Playing Go Go Nippon! ~ My First Trip to Japan ~, one can't help but wonder:
"Just who is this game for?"
Is it for the Japan-fan about to embark on his virgin visit to the Land of the Rising Sun? Is it for the experienced otaku aficionado looking out for the next big bishoujo game? Or is it for the curious outsider looking for an "in" to the world of visual novels?
In a way, it's for all of the above. The problem there is that it can't really satisfy - not entirely - any of the above. At least, not without a some expectation-temperance.
It's a good thing that that's what this review is for, eh? Read on to get your expectations tempered.
Go Go Nippon! ~ My First Trip to Japan ~ Developer: OVERDRIVE Publisher: MangaGamer Release Date: September 30, 2011 MSRP: $13.12 (€9.95) [Buy]
Narratively, Go Go Nippon stars that first type of person I outlined: A young custom-nameable Japanophile (i.e. you) crossing the pond for the first time, about to spend a week experiencing the joys of Glorious Nippon with his host bros, Akira and Makoto.
Predictably, it turns out that your host “bros”, met solely through the internet, are actually cute sisters. Oh, and their parents are conveniently traveling abroad leaving the three of you to live together in the house for the duration of your stay. Funny how things come together like that!
Of course, this sort of wish-fulfillment setup is par for the course in almost any title of the genre. This game’s advantage lies in its second nature as a travel aid, having Makoto and Akira act as the player’s literal tour guides, a job they perform with gusto.
In this way, Go Go Nippon! sidesteps complaints of its story wallowing in various "Dating Sim 101" cliches. The kids are here to tell you about traveling in Japan! And travel you do, visiting a selection of Tokyo’s greatest tourist attractions, including Ikebukuro, Ginza, Asakusa, Shinjuku, Shibuya, and of course, Akihabara. A side trip to Kyoto follows, with time spent at the famous Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavillion and Kiyomizu-dera temples. If the range of locations coverage seems a bit “touristy” to you, keep in mind that the game is called ”My First Trip to Japan”. Lonely Planet this game is not.
Despite these potential shortcomings as a travel guide, the game’s structure as a visual novel works in its favor, with Makoto and Akira acting the part of “real” guides, staying with you as you travel, explaining the history of the places you go, giving brief rundowns of what a Suica card is or reminding you that it's bad manners to wear your shoes on the tatami.
That said, some of the information given feels a little patronizing. It's doubtful that anyone old enough to travel to Japan alone and hang out with two otherwise complete strangers would react with such wonder at the concept of 24-hour convenience stores or Nippon's technologically advanced toilets. If [you] were really a Japanophile, [you] would probably be aware of such things.
Then again, I could be just projecting.
The game also packs in a couple of cute traveler-friendly gimmicks. In addition to naming the protagonist, you can also list the Yen-to-USD/Euro exchange rate, and prices in-game will reflect the rate you set. Most inspired, though, is the "Show Picture" button, which, when pressed, opens up your web browser and zooms into a Google Maps and Street View image of the location in-game, so you can see what where you "are" would look like in 3D, rather than standard 2D renderings. It's utterly clever and absolutely appropriate. They should start doing this for fictional worlds, eventually.
Learners of Japanese will also be happy to note that every line of dialog is displayed in both languages. Mind you, the language is filtered through the standard speech patterns used by anime characters, so it's better used as a reinforcement to existing knowledge rather than a guide on how to speak a given phrase. Unless you want to horrify real-life Japanese by talking like a cartoon girl.
Frankly speaking, if Go Go Nippon! were not a bishoujo game and thus an incredibly niche, stigmatized thing -even among Japanese - it could easily make a case for being, say, officially sponsored by the government or somesuch. Then again, the government would end up having to take responsibility for this:
I guess private enterprise is better, at least for preserving cheesecake.
Fortunately, that's about as racy as Go Go Nippon gets. Romancing either of the two sisters is determined by the tourist spots you choose to visit during your stay - a second playthrough is required to see 'em all - and the whole thing is chaste and utterly sweet, if you're willing to swallow a goodly amount of fluff and cliche.
All told, Go Go Nippon! is best thought of as a gateway visual novel with some impressive tourist gimmickry. It can't replace a standard travel guide - no one in their right mind would play this during their trip - and its story is too simple to satisfy the true VN fanatic, but it's the perfect sort of game to get for an otaku friend who has a weekend or two to kill before departing on his first trip to Japan.
7 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. There are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)