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  1. #1

    [PS4] Zettai Zetsumei Toshi 4plus: Summer Memories

    Zettai Zetsumei Toshi 4+: Summer Memories was meant to come out on the PS3 back in 2011, but Irem postposed it due to the earthquake that shook Japan in march of that year. Between then and now a lot of things happened: Irem lost interest in the game; the director left the company to create his own firm, Granzella; he bought the rights to the series from Irem; Granzella developed Kyoei Toshi (review and thread available on this very website); and in 2018 finally Zettai Zetsumei Toshi 4 reached PS4s in Japan.

    Starting with a brief technical analysis, ZZT4 does betray its origins as a PS3 game: compared to Kyoei Toshi textures are less defined, with a good amount of pop-ups when models first enter the scene, and the lighting less convincing; hairs look particularly "plasticky" under certain lighting conditions and some objects (like my character's shoes) are way too shiny. Loading times are about the same lenght as in Kyoei Toshi, but performance is a tad better. The PS4 does fire up its fans when a lot of effects are on screen, but those quickly die down when not showing fire, water, and accompaining reflections. Overall it's a good looking game, but its impact is somewhat lessened by the low number of NPC models, their animation cycles, and that in some of the most gruesome situations, there's only one "lying dead" pose. There isn't much blood in the game, in fact I can only point out to one instance showing a pool of blood around a victim, that might further lessen the impact of some incidents.
    The thing that surprised me the most, however, is that sound design isn't on the same level as Kyoei Toshi: while the sorround effects for voices and sound effects do vary their source depending on character and/or camera position, the sounds of collapsing buildings is quite tame in comparison, there isn't a strong use of the subwoofer like in Kyoei Toshi; it might sound (ah ah) as a minor complain, but I really dig Kyoei Toshi's use of strong bass sounds during destruction scenes.

    Typical of the "Toshi" series, your characters' appearance and backstory are chosen via a series of menu prompts right after you start a new game. I don't think any of the cosmetic choices affect what happens in the game (and that includes the sex of your character) but I'm still on my first playthrough. Soon after starting the game an earthquake strikes the city you're in and then you begin your journey to leave this city alive. During your trek you'll meet a good number of people in need of help and other that act as sort-of villains for the location you're in. Right now I'm following two "long" storylines, one involving an IT company and the other a possible yakuza struggle, but most of the people I've meet have been forgotten the moment I left for the next location.
    The "villains" are...well, bad. Granted I never had to live through an earthquake and its aftermath (and hopefully will never have to), but I'm pretty sure I won't act like the biggest dick in the history of earthquakes or just break as many laws as I can like I was a stock bad guy in a Ken Shiro episode. To that effect, I think the former category (people trying to profit from others' sufferings or just trying their best to save their skin) are the most beliveable, but when you stumble upon murders and similar crimes I feel like ZZT4 doesn't really know where it wants to stand: is it a "serious" look on how to survive disasters sprinkled with some human drama, or is it an over-the-top, exploitative look where everything is exagerated to the Nth degree? I don't have problems with any of those choices, but I'd like for the game to pick one.

    Progression is mostly linear outside storylines. ZZT4 throws you into this city and forces exploration. Interaction prompts appear only when you are right in front of an object or a door, and it's tedious grazing walls in search for places you can go to or objects you need to progress. In a few instances I was left wandering around locations trying to find the trigger for the next event, and some aren't particularly evident. I don't need to have everything shown on screen and I like some free exploration and experimentation, but there's a limit to the walls I need to hug to find that hotspot the game wants me to, especially if that hotspot only shows generic rubble.
    It's not terrible, in fact this same structure was used in Kyoei Toshi, but probably the lack of giant monsters is making the whole situation less appealing.
    I must also say that some disasters are next to QTE in how obnoxious they can be. When tremors occour you must brace yourself to avoid health damage and build up stress, and that leaves you vulnerable. Thrice already an aftershock forced me to brace, resulting in things dropping down on me and killing me instantly. These situations aren't immediate, there's usually a relatively long quake with things wobbling all around you, but if you are in the wrong spot, or are simply not fast enough in reaching the designated safe spot you die.

