Disaster Report is a long-running series of unconventional survival horror games. The first game was released on PlayStation 2 and followed many survival horror staples, without the horror part. Sure, you collect scattered memos, hunt for keys and codes, and manage your resources, but the only real enemy is a natural disaster.
Each entry in the series focuses on a natural disaster hitting a city. The player is tasked with surviving the disaster and making it out alive. In addition, you meet other survivors and making choices that lead you to different endings. The newest entry to come west, Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories, retains much of the campy and janky spectacle that the series is known for, and I loved it for that.
Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories feels like a seamless update to its predecessors, with most things that I liked about the series still intact. As a bonus, the previous games did their best to pretend everything was American, but Summer Memories’ localization has no pretenses about the Japanese setting.
Overall, my time with the game was full of peaks and valleys. Just when I was ready to throw down my controller for the day, a fantastic set-piece would appear. Then, when I thought my problems with the game were over, I’d want to throw my controller down all over again. I’m not sure you can call that a delicate balance, but as someone who enjoyed the other titles, all I could think was, “Yay! This is as janky as I hoped!”
Worry not if you haven’t experienced the earlier entries of the series because not much changed, not even the graphics for the most part. Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories‘s frame-rate is shocking. I’m no FPS expert, so I can’t tell you what it actually was, but it doesn’t exactly feel smooth by any means. But then, like a peak rising out of a valley, the reason for this becomes worth it.
To simulate an Earthquake scenario, the ground will sometimes shake, requiring you to brace yourself, lest you fall on your ass, and take damage. But during scripted quakes, not only does the ground shake, but buildings begin to fall. The frame-rate is lower because the game is poised to throw buildings down to street level at any time. The spectacle of looking in the right place and seeing a freeway overpass topple is honestly incredible.
The only downside to this, aside from the frame-rate, is that if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, you’ll be crushed by falling debris. This, understandably, kills you instantly. Thankfully, the game is aware this is a cheap death, so rather than reloading a save, you’ll be taken to just before your death. It makes quakes feel dangerous without making them unfair.
Still, there is one part of the gameplay I can’t as easily justify. Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories gives almost zero indication where you should go next. A woman calling out for help is useful, but not when the entire game is dubbed in Japanese, and ambient noises aren’t subtitled. This was the most frequent “valley” in my metaphor. Sometimes, side-quests would need to be finished to set a trigger for the next event, and the woman mentioned earlier only becomes accessible after doing an unrelated scenario in a convenience store.
In another case, the chain of events required went like this: There’s a police blockade around a hotel-fire, preventing progress. Talk to an NPC at a car dealership. When you exit, a quake happens. This shatters a window leading to an Italian Restaurant, letting you walk in. Going through the back corridors takes you to an alleyway. You enter the back of a jewelry store. You find the manager murdered, and a woman stealing jewels in the store’s office. Take her down, get the key to the store, and leave out the locked front door.
You’ll have noticed that this becomes quite exciting at the end. That was the peak to emerge out of the valley of being lost. I love it when this series puts you in extreme situations, but the exact way to get there puts a damper on the excitement of it all. Still, on that note, the NPC interactions do shine… provided you find them.
Approaching an important NPC will trigger a short load time before a cutscene. It can be as simple as deciding how your character reacts, or as complicated as getting some keys or plot details. Some side-character interactions range from “tame” to “this feels as goofy as a Yakuza game.” All in the right way, of course. In some cases, you’ll decide how your character feels about an NPC; for the record, I tried to romance the teacher.
Generally, Disaster Report has a conspiracy behind the scenes that caused the disaster. This is both very goofy and a bit more satisfying than “wow, that was bad luck.” Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories revolves around corporate tension between Vestola and Kerberos, who seem to be mobile network providers. It’s implied early on that Kerberos had a hand in the Earthquake. Again I must stress, this series is wonderfully goofy.
Despite the peaks and valleys, and as difficult as it is to get around, once you find the thread, the scenarios you’re pulled through are genuinely engaging. I also found enjoyment in the large number of NPCs, speaking roles, or not. Unlike the first game’s barren streets, it really adds to the feeling that you’re all struggling together.
Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories features many over-the-top dramatized survival scenarios that are incredibly enjoyable. The resource management and systems kept me playing regardless of the low framerate and aged graphics. Each scene is cleverly written and features some memorable characters who make surviving through these natural disasters so very worth it in the end.
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