Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories Review

This game feels like it’s goddamn cursed, and I don’t know how else to put it. As you can see from the title, I’ve recently sunk many, many hours into Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories, which has had a hell of a journey. This game was crafted way back in the year 2011, and was slated to be released on March 10th, but got a bit of a delay because of ambitious targets and unfortunate production timing. Then the game was CANNED because it became way to macabre as life imitated art and a massive earthquake rocked the Tohoku area, and Irem (the development studio) went away for a period of time before coming back as Granzella. This game was such a massive wishlist for players that Granzella finally caved and released it back in 2018 on the larger consoles, to critical acclaim. Then they put it out in Japan last summer, in 2019, and there was much rejoicing. Finally, NIS America sees this excellent opportunity to do the localization, puts in so much time and effort, and finally get the game released, to English speaking areas, in the middle of the biggest modern pandemic that many people have ever seen. On the one hand, great job, because people are stuck at home and possibly escaping into the fantasy of surviving a different kind of disaster is relaxing (hell, we gotta take a break from Animal Crossing eventually). On the other hand, what the sweet hell: I hope that Disaster Report 4 doesn’t get lost in the shuffle as a result.

Each of the Disaster Report games (which have had different names in the West chronically) ask the player to look in the mirror and think: what would you do in the event of a crisis? In this case, the crisis is a huge, devastating earthquake that leaves you trapped in a city you’ve never been to before, trying to survive and also help out (potentially) other victims of this tragedy. You have so much to focus on, but the name of the game is making it out alive. Be prepared to deal with collapsing buildings and roads, fires that break out due to leaking gas lines and electrical wiring, trying to stay healthy and clean in the face of hopelessness, and really analyzing the mirror of morality and humanity that you possess. Are you someone who will reach out and help others at your own expense? Or will you revert to your selfish nature in the name of survival? We can all posit and pretend we know how we’d react, but what can you actually say until you’re in the moment? With Disaster Report, you have a chance to test out certain scenarios in a semi-open world environment and watch them play out.

Now, I was actually living in Japan many years ago when the Tohoku Earthquake struck, but I was thankfully not caught in the primary areas of disaster. Having said that, it’s very, very easy to see why this game was initially canned and left to potentially die without seeing the light of day. The main cityscape where Disaster Report 4 takes place reminds me strongly of Sendai, the capital city of Miyagi, where there was a huge amount of damage from the quake and the subsequent aftershocks. In fact, you begin riding a bus, the transportation method of choice for that area, and the feeling of hearing other passenger’s cellphones begin erupting with earthquake notifications brought back a lot of memories. After having a small chance to customize what your character looks like (male or female), you are thrust into the scene of havoc as you crawl from the wreckage and see what has become of the city you’ve only just recently arrived in. The game asks you, before and after the bus crash, how you would react in a massive earthquake scenario. From there, you begin a long, complex and sprawling journey to find safety and salvation, and also to discover what kind of a person you are.

For a lot of folks coming into Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories, the concept is going to be interesting and difficult. You’re basically cut loose in a city that is crumbling, and you need to simply survive and make it to the end of the game. Along the way, you encounter a great number of NPC characters who will help shape the game and the tone of the event for you. You’ll know the NPCs are important when the game suddenly enters into a cutscene: all important dialogue is voiced and gives you a moment to prepare before it begins. Everyone has a different story and a different station. Sometimes you need to help a distraught teacher find her missing students. Sometimes you’re fulfilling a promise to a man who’s been badly hurt and needs you to carry out one more mission for him. Sometimes you’re even dealing with awful people who’re taking advantage of the tragedy to try and turn a profit, either through extortion or just being a terrible human being. You can react through a diverse series of dialogue choices and actions, and this sets the tone for you and how you’ll see the rest of the game. Sure, you could just help out the teacher selflessly, or you could do it under the tone of reluctance, or you could be even worse. How about demanding two hundred dollars to help her out? Or why not agree to do it because you’re excited to go find some high school girls? Yes, like all great Japanese games, you can become a creep, but not to the full extent you may think: the game hasn’t rendered any upskirt angles, so don’t waste your time trying to crawl around and be a voyeur. 

