The last two years have been quite interesting for the Studio Japan. A staple in the roster of Sony’s first party developers, the studio has delivered some the most interesting titles on the PlayStation market with entries like Gravity Rush, Tokyo Jungle, Soul Sacrifice, Puppeteer, and–their most recent title–Rain.
While Rain feels completely unique, it is almost impossible not to draw comparisons to other successful titles like Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, The Unfinished Swan, and Ico. Rain does not directly steal from any of these titles, but you can definitely feel their influence at work in the level design and concept. Stealing from beloved classics is not such a bad thing, especially when it is executed as well as it is in Rain. The strongest aspect the game is its concept, the emotional and surreal story of a boy who chases a girl, passes through a door, and becomes invisible. Rain revolves around its established fundamentals in a way that feels cohesive in its gameplay, narrative, and visual components.
The tone of Rain is what sets the stage for this 3-4 hour adventure. Since the gameplay revolves around an invisible boy being able to see himself in the rain, the weather is constantly gloomy, dark, and–of course–raining. Studio Japan shows some finesse with this, giving us a child to control instead of an adult. Adults would never stand in the rain; they would be too worried about getting wet and sick, but children love the rain and don’t mind getting wet.
As you work your way through the winding stages, the little boy protagonist finally meets up with the girl whom he followed into a world where he became invisible. This silent relationship is the crux of Rain’s storytelling and is filled with ups and downs, which is need break from the constant gloomy and dark atmosphere. The child-like wonderment and the faithfulness created by naivete is what gives Rain its charm and makes your time spent in the world thoroughly enjoyable.
While the game is tonally strong and thematically impressive, it is riddled with plenty of troubles. The biggest problem is that for a game that would fall into the category of puzzle/platformer, the platforming is quite awful. Latency issues and terrible perspective will make you roll eyes more than once as your character plummets to his doom thanks to bad angeles and sticky controls. The game makes up for these shortcomings with forgiving checkpoints and easy level design. It isn’t the most sophisticated solution, but it does keep the pace moving along and prevents you from getting stuck.
While the platforming aspects of the game are cumbersome, the stealth gameplay in which the player must hide from spector-esque monsters under awnings or anything that shelters them from the rain is quite good. There is a natural tension of hiding in plain sight and there are plenty of nerveracking moments as you stand inches from a beast, holding still to not betray your position. Sneaking your way through multiple beasts or avoiding the Unknown, who seems to be the master of all your enemies, really shows off strong design and is changed up often enough to avoid becoming dull.
The level design not only stands out while hiding and sneaking past the game’s chilling monsters, it is well crafted througout the game. Each level is set in a location that alters the world in some way, taking the mechanics you have mastered and spinning them to keep you on your toes. From a church to a circus, each location is haunting, intriguing, and challenging in its own fashion. Rain uses its immobile camera to frame your objective and makes your destination easy to locate, this calls back to older PlayStation titles. While the camera angles mess with the platforming, they often do a great job of directing you through the maze-like levels to your end goal.
As stated before, Rain is gloomy and drab. It’s art style carries through on these visual themes with strong conviction and threatens to become overbearing at points. Each scene is washed out, murkily blending greys and blacks in a mash of dreariness. To avoid becoming too heavy-handed Rain sprinkles lights throughout the game in natural and subtle places. Studio Japan has a history of fantastic aesthetic and Rain is no exception. The narrative begins and ends with gorgeous water color story panels that feel right at home in the game, offering a beautiful storytelling device that does not distract from the games tone.
As short as Rain is, it feels a little bit long. While the stealth aspects of the game is toyed with and changed level-to-level, the platforming and puzzle solving remains the same throughout. The playtime borders on being too long to be completed in one sitting, but it feels like the kind of game that should be one cohesive experience, much like Journey or Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. It is nice that Studio Japan did not try to bloat the game into a full price title, but it still is in danger of becoming uninteresting at the three-quarter mark. Luckily, the game keeps finding its feet with a strong central relationship and has enough mystery to keep you engaged. Rain never really ties itself together as well as you might hope, but the journey along the way is interesting.
Rain feels almost like the antithesis to the cookie-cutter, objective based video game that floods the market every year. However, while it does many things right, the game feels like it has a share of flaws that make it difficult to recommend at face value. Few games can nail their tone and concept as well as Rain did, the game has an idea and executes it with admirable ferocity and dedication, but when you get into the meat of the game it starts to become a pedestrian effort. For those who love high-concept, emotion driven games meant to be enjoyed in a handful of hours Rain is right up your alley, everyone else is likely to be a little disappointed.