I’ll admit I took this Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories for review without knowing much, or really anything, about the actual franchise. I only knew the very premise, “try to survive in a city that has had a disaster.” and that the series got derailed in 2011 due to the Tsunami that hit Japan. Well, it’s finally out in the West after a 9-year wait and the results are decidedly mixed, to say the least.
Review: Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories
Title: Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories
Platform: Playstation 4 [Reviewed], PC, Nintendo Switch,
Genre: Action Adventure, Visual Novel
Developer: Granzella Inc.
Publisher: NIS America
Release Date: November 22, 2018 (PS4 Japan), September 26, 2019 (Nintendo Switch Japan), April 7, 2020 (Global)
I also took this game for review because of my experience with the Yakuza series, as I’ve reviewed the past four releases. The Yakuza franchise had been around since the PlayStation 2, same as this one, and only about a half-step above it in popularity. Yakuza finally broke through in the west with Yakuza 0. Thus, showing the mainstream audience what the Yakuza games could offer while bringing a lot of attention and prestige with it.
While I think Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories is a generally substandard game, I expect its fans will still love it. Although, I highly suspect most of those people are Visual Novel fans. If your favorite game is Steins;Gate or the Danganronpa series, you may find a lot to love in Disaster Report 4; despite it looking like an action game, it’s almost a pure visual novel instead.
The story is, interesting, you could say. Imagine a SWERY game with many characters but no personality or uniqueness. That’s what you have here. The characters are mostly bland and uninteresting and it’s an absolute chore to bother or care about them at all.
The actual story beings with You on a bus. An earthquake hits, causing major damage to the city and then you try to escape. Along the way, you’ll meet various characters like a nervous teacher, a somewhat frantic I.T. manager, a fashion designer, or even somewhat creepy cult members. A few of them do have good stories though.
There really isn’t a lot to talk about when it comes to the gameplay. You can move around or run if you want. You can press a button to shout (or yell), and you can press a button to crouch and crawl around. And that’s about it. There are other buttons to confirm or cancel, and to open your inventory as well.
I would say you’ll want to run through the environments at all times because walking normally is very slow. The second any shaking starts, you immediately hit the crouch button and hold it until the shaking stops. This prevents you from stumbling around or taking damage from a concussion wave from a falling building.
Also, almost every area is a four-way intersection that is blocked off from every exit. You stumble around the environment until you find the right NPC, which triggers the next mission. You complete the mission and then magically find an exit to go to the next screen. Rinse and repeat.
Honestly, the missions you have to complete are not great. For example, at the start of the game, there is a mission to find toilet paper for someone who is locked in a convenience store bathroom. How’s that for irony. You find the clerk, he is freaking out and wants the store to get empty. So you have to don a clerk outfit and check some people out, either by selling products at the usual cost or price-gouging and taking the money for yourself. After this, the clerk tells you where the spare toilet paper is, you find a roll, give it to the guy, and he is able to complete his mission by taking a dump. In the realm of a disaster hitting an area and you helping out, this mission actually fits fairly well into this framework.
However, other missions such as: trying to save the I.T. guy’s company, bringing and indoctrinating new members into a cult or helping a guy get random things since he is stuck in a flooded apartment complex do little to actually move the plot forward. This just amounts to randomly doing stuff until you are allowed to proceed to the next area. It kind of feels like an old adventure game where, to progress to the next screen, you have to do some pointless busywork to get a MacGuffin to actually progress. This was alright in 1996, not so much in 2020. Also, some missions are tied to truly awful gameplay, like the boat mechanics in the apartment complex, or a very bad stealth sequence when you are kidnapped in a subway. Both leading to extremely tedious gameplay.
One incredibly odd thing in the game is your pack and compass. The actual inventory is pretty straightforward. There are a certain amount of slots in your bag and you can find other bags that have more spaces in them to hold more items. Most of the stuff you actually find amounts to clothing options or food and water. The clothing is generally optional, but having spare food or water to satisfy the hunger/thirst system makes sense for the setting.
However, the compass stuff doesn’t make sense at all. At the start of the game, you have a very basic compass that tells your available directions in relation to where you are. You quickly find another compass, and then another. Over the course of the game, I found at least a dozen different compasses, and I’m sure there’s over a hundred more I didn’t find or care to pick up. What do these additional compasses do for you? NOTHING! They are merely just cosmetic. Do you want your compass to look like a ballerina, a frog, or a train set? You’re in luck because this game has them.
Quite frankly, I cannot even fathom why this system is even in the game. Do people actually care about what a compass looks like? Maybe if the alternate compasses actually did something useful, like point out where you should go or who you should talk to, it would make them worthwhile. But, they don’t. All they are is incredibly pointless cosmetic items, even more so than the clothes, that serve no gameplay point at all.
Wheel of Morality, turn turn turn
So, there is a morality system in the game that does absolutely nothing. You can be a huge jerk to people and get Immoral points (vs. Moral ones) but it does nothing tangible. It’s not as if you ever meet some evil guy, and he will be more helpful if you are also evil. In fact, there’s not even a status screen telling you how moral or immoral you are. Most games that have a morality system tend to have something similar to that.
Lack of Choice
The most befuddling thing about the game is just how linear it is. There’s literally no choice in the story. The game presents the illusion of choice but even that doesn’t matter. So this is a far cry from say Mass Effect, which gives you a situation and you can usually pick a good, neutral or evil choice. Also included in Mass Effect is actual gameplay like shooting bad guys or trying to solve a puzzle. However, Disaster Report 4 is missing that gameplay entirely. All that happens is you talk to someone, then walk around until an icon appears to talk to someone else. The only actual action gameplay available is bracing yourself when the ground starts to shake.
Disaster Report 4 also won’t win any technical awards. It still very much looks like the PlayStation 3 game it started out as, with its textures and bad framerate during certain animations. Expect the framerate to drop like a stone if you are close to a building falling down; I’m talking like 10 frames-per-second during the animation.
Also, NPC behavior is mostly bad as well. One of the earliest quests in the game is crawling through a partially collapsed building. You eventually discover a survivor in there and your goal becomes to lead her out. The problem is, the building has two different staircases and the NPC got continually hung up on going down the wrong one. She was literally spinning around in place like a top and wouldn’t move. I couldn’t push her, because you just clip through people. After five minutes of wondering what to do, I just exited the building myself, only to have her magically appear behind me during a crawling section. Yeesh.
Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories is a great example of a game that has a nice concept behind it, but simply fails in execution. If there were any stakes, combat, or momentum, the game would be much better. Instead, you just wander around some bland environments, hoping to finally stumble upon the next thing that will lurch the story forward. If you want to play a visual novel game where you can awkwardly move around a character, then this game is for you. Other than that though, I can’t see anyone else actually enjoying this game much.