I expected a game about a Japanese city being hit with an earthquake to treat the subject matter very carefully and with a lot of empathy and gravitas. Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories, however, doesn’t. This is a weird, stupid game with clunky controls, janky visuals, and downright archaic gameplay. But its idiotic weirdness and ludicrous narrative trappings will make it worth playing for people who like wonky, low-budget Japanese games. Anyone looking for an emotional game focused on survival and the strength of humanity will likely just be appalled.
Rolling off the rails
Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories begins by letting you choose your character’s sex, face, and hair before placing them on a bus moments before an earthquake hits the city of Hisui. The country breaks down, buildings slam into the pavement below, and all infrastructure falls to the wayside. Your character, whose motivations and responses you get to choose, then tries their best to escape the city and find their way home.
The game does have a plot and characters. But everything is badly written and ankle-deep, not to mention astoundingly stupid. A significant amount of the story follows your character attempting to reunite a woman with her fiancé, plus several episodic stories regarding the people and places you come across. For about half of its playtime, Disaster Report 4 plays things semi-seriously. It’s never believable and very little made me care about what was happening.
But once it gets further in, it shows its true colors with one of the most schizophrenic plots I’ve ever seen. The game jumps back and forth between ridiculous melodrama and out-of-place comedy in a way that you need to see to believe. Sometimes it’ll present you with a horrible scenario that is then barely acknowledged, while something so preposterous that it caused my jaw to drop and hysterical laughter gets multiple minutes of voiced cutscenes.
So much of what happens is incredibly insensitive too. At one point, you see dozens of people get crushed to death by a falling freeway. At another, a woman, her baby, and her sick son die horribly when their apartment sinks, yet the game only references it with a quick caption and profound indifference. It then tends to lean into completely ridiculous plot points, such as the time when you join a cult and recruit people into it solely so that you can have a guy unblock a staircase. Characters are cartoony and insanely stupid to boot. While Disaster Report 4 is awful from a narrative perspective, fans of so-bad-it’s-good movies will probably get a giant kick out of it.
Unlike its predecessors, Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories isn’t an action-packed survival game. If anything, it’s more akin to Silent Hill 3, but without the monsters or polish. The vast majority of the game is spent triggering events in self-contained areas to move on to the next one. Oftentimes, this requires you to run around aimlessly until you stumble upon a cutscene, look for items, or randomly talk to people until the solution presents itself.
Much like the story, many of these adventure game solutions are just weird. They often devolve into surreal fetch quests that see you running back and forth with little idea of what you’re supposed to be accomplishing. Disaster Report 4 is played with a third- or first-person camera perspective, and your character can’t do much but run, crouch, or crawl. There are occasional sections where you control a vehicle, two of which only last seconds and are so pointless that it’s a wonder they were included at all.
Disaster Report 4 has survival elements on the surface too, but they’re totally irrelevant. Your character has hunger, thirst, and bathroom need statuses that change with time. If these aren’t addressed, an icon will appear on screen letting you know, and you might get a new idle animation. But that’s it. They literally serve no purpose. The fact that they’re just window dressing in a series known for such mechanics is honestly almost funny.
Everything falls apart
One series feature that does make a return here is that the world around you tends to fall to pieces above you or underfoot. Sometimes an aftershock will simply knock you to the ground. Other times it’ll drop an entire building on your head or have the ground sink. Make no mistake — you can die in Disaster Report 4. Anything more serious than a fall will outright kill you. But bandages, health kits, and food will heal any damage you take. Or you can just wait and your character will heal on their own randomly.
There aren’t many action sequences, however. The bulk of the game is still in adventure form, although the aforementioned destruction and vehicle sections break things up a bit. There’s also a really awkward forced stealth section at one point where you and your female companion get tied up by drunken hooligans because of reasons you probably already guessed. It’s lowbrow and totally unnecessary, but so is the rest of Disaster Report 4.
The movement feels mostly okay, although there isn’t any weight to it. The camera feels way too slow though, and the crawling doesn’t work correctly. Half the time I tried to crawl through an opening, my character would get stuck in some limbo animation between crawling and standing, and the controls would spaz out until I pressed the duck button a few times. The duck button is also used to brace yourself during aftershocks, which is pretty handy as long as something doesn’t fall on your head.
View of the disaster
Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories was made in the current iteration of the Unreal engine, and it definitely looks like it. It’s not necessarily a terrible-looking game, but it looks simultaneously modern and dated. Many of the details are solid, with a lot of attention paid to the destruction around you. But some of the textures and geometry are so low-resolution and dated that they just look weird. Certain locations, such as the inside of homes and apartments, look more like surreal dollhouses.
The game understandably doesn’t have English voice acting, so you’ll have to listen to the Japanese. The quality of the performances is mostly fine, but the characters are so basic that they tend to grate more often than not. The voice for the female main character too often used a generic customer service voice for all their lines, which I found jarring. Changing to a different kind of response similarly led to her sounding like a totally different person.
It’s worth mentioning that you can find cosmetic items that grant you new outfits and compasses throughout the game. These outfits range from totally normal to really dumb. My favorite is the green Chinese dress I bought off of someone on the street. You can also dress up as a fast food worker, firefighter, or a cowboy, complete with a hat. The compasses are also very silly. One looks like a chicken, while another is a very tall burger. There are a couple dozen of them to find.
Worth it for some
Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories is, to put it simply, not a good game. It’s dated, kind of ugly, and has a callous, moronic plot. But it’s so weird and so dedicated to its brand of stupidity that I couldn’t help but enjoy it. It also has a decent amount of content, with two very absurd endings and a multi-hour epilogue that takes you back to the same city months later where you can see what it looks like normally. This epilogue is also much less ridiculous than the main game, but it’s interesting. As a game, it doesn’t have much going on, but as a 15-hour slice of insanity, it’s very much going to be worth it for people that enjoy really dumb, janky games.