Reviewing a narrative adventure without ruining any of the story is always a hefty challenge, and while I’ll do my best to avoid any major plot points, there may be some minor spoilers for The Kids We Were below.
In fact, ‘narrative adventure’ is a good place to begin, because this game is all about the storytelling. The tale takes place in Kagami, a small town in rural Japan, and you’re a young boy called Minato, out for the day with your mum and younger sister. Almost immediately things start to get a bit gloomy, and within an hour you’re wide awake to the fact that this cute little walkabout is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
When Minato discovers a notebook containing ‘The Seven Mysteries’ the stage is set, and what follows is a journey containing everything from a classic ‘whodunnit’, to butterfly-effect time travel dilemmas, man-hunts, rescues, and the urgent task of supplying a local drunk with some half-chewed jerky and a bottle of mirin. Where TKWW stands apart from other linear, playable stories is how confidently it addresses some seriously dark topics, and how intelligently it navigates them.
Minato’s story is about family and friendship, it’s about individuality and collectivism, life and death, pain and resilience. He and his gang encounter sickness, divorce, neglect, debt, religion, and the abuse of women, children and substances. It is heavy, but by some miracle beyond the bright colours and voxel characters, it feels hopeful too. It’s not an especially new idea and nor is the execution perfect, but at times it hits you right in the feels.
And that’s pretty remarkable, right? It’s just a (very capably) ported mobile game, in which you—a Pokémon trainer-lookin’ little wannabe detective—plod around a town that looks like it was built by a particularly talented Minecrafter, and yet, it is so compelling. Kagami is a small world but a believable one, full of charm, littered with collectibles that add depth to the flavour of Showa-era Japan, and finished off with nostalgic visuals and audio.
TKWW shouldn’t be as powerful as it is, but the combination of good writing, great character-building, and exceptional attention to detail create a genuinely unique package.
Like a tiny Shenmue with a sting in its tail, this game is gripping because of how well it immerses you, and how much it makes you care.
Crafting an enjoyable, impactful experience from a bunch of coloured cubes and a long line of ‘speak to them’ and ‘fetch that’ quests is praiseworthy, and this version (with collectibles and a bonus chapter added since 2020’s mobile release) is undoubtedly the best way to play it. I suggest you do.
Thanks to Shigeru at Gagex for the review code.