The Kids Will Be Alright
HIGH An intriguing story rich with details on Japan in the ’80s.
LOW No auto-scrolling or any way to skip text.
WTF The developers were really angry about abusive parents…
Stories about time travel are difficult to write, often because they get lost in the technical details of how such travel would work, or they don’t think through the logical contradictions. Instead, The Kids We Were avoids these common pitfalls and instead focuses on a rich tapestry of details that illustrate small town living in ’80s Japan — definitely the right choice for the kind of experience it aims to deliver.
In this story, the player inhabits the shoes of Minato. He’s a young kid faced with many problems, like a dad who’s passed away, a young sister’s illness, and a mother who’s unhappy. All of these issues could — apparently — be solved when he stumbles onto a time machine and the ability to go 33 years into the past.
Gameplay is simple — explore the past version of Minato’s town from an isometric 3D view and talk with characters to progress the story. There’s really nothing offered in the way of puzzles except for a few instances of having to answer questions based on in-game events, but those can be retried as many times as one wishes.
While the script is a bit long-winded, the story’s twists and turns remain engaging throughout thanks to a dash of Back to the Future in the sense of meeting our own parents when they were kids, plus the conundrum of what can be altered in the past to make the future better. The story also touches upon serious topics, like abusive parents (which the writers seem to have a fascination with) and illness, but it does so with honesty and a sort of wide-eyed naiveté, which is refreshing.
The emotional impact does suffer a bit from graphics rendered with simple voxel designs, so the heavy lifting of characterization is left to the text, which does not contain many fully-fledged personalities. Still, Minato and family are sketched well enough to be believable, and all react appropriately to the situations facing them.
Along with general exploration and talking to characters, there are a couple of other things to do. For example, there’s a rich collection of items to be found or bought from vending machines around the city, all related to ’80s Japanese culture. For those not intimately familiar with that time and place, plenty of details are provided on each item — like squid jerky snacks or some funny trivia behind old Famicom (the Japanese version of the NES) cartridges. Despite this not being my own background, a sense of vicarious nostalgia can easily be felt throughout.
The Kids We Were offers quite a long main story with a bonus episode once it’s finished. The simple voxel graphics feel like a good fit for something centered on the past, though one might wish for something a little more detailed during some of the more touching scenes. Perhaps, cutscenes in a different style might have been useful in providing a little more variety and emotional impact. That said, anyone looking for a rich narrative supported by wave of Japanese nostalgia would do well to look into The Kids We Were — just don’t expect complex gameplay mechanics or fancy visuals.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by GAGEX. It is currently available on Switch and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on Switch. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: The game is rated E by the ESRB, and contains a Tobacco Reference. Even though there is no violent content shown, considering the topics, I would recommend it, at least, to a teen audience.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game does not feature spoken dialogue, and text cannot be altered or resized. (See examples above.) No sound is needed to complete the game. In my view, the game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: There is no control diagram. Moving the character is done with the d-pad and interactions are with the A button. The X and Y buttons are used to open submenus to check objectives and pick things up.
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