With a little bit of creativity, you can do wonderful things with a limited set of tools. Games like To the Moon and Corpse Party showed just how much power there is in something as simplistic as RPG Maker, and Kokurase is the latest game to join that club. If I had to, I’d describe it as an adventure game, but that fails to capture just how unique an experience this is.
Without getting too deep into the linguistics of it, “kokurase” means something like “forced confession of love.” That’s a fitting name for a secret club of high schoolers who make it their business to help their shy classmates hook up with the objects of their desire. You might expect that involves coaching and confidence training for the client. There’s certainly an aspect of that, but Kokurase’s main aim is engineering the most ridiculous circumstances that leave no option but for the lovebirds to get together.
Case in point: Sakura is a dorky girl who takes social anxiety to comical extremes, and she’s hopelessly in love with the most popular boy in school, Yoshimitsu. The mere sight of Yoshimitsu is enough to make Sakura faint. How does Kokurase help someone so helpless? Let’s just say there’s an elaborate scheme involving framing someone as a pervert, a horde of angry teenage girls, a very handsome skeleton (for some reason), ghost photos, and soda pop bribes. Yeah, it’s kinda weird.
It’s also kinda brilliant. The bulk of the game involves trying to lay out this cunning plan through investigative work, but you’re not one detective – you’re all of Kokurase, you’re Sakura, you’re Yoshimitsu, and you’re a few other relevant third parties as well. Basically, you can switch between characters at any time, and your goal as the puppetmaster is to get all these different people into the right places so that they can get the information they need. Your findings take the form of “Key Phrases” that you can pull out when needed in order to trigger events, and they can even be passed from person to person.
When you’ve gathered enough information, it’s time for Kokurase to formulate a plan. This happens by way of a mini-game that’s almost like an Ace Attorney trial – you’ve got all these details in the form of Key Phrases, and you need to piece them together in a logical way to build the plan. You can’t fail this minigame – pick the wrong option, and you can just try again – but doing it perfectly results in a better ending.
It’s a fresh approach to the long-serving adventure game formula, and it works great. This design could have easily led to horrible moon logic, because there are so many variables – not just key phrases, which function a bit like items, but also character positioning and who it is that’s saying what. Luckily, Kokurase keeps its puzzle design simple. The solutions are always pretty clear, and tips are always at hand. On the menu where you switch characters, those who have unfinished business are highlighted, so you’re not going to be stuck running around as someone with nothing left to do. It could be argued that it’s too easy, but that helps keep the story moving.
What’s impressive about Kokurase is how such an interesting concept is brought to life through minimal resources. RPG Maker can be a powerful engine for those who care to delve into it, but Kokurase is made with the only the most basic tools: the map editor, character creator, and the built-in dialogue and item systems. Aside from some beautiful character portraits and hand-drawn stills, the game uses sprites and tilesets that look like minor modifications of what comes with RPG Maker by default.
My point isn’t to criticise, but to demonstrate the kinds of restrictions that the developers worked within. Even with those limitations – or, perhaps, because of those limitations – they’ve made an ingenious, imaginative game that’s not like anything else out there. It’s hilarious and completely absurd, but in the most endearing way possible.
The best part is that you don’t need to spend a dime to try it out. The first episode – which is what I’ve reviewed here – is freely available, and it’s well worth checking out.
Matt received a digital copy from the developers for review.