There’s been nothing but grey skies and rain all day for weeks now, and tomorrow the forecast says that it’ll be even colder. Fortunately, there’s one place where the sun’s always shining...
Boku no Natsuyasumi 4 (‘My Summer Holiday 4’) is the most recent entry in Sony’s popular retro holiday simulator, all of which have remained exclusive to the platform holder’s native Japan – something of a surprise considering the series started life on the original PlayStation, a format famed for hosting unlikely translations of niche titles such as Vib-Ribbon and Bishi Bashi Special. The game takes place in 1985 and your mission is a simple one: ensure that Boku has the best holiday that a young boy possibly can.
Apart from breakfast, tea, and a compulsory bed-time of 23:00PM, the protagonist’s free to walk, swim, and explore the small islands around his uncle’s home, doing as much or as little as he likes. There’s no “correct” way to play and no punishment for not taking up particular hobbies: Boku can spend all of August fishing, or catching butterflies, or challenging his holiday friends to beetle battles if he wishes. There’s even a fully-functional Qix arcade machine just outside the local shop, and the infant can earn a bit of pocket money to spend on it if he returns any empty glass bottles that he finds while he’s out exploring.
Little details like mismatched dining tables and messy bedrooms lend Boku no Natsuyasumi 4 a homely charm that feels genuine
It would be easy for these hobbies to feel like pointless busywork if they did nothing more than add to Boku’s bug catalogue or increase his biggest fish record, but everything leads into something else. For example, certain fish can be given to the protagonist’s aunt and cooked for tea, captured insects will be detailed in the hero’s sketchbook, and the treasure map mentioned in the title’s rather lengthy full name, Boku no Natsuyasumi 4: Setouchi Boys Detective Team: Boku and the Map’s Secret, does eventually lead the protagonist and his friends to some real hidden treasure – if he can find all of the pieces, that is. Even more routine tasks such as brushing the star’s teeth have their own rewards, and as they’re as completely optional as everything else, a day can be as straight-forward or as random as you desire.
There’s far more to the game than merely collecting things and scrubbing the protagonist’s pearly whites, though, as Boku’s extended family members and associates add a layer of warmth to the experience that would otherwise be missing. Getting dragged home for tea. Chatting with ‘Ultra’, the family dog. Even catching Boku’s aunt having a crafty ice lolly in the kitchen when she thinks that nobody’s looking. These events could easily be sickeningly sweet and false, but the world crafted here is “authentically imperfect”; little details like mismatched dining tables and messy bedrooms lend the title a homely charm that feels genuine. Even the character’s older self – the game is technically a flashback – will often leap in to comment on the feelings that he had at specific times, his calmer older voice in stark contrast to his endlessly chirpy younger alter ego.
But just how nostalgic can you be for a holiday that you’ve never had in a country that you’ve never been to? As it turns out, quite a lot. Irrespective of the specifics, lifting up bricks to look for creepy-crawlies and running around in the sunshine all day are activities that most people can relate to – the only difference here is that Boku’s summer is crystallised on UMD forever, just waiting to fill your ears with the sound of dusk insects and waves even on the coldest winter nights.
Furthermore, the release is relatively import friendly, as most of Boku’s activities are physical ones and the menus use a lot of visual guides. Of course, those that can’t speak or read Japanese will miss out on a lot of the wonderful conversations and social interactions – but the game is so unique and has so little chance of being released outside of Japan that the overall gains far outweigh any potential setbacks.
Have you added Boku no Natsuyasumi 4 to your localisation wishlist? Are you a fan of the franchise despite it never setting foot outside of its native Japan? Soak up the sun in the comments section below.