Several things drew me towards The Kids We Were, to the point where I requested a review code. One of the biggest factors that drew me to it is that it’s a game set in Japan. I very much enjoy engaging with media that features a narrative or a viewpoint far removed from my own.
I feel like I’m quite well-travelled. I’ve lived in a country other than the one I was born in and visited a few others. However, Japan is a place I’ve never been to. It’s on my bucket list for sure. However, until I have the opportunity to go, I have games such as this to play. Something like this affords me a chance to see the world from another perspective. Honestly, I have very limited experience with Japan. Mostly through the more fantastical examples of Manga and Anime. So any game, film or TV show that exhibits a mundane side in a relatively modern time period is always welcome. As this game deals with nostalgia somewhat, I was a little worried I might miss some significant cultural details though. Did this cultural blindness detract from the experience, or did it enhance it? Let’s find out.
A snippet of Japanese history
The Kids We Were is a nostalgic tale based on a recent part of Japanese history. Mainly set in the 1980s, in the last few years of the Showa era. The game follows young Minato, as he arrives in Kagami. From this starting point in 2020, in a sleepy suburb of Tokyo, Minato ventures out with one goal – to find his missing father. This fairly simple quest quickly transforms into a mysterious time-travelling adventure, featuring a notebook that offers a window into his father’s past.
And so begins the plot of this cute-looking adventure that was initially released on smartphones back in February 2020. Since then, it has won a multitude of smartphone-related gaming awards, including being selected as one of the top 3 titles at the Google Play Indie Games Festival 2020.
Don’t be fooled by the inherent cuteness though. Whilst the game does use some beautifully blocky voxel art, it tells a mature and, at times, sobering tale. I was genuinely surprised at the twists and turns of the story. I won’t go into it too much in case I inadvertently spoil something but for all the sunny rose-tinted nostalgia contained within, this is a game focusing on dysfunctional families, unsettling pasts and broken dreams.
Aside from the story and the setting, The Kids We Were has two other strengths. First is the art style. The aforementioned use of voxels to create the world is used to great effect. Seeing unique and traditional Japanese architecture recreated in this style was weirdly satisfying as if someone had built an entire intricate toy town from building blocks. The same can also be said of the items populating the various locations, and the collectible items Minato can find. All are rendered in loving low-poly 3D detail. Sadly, I don’t think much about the character designs. I found many of them bland and it was difficult to tell which characters were which. Although I think this is an inherent problem with voxel art. It can be hard to translate living things like humans, dogs and cats into low-poly voxel forms.
The other defining strength is the pop-culture references. With over 90 retro objects to collect, there’s probably something someone is going to recognise, even if you aren’t intimately familiar with Japan, like me. As previously mentioned, I was worried some of the references would go over my head. While some of them did, I just saw this as a light and fun opportunity to learn more about a foreign culture, at least in a small way.
That isn’t to say that The Kids We Were is flawless. The review copy I played through did have some bugs and glitches. Parts of the character model such as his hat would go through the geometry. I also noticed that the in-game timer would keep running even when my Switch was on standby, so by the end I had spent about 60 hours total “playing” the game. I also noticed some text hasn’t been updated for the Switch version. As an example, the dialogue keeps mentioning touching the screen, even though the game isn’t touchscreen anymore. There are also a few glaring spelling and grammar mistakes but otherwise, it has been localised very well.
Another annoying feature was the capsule machines. For some reason, the game cites that they cost just 1 coin to use, but actually take 3 coins each time. Judging by the fact that I discovered enough coins to safely empty all the machines of their capsules, I assume this is just a number mix-up. Not sure what that was all about.
Since its release on Switch, the game has received numerous updates. I haven’t specifically looked to see if all these flaws have been ironed out, but I’m fairly confident that the majority will have. At the very least, I didn’t discover any game-breaking bugs, and it runs well throughout.
In summary, this complete edition of The Kids We Were includes all the content that can possibly be experienced. The player can look forward to additional collectable items and a bonus episode set after the events of the main game. It’s fairly short, with each chapter varying in length somewhat. Within the hour, I was already entering the 4th one, and that was with a little bit of exploration on the side. Anyone who wants to experience a blast of nostalgia, or is interested in Japanese culture should definitely pick this up.
I found this to be an entertaining little game with a dash of easy-going cultural discovery. Although be warned. It could make you feel a bit old. The time jump of 33 years into the past might make it sound like the game is set in the ’60s or ’70s but really, it’s set in 1987, which is just a few years before I was born. And that makes me just a little bit too old for my liking.
If you want to see a video version of this The Kids We Were review, I’ve linked it below!
Disclaimer: A code was provided for this game to aid in writing this review.