokazu Kore-eda and the novels by Shion Miura and Hiromi Kawakami (and if these games really exist, please tell me about them. I want to consume them and absorb them into my consciousness as soon as possible). They might not feel like the games we’re used to, but I’m glad they’re there anyway.

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