    I want to complete this playthrough (when I'm trying to play as a decent human being) and a second one, but I'm not feeling ZZT4 as much as Kyoei Toshi. Probably it's the monsters (or lack thereof), but ZZT4 does give the impression of being less refined than its predecessor.

  2. #2

  3. #3
    Some more impressions after I've passed the halfway point (I think).
    And...I don't have a lot to add to my first impressions, although progressing through the game will flesh out a few characters more. Interactions with the "secondary" cast is still limited, but it was nice to see a couple of decisions having positive repercussions down the line. The game also awards you with good and bad points based on your choices and how many sidequests you complete, although I don't think they have a huge impact on what happens...or at all, in fact.
    And Zetsumei Toshi 4 still has huge problems of tone.
    This will be spoilerish, so...

    After saving a girl and witnessing a section of a highway collapsing, killing many people, you head to the subway where you're ambushed by two drunkards that tie you up. These drunkards seem carved out of the worst stereotype you can think of about B-movie bad guys and are a sharp contrast with what happened a few minutes before, and not in a good way. After that you proceed through several locations until you reunite the girl with her fiancee. The day after you continue your journey and you find yourself in totally-not-Shibuya and you are recruited by two people that shove you in a pristine room full of food. For a moment I thought I was in some kind of Silent Hill alternate ending scene. Smelling shady cult I did my best to avoid any involvement with them, but I couldn't find any other way to progress other than recruiting three other poor souls and even accepting leadership of the cult. After ordering to free a man who was tied up after doing the right thing (say F.U. to these people) I was labelled as traitor and chased by the rest of the organization down the streets of Tok...I mean Unnamed City.
    And then back to terrible people, like a daughter-in-law who didn't want her husband's mother in her house and forces you to take her to a hospital. Only that the hospital is full and you go to another district, where a gentleman nearly kicks you and the old lady outside from not being around these parts. Wow. I mean, I imagine these situations can be very tense, especially about basic resources, but kicking out an injurd old lady? But, to be honest, this is the most beliveable reaction of a "bad guy" so far.
    During your stay in this district there's a food shortage, which is promptly solved by the arrival of a van full of...CUP NOODLES! Wow product placement. Kyoei Toshi did the same with a curry restaurant chain, but it was way less intrusive than this. Especially when you collect a giant Cup Noodle cup as backpack.
    In yet another segment I didn't find a way to solve in any other way, I had to give water dripping from a crack to the people around and they revered me as some sort of messiah bringing miracle water. Wow that felt beyond bad. And wow would people really believe that?
    After getting chased out (rightfully so, I must add, but that there was no other way as far as I know) I found myself in yet another district consumed by a fire, with people crying over destroyed houses and young girls frantically rummaging through ashes calling out for her mother and brother.
    And then you have to deal with a landlord that want to evict what I think is an orphanage.

    I know the previous section was spoilerish, but if you read through that I think I made my point about Zettai Zetsumei Toshi 4 having wild tone swings, going from genuinely heart-wrenching scenes to goofy, exploitation-like situations like it's nothing. In contrast Kyoei Toshi felt much more on point whether you played as a normal human being or a complete douchebag because there were giant monsters around the city, here in Zetsumei 4 I can't help feeling that the game should have been written as a serious post-disaster story. Disaster Report 2 was set on a floating city and the more goofy aspects of the story sat well with the setting, but as Zetsumei 4 takes place in a realistically portrayed city, going for comical/exploitative/goofy situations feels completely out of place when those are side-to-side with serious scenes.

    Other than that I feel the language barrier is actively preventing me to enjoy the game more, as I'm always unsure how to progress even during the many fetch quests needed to proceed. Google Translate helps, but it's tiresome to point the phone at the screen at every choice, so I usually go with the first, normally the "decent guy" answer.

