Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories has faced a lot of bad luck on its decade-long path to release. Initially in development back in 2010 for the PlayStation 3, the survival game set during the aftermath of a massive earthquake in Japan was set to release on March 10 of 2011. The game was already delayed from that date when the massive Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami occurred in Japan on March 11; Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories was outright canceled just a few days later.
The game was eventually revived in 2014 and got a Japanese release in 2018, but it’s now tied to yet another real world catastrophe for its release in the West. With the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems like yet another awkward time to release a game about a city in turmoil. Instead of delivering a narrative fraught with dread and gloom, though, Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories provides charming stories of everyday people rising to action in the face of imminent danger as they seek to help each other. These moments of human fortitude and miraculous survival could provide the kind of healing, uplifting message that many might need in a time like this. Unfortunately, the wealth of technical issues bogging this game down prevents it from being anything more than a janky and rarely rewarding experience.
The Disaster Report series is unlike much else on the market, especially for overseas fans who have only seen a small portion of the series localised under a variety of names by different publishers. Equal parts survival simulator, narrative role-playing experience, and melodramatic story game, the Disaster Report series is often known for juggling punishing survival systems with over-the-top scenarios that result in larger-than-life tales of intrigue and adventure.
Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories tones all of this down, but that isn’t entirely a bad thing. This entry is light on melodrama and soap opera action, instead delivering a much more quaint and quiet story about a Japanese city caught in the middle of a sudden and incredibly destructive earthquake.
Your character starts out on a bus heading into the city, but from the first few seconds of the game it’s entirely up to you to shape the background and motivation of your character. Frequent moments of reflection and character interaction provide up to eight different dialogue choices each time, resulting in an incredibly broad set of options for you to craft exactly who you are and how you would react in this kind of scenario. Are you a romantic from one town over heading into the city to hang out at bars? Or are you a family man from the other end of the country coming here for a job interview to try and turn your life around?
Your story is whatever you choose to see it as, but it unfortunately leads to many situations where the growth and development of your character are only ever dictated by yourself. In one scene, emotional music swelled as my character sat down to reflect on the journey they’ve been on so far and how it made them feel. This scene consisted of about five different dialogue decisions, making my reflective inner monologue a complete ad-lib that lacked any kind of emotional impact because the revelations were simply whatever I chose them to be.
The blank slate nature of your character isn’t a huge deal, though, as the real heart in Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories’ story comes from the NPCs you meet along the way. There isn’t much of a guided narrative or structure to the game, as you instead need to explore the world and naturally interact with characters, who may end up providing goals and becoming allies as you help them overcome their circumstances. The naturalistic feel to these encounters is somewhat ruined by the frequent and lengthy loading screens that pop up every time you walk within the vicinity of an important character or event, but the writing in these moments is where this game shines.
Stories of a school teacher discovering her bravery as she helps her students survive a natural disaster or a street performer singing for distraught citizens before being chastised by a rude passer-by offer realistic and incredibly varied looks into how people would act and react in this kind of scenario. Some scenes are silly, while others are serious, but your wealth of dialogue options is just as varied in tone, giving you a sometimes overwhelming amount of freedom in how you choose to react during each of these scenarios.
These moments of humanity and hardship, though, fail to make up for the flaws in every other corner of the game. The controls are clunky and slow, the framerate crawls along at an abysmal pace, and a bevy of lighting issues and texture pop-ins can make the very act of looking at this game a chore. There are apparently some survival systems in this game like stress, hunger, thirst, and more. In my hours with the game, however, they never presented an issue and hardly even made themselves known. Instead, gameplay consisted of slowly shuffling across shabby-looking city environments to poke every corner of the world until I triggered a loading screen that would lead to my next story event.
It’s easy to forgive flawed gameplay mechanics or rough visuals, but to be presented with both is a tough pill to swallow and a massive roadblock to the genuinely charming written moments of this game.