Karakuri Kun A Japanese Tale is a peculiar title. It’s not something that I would usually play, despite the themes. First of all, it comes across as a video game version of fan art, like it’s something created by someone who’s grown up playing the likes of Final Fantasy and all things kawaii.
That’s an incredibly broad example, but we (me) don’t have the time to dissect this as some piece you can hand in for your representation essay at uni. Been there, done that. Instead, I’ll comment on the game and my experience of it.
When someone says about being honest, it always makes me feel like they weren’t in the first place, so to pre-empt those words: let me be honest. Within the first few minutes of playing Karakuri Kun, I was very tempted to bail on it. The only thing stopping me from smashing my PC with a hammer was the fact that it’s a review title, and I’m a professional, darling.
Also, I like to give a game a fair trial, such as Sense, and look where that got me. Anyway, Karakuri Kun A Japanese Tale isn’t a game I would seek out, let alone notice in a Steam library already swarming with similar RPG paint-by-numbers likes this. It was Japanese Romaji Adventure, also published by Angel Star Studios with an uncanny similarity. That’s because they’re both developed by JBO Media.
Then again, Karakuri Kun A Japanese Tale is a companion piece. So what was it that bothered me about Karakuri Kun A Japanese Tale? The visuals are quite nice, in the context of a top-down RPG in the classic Zelda games style, but the lack of direction drove me mad.
At the start, you control a toymaker, and it’s not clear what you’re supposed to do other than deal with an automated doll. By the way, this is set in feudal Japan with cameos by folks like Nobunaga Oda and Musashi Miyamoto. I’m in the minority as an Ieyasu Tokugawa and Masamune Date (shout out to my Tohoku fam). The dialogue, when it shows, was pretty good with some nicely illustrated characters but no clear path on what to do. Attempting to leave the house of just two floors, I was told I needed to change my clothes. Story of my life.
Back upstairs, I click on the available lolita dresses for the old man (not judging), but he doesn’t wear them. Clicking every possible area, I spawn the automated doll and then find out that it’s her that needs to be dressed before leaving, but there are no defined objectives or feedback, and it looks like the two characters have merged.
The silence was deafening too. No music, not sound effects other than pressing the right mouse button for some blaring sounds. It was all going down the pan. With a glimmer of hope, I’d managed to don a lightning-themed dress and headed outside to meet the Shogun. Before I knew it – blam! random encounter.
Animations here are very minimal. The characters don’t cover the battleground, nor are they fully animated, but I was fine with that. It was this element that made the game interesting. After defeating the first couple of enemies with relative ease, the third encounter was a few levels ahead of me and was a surprisingly difficult battle of attack, heal, attack, heal routine. It was quite the spike, but the most engagement I had at this point.
The music was a little on the annoying side at first, but after the numerous battles, Karakuri Kun A Japanese Tale was winning me over, compared to the initial reaction. I went back to play some more parts to refresh my memory, and the moment the battle music kicked in, felt like I was at some local natsu matsuri – it’s steadily infectious.
Thinking that you’re getting a little overpowered for an area, you switch your closes – leading the way to a new elemental attack, and the levelling starts from scratch. My lightning ‘build’ was pretty reliable – a lightning rod here, followed by some healing there… it was all peachy. Then I thought it would be a good idea to try out the pyro dress. Powerful, yes, but with a low level and no healing available, poor Karakuri Kun was dead after a couple of turns with an immediate game over.
Fortunately, there are some generous save points, a crystal to activate to create a save file. You can’t do it on the fly, and due to the nature of random encounters, it’s worth saving regularly to avoid… disappointment like I did.
Of course, one way to last longer is by regularly visiting vendors and selling your gear to buy improved weapons, apparel and accessories for the typical boosts associated with the genre. While it lacks the depth of some of the bigger titles, there’s more than enough options to play around with, and for the most part, once you understand what to do, it’s pretty good for a brief time.
But my biggest beef with the game is the menus and interactions. They aren’t remotely intuitive and unresponsive. You often have to right-click to go back to a section, and it just doesn’t feel right. There aren’t any explanations to anything and if there you’re blessed with a quick insight into what a clock winder is, commit it to memory as there aren’t any help files, codex or hints written on toilet walls.
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If you can’t get enough of the genre and open-minded (and patient enough to stick with it), Karakuri Kun A Japanese Tale is an ok indie title. It doesn’t share the same educational points as Japanese Romaji Adventure, but it doesn’t claim to be that type of game either. On that basis, I recommend getting the latter first, and getting this as a bonus. It won’t break the bank.