January 27th, 2006 | PlayStation 2 | Review
Bokura no Kazoku
Longer than a summer vacation, but not quite as exhilarating. So it goes when a developer steps away from a genre they knew best.

BY MILLENIUM KITCHEN & SONY, 2005

25 WORDS OR LESS:
Live the life of a married couple in today’s Tokyo and raise a collection of kids as big as your comfort level.

Until one day when the lady met this fellow

Some say that change is good, but in the game business that needs to be proven repeatedly. Change can manifest itself in a variety of ways, and with them a variety of minute aspects.

For Millennium Kitchen, makers of the Boku no Natsuyasumi vacation adventures, change was considered, deliberated and eventually worked on for almost three years. The result was not a predictable “Boku” sequel, but rather their own take on another familiar genre — familiar in the West, at least, but unseen as a homegrown Japanese production for some time. Enter Bokura no Kazoku (Our Family), Millennium Kitchen’s family-raising adventure.

“Bokura” gives us what is, at first glance, a Japanese console take on The Sims, although in reality it’s devoid of most of the micromanagement and instead bears a focus on raising children. The game puts you in the shoes of a newlywed couple in their 30s, living on their own in Koenji, the residential district of Tokyo that’s a hop, skip and a jump away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. It’s there where the couple settles in together and soon enough begets their first child. From there on, the game follows the next 35 years of the family’s life. Reams of photographs were taken of the area and turned into beautiful digital paintings to become the game’s backgrounds; now a staple of the series. This “slightly less than real” look helps give Mineko Ueda’s simplistic character designs a somewhat more familiar environment to live in.

The game’s shift to adulthood could be considered the “reality check” sequel to Boku no Natsuyasumi: those games were all about 30-something men reveling in the sweet memories of youth, and now they come back from their daydreams to adulthood and the responsibility of marriage and family planning. Creator Kaz Ayabe is at the end of his 30s with wife and child, so perhaps it’s a bit of a reflection.

However, it’s safe to say his family may not become as big as the one in the game. Multiple playthroughs are expected in Bokura, yielding three different scenarios where the number of kids that come into the family grows in each one, resulting in eight total — four boys, four girls. You can name them yourself, but each is given a family nickname by the parents (presumably to make it easier on the voice actors). First there’s the boys: Mokku, Genkotsu, Jiji and Pantsu, followed by the girls: Kyoro, Puu, Cocco and Nya. Though their lives and careers can be “tuned” throughout the game, they still hold the same core personalities. Cocco will always be the high-maintenance fashion-forward type and Pantsu will never lose his shaggy hair, for example. Not to mention there’s also a handful of supporting characters that come in contact with the family, including a future love that each child will meet at certain points in the story, and towards the end get married and have a family of their own.

Keeping track of your kids for 35 years doesn’t sound easy, but in the game this comes from simply deciding between moral micro-paths within the given year. Which school should they go to? Do you encourage them to maintain their hobby in hopes it becomes their career, or suggest they work at Freshness Burger for the time being? Spending your “family” money wisely on these turning points — or even daily events like going to the zoo — is what makes up most of your involvement in Bokura. You can always go a different way, of course, and have one or more of the kids turn out like a rabid otaku or rebellious punk.

Unfortunately, the hands-off approach doesn’t accomplish much as a game. You can’t take one of the kids and run around town like you could in the forest paths of Boku no Natsuyasumi, nor is there much cohesion to the storyline due to the branching cutscenes, resulting in brief patches of dialogue without any drama until it all just ends. Again, success depends on the choices you select, keeping the kids out of depression by monitoring their status (a frequent report complete with charts and status pictures) and towards a fulfilling life just like the parents’.

Like child rearing, change can be good with the right plan of action. However, a few too many missteps can spell doom. Bokura no Kazoku is no Boku no Natsuyasumi, and simply doesn’t leave the same lasting impression. It’s nice to see a quaint developer like Millennium Kitchen going for something more different in their third outing, but in the future, sticking with tradition might benefit them so much more. Ray Barnholt

Information

Official page
Millennium Kitchen
PlayStation.jp

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