There’s an old photo of me and my younger sister when we were kids, sat on a beautiful beach somewhere with our eyes glued to our GameBoy Colour screens. Our poor parents, who had worked hard throughout the year to save up for a holiday, only for us spoilt little shits to spend the duration on Pokémon Gold.
Now, as an adult, I’d kill for someone to take me on holiday, but at the time, we were happy making our own memories as we battled across the Indigo Plateau (‘No, Mum, we can’t come for a swim, you can’t save the game during the Elite Four!’)
The Kids We Were took me back to that time. Not because it feels like those Pokémon classics, but because the game is all about nostalgia, a yearning for a simpler time, when we were just kids playing games on tiny LCD screens.
The Kids We Were Review
In The Kids We Were, you take on the role of Minato, a plucky young boy searching for his estranged Father in the sleepy Tokyo suburb of Kagami. With sickly little sister, Mirai at your side, you discover a strange notebook containing ‘The Seven Mysteries’ of Kagami. With the notebook as your guide, you set out on a journey back in time, 33 years into the past. When you arrive on the day your parents first meet as children, you must alter the course of history in order to save your family back in the present.
Still with me? Okay, good, because the narrative spirals into a sprawling, chaotic web for a lot of the time – which is a bit of a problem for a game focusing so heavily on story. Don’t get me wrong, Minato and his buddies are charming, the dialogue is well-written (if not a little hackneyed) and the story scores a full-house in Stephen King/Stranger Things Bingo.
The problem is that the game jumps about so often – from flashback, to premonition, to the future, to the past again – that the pace suffers greatly. It’ll take just less than an hour before the Town fully opens up to you, but it’ll feel a lot longer. This isn’t helped by the numerous cut-scenes, fade-to-black and load screens which will keep you stop-starting throughout.
Despite various pacing issues, you’ll have a lot of fun wandering around, taking in the sights and chatting to locals. This forms the basis of the gameplay loop, and there’s not much more in the way of interactivity. Which is completely fine for a story-heavy game, but it feels a shame to be exploring such a visually rich world and not be able to connect with it in a deeper way.
Gotta Collect ’em All
When you’re given free reign to wander around the town, there are numerous, quirky inhabitants to speak with. Each character has a distinct voice and a story to tell, often in only a sentence or two, but you get a good sense of their lives thanks to the well-written dialogue which helps to add depth to the world.
On your travels, you can also find hidden items to collect. These display in the Catalogue menu as beautiful voxel artwork of CRT TVs, cassette players and rotary dial telephones, for example. Each item has a brief description to give context, which is useful as a lot of them are specific to Japanese culture. It’s a nice pang of nostalgia, but ultimately not necessary to complete the game and you may lose interest after a while due to the sheer number available to find.
A full play-through should take you around 5-6 hours, which feels long enough given the pacing issues. A word of warning, though – when the credits roll and you’re taken back to the main menu, it’s a good idea to hit ‘Continue’ as there’s a final chapter to the story. Despite yet another interruption, the final chapter is surprisingly moving and wraps up Minato’s journey with a clever twist.
Out on the Town
While it isn’t the most polished game (some of the background images are quite low res), the voxel animation looks good and works really well to give a sense of dimension to the world. There are some wonderfully charming settings in Kagami; the bath house has a beautiful pixel-art Mount Fuji mosaic tiled along the back wall. It’s a cosy world to spend time in, even if the game won’t let you stay in one place for too long.
The music in The Kids We Were is nothing out of the ordinary, but it’s tinged with a retro 8-bit feel – again, adding to the sense of nostalgia that pervades. The game also uses sound well to create atmosphere and depth. For example, when you wander the streets at night, a cacophony of Cicadas chirp away, firmly routing you in another time and place.
The Kids We Were is an enjoyable, coming-of-age adventure full of heart and nostalgia. Despite taking only 5-6 hours to complete, the game feels overlong due to numerous pacing issues which could be addressed by trimming some of the fat. Regardless, Minato’s story culminates into a genuinely moving climax, albeit after taking several detours along the way.
If you want to transport yourself back to those halcyon days before the Internet, this is for you. Just don’t expect anything too fancy in the way of graphics or gameplay mechanics.