There’s a lot to like about Disaster Report 4. Besides what I’ve mentioned about the voiced dialogue and complex choices, things go even further in terms of survival and exploration. You’ll need food and drink to stay alive, as well as opportunities to let go of some of the stress that builds up from surviving all sorts of terrible moments that occur in this ruined city. You can and will get dirty from crawling through collapsed tunnels, mucking across broken pipes and generally being surrounded by concrete dust, so you need to wash up on occasion. Oh, and you gotta use the toilet on occasion, and no, you can’t just pee anywhere. There is a lot to keep track of in terms of general human experience (besides trying to decide if you’ll be morally straight or a total monster), and these are real things that survivors need to consider in moments of madness. Nothing is ever thrown at you too heavily, so you don’t need to think about all this stuff all at once. In fact, once you get through the first day successfully without dying, you pretty much have a handle of the bare minimum of what’s expected for you to make it all the way to the end.

However, like all things disaster related, Summer Memories isn’t as it appears. Firstly, the game is not truly an open world, not by a long shot. You often have specific goals to reach in order to move onto the next leg of your journey, and they aren’t always clear to understand or see. The roads will be blocked off by fires and collapsed pavement, but you might still run around in circles for a while, trying to trigger the right conversation with someone or finding the right avenue to drive on. In one really memorable waste of time, I lived through a massive aftershock and noticed that a building had collapsed. As it turns out, I had to climb onto a distended air conditioning unit to get into that building, and then explore it until I found one or more survivors and led them out. Problem is, though, that I had no indication that I was supposed to do this, and who the hell would see a building that JUST tumbled over and thinks “Hey, I should definitely go in there and poke around!” Freaking no one, so you need to also remember that, in spite of Disaster Report’s “this could happen to anyone” tone, you are actually the heroic dude through and through, even if you’re deciding to be a dick, so you need to think like a video game at all times.

It’s really cool that NIS and Granzella were able to port this massive title to the Nintendo Switch, but the port didn’t come without some things being sacrificed. For one, the graphics don’t look nearly as nice as they do on the PS4 version, and that’s just a hardware and space limitation. Don’t get me wrong, the game is still fantastic and there isn’t any slowdown or stuttering (thank God), but it simply has lost some of the majesty that you get from the full system experience, even if you play in docked mode. Additionally, you do need to learn the controls and really get things memorized quickly. The run button, which is the right shoulder button, needs to be held down constantly if you want to do more than mosey through the apocalypse. The button to crawl and duck needs to be held for a short period of time if you want to move in one direction on your hands and knees, but you gotta release it so you can press it quickly if you need to stand up. Oh, and when you feel an aftershock coming, make sure to angle yourself properly before ducking, which you NEED to do. The game put a lot into making the collapsing of  buildings look realistic and terrifying, but the whole thing will pass you by if the camera isn’t facing it, and you’ll fall down and take damage if you stand up to adjust the camera. Also, if you’re in the wrong damn place, you can and will get an instant game over when a building collapses on you, so really treat those aftershocks seriously.

Hours and hours later, though, I can say that I really enjoyed my time with Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories. This is one of those game journeys that’s more introspective and exciting than most. To kind of get a feel for what kind of person I’d ideally want to be in the face of adversity is satisfying, and I like to think I would be a good dude who wouldn’t mind sharing his bottled water or leading someone to safety. I liked that there was enough of a gaming element to keep exploration real and fun (I loved discovering new outfits and compasses), and that the morality points meant something, if only to me. I enjoyed re-encountering different NPCs along the way and watching their own stories develop as we worked with the shared trauma of what has happened and continued to happen. To be honest, I plan to go back and try this again when I have the time and see how events play differently when I have a more selfish approach (I just couldn’t bring myself to be a jerk), because I really believe that it will change the entire direction and finality of the game. This is a sprawling game that doesn’t necessarily have the most open set of choices, but there’s enough free will and explorative tone to keep people trying a lot and seeing a lot more. If you’re a fan of the series, you know you want to get this, and, this really could be a fantastic distraction from the current news and media. Don’t focus on the current madness in the streets: get lost in a whole different disaster within your Switch.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories Review
  • Gameplay - 8/10
    8/10
  • Graphics - 8/10
    8/10
  • Sound - 8/10
    8/10
  • Replay Value - 8/10
    8/10
Overall
8/10

Summary

Test your own merit and moral fortitude in this amazing simulation of survival in an earthquake stricken city.