Boku no Natsuyasumi 2: Umi no Bouken Hen (The Sea Adventure Edition)
BY SONY & MILLENNIUM KITCHEN, 2002
25 WORDS OR LESS:
The vacation goes from countryside to waterside in this peninsula-based sequel.
"A sequel is an admission that you’ve been reduced to imitating yourself," wrote humorist Don Marquis. Though it rings true even today, sequels have always been a way of life in the game business. However, when a followup to Boku no Natsuyasumi became possible, it couldn’t have been harder for its makers to escape imitation. What else can you do with a game that was a unique spin on adventure games, the story of which was a singular nostalgic flashback? Quite a bit, as it turns out.
With the role of prepubescent hero Boku basically that of a vessel for the player, all the developers did was start over. Therefore, the point of Bokunatsu 2 is to pretend the original never happened. Our story again opens in August of 1975 and follows 9 year-old Boku through a month of fun and discovery away from home on his summer vacation. But instead of a faraway plot of country land, this time he’s in a faraway island town. Boku also finds he isn’t the only one away from school this summer, as he meets high schooler Yasuko on the ferry to the island. And instead of hanging with female cousins, Boku spends time with the brothers Takeshi and Shigeru (though the sisters return in the non-blood-related forms of Yasuko and her sister Hikari). The setup is the same, some characters look the same, hell, even some of the voice actors are the same. You might say it’s refreshingly familiar, in a tingly shampoo kind of way.
Though human interaction in the first game was limited to either your family or your handful of friends, in the sequel Boku rubs elbows with 18 different characters. This is made managable by putting Boku in the Akane House inn — a seaside bed and breakfast of sorts, run by the aunt and uncle with seperate living quarters for the family. A handful of guests find their way into the inn and Boku’s life during August: Yoshika, the guitar-strumming college girl; cheerful nurse Nagisa; Australian photojournalist Simon; brooding old man Taniguchi and others who contribute a bit of their lives to the game. Each one is diverse, but there’s as much contrast in Boku’s family, too. Older cousin Takeshi is a typical little tough guy like his dad, and his brother Shigeru is like a bag of microwave popcorn wanting to burst with energy.
Boku even gets caught up playing matchmaker to Yasuko and the other neighbor kid, Yoh. Their relationship slowly grows as summer goes on, but Yasuko’s vacation is bittersweet as she contends with the strained relationship with her mother and the fact she has to go back to school at the end of the month. That’s but one example of how the game tries to humanize itself, sending a message that it doesn’t have to always be about Boku’s daily shenanigans.
But those shenanigans can be worth it. Activities such as fishing, bug catching and beetle sumo return in Bokunatsu 2, as well as being able to remove Boku’s shirt at will in an attempt to get a summer tan. The seaside setting also allows Boku to go swimming in any nearby body of water. When this happens, the game shifts from its prerendered world to full 3D, presenting a simplified but still appealing undersea environment. Boku isn’t like other video game characters, however, as players must be watchful of an oxygen meter. The meter can be extended, strangely, through the collection of juice bottlecaps, but when it runs out for good Boku flops around and the screen fades out. He doesn’t drown, he’s just weathered; he wakes up back in the inn right after, surrounded by scared relatives. Swimming doesn’t serve a whole lot of purpose other than helping with fetch quests, but just like on land one may find a hidden area or two.
With the addition of more characters also comes more locations. No longer is Boku limited to one simple house: he can also tour Yasuko’s house, her grandpa’s clinic and Yoh’s model rocket workshop. Of course the inn itself is like a second house, with two kitchens and a handful of rooms to sneak into. The only odd point is that despite the island setting, there’s not much of a beach. In fact it makes the one in the first game seem enormous by comparison, though with all the other gorgeous scenes surrounding it, it’s a passable issue. There’s also just as many more bathrooms; the off-color controller shivering when Boku takes a whiz can now be experienced in multiple locations. That sort of thing had to have been a conscious decision.
Many improvements were made in Bokunatsu 2, but the theme carrying most of them is speed. The game is streamlined as much as possible, and it starts from the very beginning. In the first game, getting to the house and meeting your relatives took forever before you got inside, but here Boku’s off the boat and ready to roll in a couple of minutes, free to begin his summer romp. Buttons are also remapped, no longer needing to go through the sub-menu to use the bug net and such. If that weren’t enough, you also have the option of changing how fast time advances when walking into another screen, helpful for multiple playthroughs (and article writing).
Other improvements were made in the graphics. That’s obvious with the move to PS2 — higher res and a smoother framerate is on the docket here — but other touches, such as puddles rippling when Boku runs over them help flesh out otherwise stiff areas. Praise must once again be given to the background artists at KUSANAGI for creating another set of wonderfully striking areas, especially so on PS2. The visuals are also pretty competent in the 3D swimming sections, though you wouldn’t expect it. Sure, Boku is underwater and it doesn’t always look gorgeous, but buildings in the background look as detailed as they do in 2D and the hidden waterfall you can find is surrounded by lush greenery.
Once again the "real" mission behind the game is for Boku to catch and experience as many daily events he can throughout the 31 days and log it in his picture diary. Whereas previously a high number of events netted you one of five endings, Bokunatsu 2’s ending mostly remains the same, with the only change in the final diary entry he draws. We don’t get to see how Boku’s life ended up as a result of his trip, but that’s fine — he’s supposed to be the player, after all. Besides, the story is nicely wrapped up after one last sliver of drama, thus ending another summer vacation, and another great summer vacation game.
Aside from its unconventional story approach, Bokunatsu 2 remains a textbook sequel: more of the same, but better. On the bright side, that was enough to make it more popular and recognizeable than the original, though it seems that Millennium Kitchen is aware of possibly overdoing it: two summers after the fact, there’s no word of another sequel. Yet Sony seems adamant to continue the tradition, as Bokunatsu 2 will go into its third printing next month for an even lower price than it used to be. It’s one more item of evidence that imitation doesn’t have to be that bad after all. —Ray Barnholt