People who frequent my work know that I have a soft spot in my heart for small indie games. As I was browsing through the work of S. Jean, the developer of one of my favorite indie RPGs, Star Stealing Prince, and I happened to see that Lauren Shigihara was releasing a game on May 10th. If her name doesn't ring a bell, chances are that you've heard her work. She's the composer behind Plants vs. Zombies and has contributed music and vocals to games like World of Warcraft, Super Meat Boy, To The Moon, Plants vs. Zombies 2, Band Saga, and Cosmic Star Heroine. She's a big deal and finding out that she was making a game solo? Well, that caught my attention, but then I learned about the subject matter and I absolutely had to share it with all of you.
Shigihara's game is called Rakuen and it focuses on telling the story of a young boy who's fallen ill and been indefinitely confined to a hospital. His mom reads him stories to lift his spirits. After some time goes by, the boy asks her to take him to the fantasy world from his favorite story so that he can ask the spirit who lives in that world's forests for one wish. In order to gain his wish, the boy will have to complete a series of quests to prove himself worthy by helping the alter-egos of the hospital's residents who live in that world.
These problems aren't of the "go out and kill monsters" variety, though. Rakuen is an adventure game where players will have to solve puzzles and figure out solutions to the problems that plague a crazy cast of colorful characters. Those who live in the hospital all have their own unique problems that range from an old man who guards a broken music box to a little girl who never got to say goodbye to one of her friends after her diagnosis. Solving these problems will send players through dungeons with escape puzzles and mysteries in both the environment and in the character interactions. Over time, the boy begins to discover that the hospital holds more secrets than he ever could have guessed and that unraveling them might make the hospital a better place.
As you might imagine, Shigihara composed the soundtrack to Rakuen herself, tying its tracks and vocals to the various denizens of her worlds. While the plot might deal with heavy concepts and situations (one plot line involves a woman in a coma whose husband hasn't left her side in months), Shigihara has done her best to alleviate the tone with whimsy and humor. Rakuen isn't so self-serious that it will play like a funeral dirge. There's hope and laughter and charm all over the screenshots and trailers. Ultimately, the game is about making the world a better place.
Shigihara was inspired to create Rakuen by her work to create a song called "Jump." It was written for the album "Play for Japan" which was put together by Akira Yamaoka, a composer known for his work on the Silent Hill series and recent games like Let It Die and Rime. The album benefited the victims of the Tohoku earthquake disaster in 2011. Shigihara recalls creating the song, saying "While I was writing it, I imagined a story about a boy living in the hospital whose mother invents a grand adventure for them to go on (I think in the beginning, they originally braided bedsheets together to climb out the window and into a fantasy world). Later on, I told my friend Emmy (now the concept artist) about it, and we decided to make a little animated music video for it... However, after thinking more about the story, and being inspired by Emmy's concept art, I said, 'this is too much for just a music video, we should totally make a game!'"
Rakuen releases later this week for PC via Steam.