  4. #4
    Game completed.
    I've started a second playthrough immediately to see how my choices and actions would affect the story. So far they didn't really influence much. Characters have different reactions and you might get bad karma points for selling overpriced items or hoarding money and items, but the main events are the same. I think one choice towards the end will lead to a different outcome, which hopefully is less tone-deaf than the one I've played through...

    So yeah, like a broken record I have to say that Zettai Zetsumei Toshi 4's biggest problem is its tone. During the last part of the game things started to be dramatic, like the game finally picked what it wanted to be. However, just like two other scenes before the you are forced to play the game wants you to play, and no matter how many good karma points I accumulated, the result was always the same. So, spoiler:

    I have two choices to leave the city: I choose a ticket given to me by a girl I saved and helped reunite with her fiancée before.
    I leave for the rendezvous point, which leads me through places I've seen before and I met and helped people in.
    First I'm given a letter that tells me an office lady I rescud from a collapsing building is wating at a jewelry shop. I go there, the front door is locked, but I hear screams inside...I enter the jewelry shop from the back and I think you know what happened, the OL was raped.
    Wow that was dark.
    And despite all the options I was given, my character just leaves. I've actually replayed this part multiple times and couldn't find any other way to alter its outcome or how my character behaves. Not to mention, after the fact, the front door is still locked but my character has the effin' key!
    So, putting that behind, I met up with an high school teacher I helped during the opening hour; one of her students is trying to jump from the window of a damaged building; we save her, but the building starts to crumble, and the teacher pushes me and the student out of the window and gets killed.
    I pick up her fountain pen that her brother gave her, and actually meet the brother, and tell what happened. The brother leaves, so do I.
    I can feel the end coming up, only that my way out of the city is a flatbed truck and the driver has a funny voice, like a stereotypical bad, please don't go there.
    I reach the port, along the same girl I reunited with his fiancée an in-game hour or so before, and other people. Only that...we get tied up and thrown into a ships's brig. The girl's fiancée is into human trafficking and the the old lady you gave your seat in the game's opening (and what the game passed as the fiancée's grandmother) is a yakuza (or triad) ringleader!


    Really, I'm doing a second playthrough to see if I can change some outcomes, but playing as a decent guy, gathering 400 good karma points and not one bad point, ZZT4 was a rollercoaster of dramatic and 80s-action-movie-stupid scenes that absolutely don't go well with each other. One moment you are walking among people who lost everything to a fire and the moment after you are facing "bad guys" who might as well be twirling their mustaches while exposing their evil plan to get rich.

    Playing as an opportunistic, goofy, a-hole does help to lessen the mood somehow, but if you are trying to play as a decent guy, the tone of the game will throw you off. I really hope the game is not as linear as it feels and some of your choices will actually have some impact on some scenes, but I fear that won't be the case.
    I say so because ZZT4 feels done on the cheap at times, the attention to detail and backgrounds nowhere near Kyoei Toshi. This might be due to the 7-years delay and change of platform (I think the engine is the same between PS3 and PS4 versions, judging by framerate, effects, and texture pop-in), but now that I'm writing this, I'm starting to think ZZT4 is simply unfinished.
    The good/bad karma points don't seem to amount to much in the end, and the necessity of drinking, eating, and going to the toilet is simply affected by how much time passed since the last action, no matter how much I ran in torrid weather (your character has an animation to indicate such climate, along the stereotypical cicada chirping) my thirst meter was never affected.

    Let's see how the second playthrough ends.

  5. #5
    I completed the second playthrough a couple of days ago, and I was disappointed by it.
    The bad/good point system is entirely meaningless, it doesn't change the available choices or how the game progresses. Good and Bad guys play the same scenes, and while acting like an a-hole does help in dampening the mad swings in tone ZZT4 has, you can still go from very dark scenes to exploitative content in less than half an hour.

    All in all I prefer Kyoei Toshi and the first Disaster Report. Both are more focused on the matter at hand.

  6. #6
    This looks awesome! I doubt I'd get very far in it however, not being able to speak a word of Japanese. But I totally dig the weird concept of these "disaster" games.

  7. #7
    Very good write up, although I think my days of going through games with all Japanese text all long gone.


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