By Leah McDonald / July 3rd, 2020
|Release Date||June 27th, 2019|
|Genre||Meditative, gardening simulator, VR, adventure|
|Platform||PlayStation VR, Steam, Oculus|
Since college, I’ve been a fan of minimalism. It started when reading minimalist American fiction from the turn of the 20th century, and extended into video games with titles such as Shadow of the Colossus and Journey (which, incidentally, are two of my favorite games ever.) There’s a beauty in simplicity, a kind of tranquility when you’re given something concise and pared-down to only its most relevant forms. Fujii goes a long way toward capturing that same serenity through virtual reality, even if, in the end, it didn’t quite hit the mark for me.
You wake up in the dark and make your way toward colored lights in the distance. Touching them causes them to light up and open a path for you. Since I was playing on the PlayStation VR version, your in-game hands move in tandem with the Move controllers, and for the most part it was pretty responsive. It got a bit finicky if you walked too close to the flower or orb of light or whatever other object you wanted to touch (and you can interact with almost everything). Walking was a simple matter of pointing your Move controller in a direction and pressing the center button to sort of hop to your next spot. Using the triggers lets you grip objects. I spent probably more time than was necessary picking up the weirdly cute creatures in the world of Fujii and petting them. It’s that kind of game.
Fujii has four distinct locations. There’s your hub world nestled inside a tree where you can plant the various exotic seeds you find by traversing three independent and unique biomes. The first two biomes are labyrinthine exploratory areas where interacting with the environment opens up new pathways. The third biome is similar to the opening sequence, in that it’s a dark pathway you have to light up. It was a chill time just exploring the areas, finding hidden nooks and crannies, and petting the aforementioned wildlife. (Seriously, every game needs to let you pet the animals.) The only real goal is to collect enough seeds to take back to your hub area. I spent about 30-45 minutes in each of the first two biomes, and I can’t say for certain if the amount of seeds I needed was all the ones in the location or an arbitrary amount. Fujii is very light on direction. Other than some very basic controls that are etched into the landscape, the game doesn’t tell you how to do anything. It doesn’t give an objective other than find seeds. It goes beyond minimalism and into more experimentation territory. I feel like it would have been a smoother and more overall positive experience if the control schemes had been laid out cleanly and simply right from the get-go (Fujii does this when teaching you how to move). The first half hour or so of my playtime was me fumbling about with the controls and trying to figure out what I was doing. It took away from the otherwise low-key vibe the game gives off.
Controls aside, Fujii is impressively lovely. The locales are vibrant and distinct, popping with color and texture. Interacting with the animals and plants are what give life — literally — to the world. Gripping or touching the flora and fauna, or sucking up water with your hands and spraying it on the environment, are the main mechanical gimmicks of the game. You collect items by grabbing them and storing them in a little flower pocket inventory. The most fun I had was trying to find ways to get to some far-off item I could see high up on a giant plant or hiding behind a rock barrier. You can pick up an assortment of wild looking seeds, as well as various creature eggs to populate your hub. There are also glowing spheres that unlock doors, which help you reach other seeds.
The first two biomes feature their own version of a Simon Says music puzzle, and honestly I wish there were more of them. Fujii bills itself as a sort of musical adventure, but those puzzles are the only real meaningful interaction you have with the game’s music. Otherwise it’s tonal responses when you go near something. The game itself has really good music that absolutely sets a relaxed tone, I just wanted more of the interactive elements those Simon Says puzzles offered.
My biggest issue with Fujii is that it’s aimless. I spent about four hours with the game. The stated goal is to collect seeds. You bring them back to your hub and plant them, then just tend to them. I think. The game doesn’t offer any input. Collecting for collecting’s sake isn’t necessarily a bad thing (I enjoy Nintendo games, and those are chock full of them), but usually that collecting adds something to the world. You can learn about its inhabitants, wildlife, history. I still don’t really know the world of Fujii. The gardening aspect is also where the controls suffered the most for me, because the space around the planters is small and I’d often end up on top of them or too close to effectively interact with them. For me, it became minimalism without a purpose. It lacked the narrative cohesion that gave Journey‘s or even Flower‘s minimalism a sense of weight, and the collecting felt more arbitrary than the structured freedom of a relaxing game like Animal Crossing. It leaned more abstract in the way Flow did, focusing instead on mood and emotion. As an experience, it isn’t egregious (in fact, I laud it for being experimental), but as a game, it left me feeling unfulfilled.
I also can’t overlook the fact the game crashed on me during my first playthrough of the first biome, or that items would sometimes just disappear into the ether if I dropped them. Having both happen early in my playthrough admittedly colored the rest of my time with the game.
Fujii was an interesting experience that ended up feeling like a half-finished game with underdeveloped mechanical ideas but a solid ethos. The game wants you to chill and relax, and to its credit it’s incredibly effective. There are very few games that can thrust me into the dark with glowing eyes in the distance and yet make me feel completely at ease. The visuals and music are great, but the gardening aspect just didn’t click with me. I’m glad it exists, though. Games are such a fantastic way to provide unique experiences of every stripe, and even if that experience didn’t fit for me, I’m sure it fits for someone else, and I will never turn away from experimentation within the medium.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
FujiiFunktronic LabsPS VRReviewvirtual reality