Here’s an odd one. It’s a Japanese Visual Novel… with westerners as the target audience. And it’s one that aims to be mostly practical, kind of a virtual tour guide of Japan. Minimal fantasy here, all just storytelling that will teach you thing. Edutainment. From a company that typically makes H-games, no less. And this is minimally H-y. Only mild amounts of H here. And pretty tame H too.
In any case, I kind of wonder about the conversation that led to this being made. Something like:
A: “So, I hear there are actually some people who like visual novels in all those heathen Western companies. They’ve got money, maybe we should make something for them.”
B: “Really? I though visual novels were just a unique Japanese thing that other countries don’t really have the cultural factors and industry inertia to appreciate en masse. Those Western visual novel fans must all be giant nerds.”
A: “Well, I don’t know about that. There is that Aether guy. He seems incredibly cool.”
B: “Yeah, of course. But aside from him.”
A: “Oh yeah. GIANT nerds.”
B: “That gives me an idea. If they like visual novels, they must like other aspects of Japanese culture. Maybe they all want to visit. So let’s make a visual novel about visiting Japan! And we’ll have the main character be the biggest nerd of all!”
And that’s how Go! Go! Nippon! was born.
Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~ takes you on a virtual tour of the country, with one of the two Misaki sisters as your tour guide-cum-love interest. You will be introduced to several Japanese landmarks, learn big FACTS about Japanese culture, and see through the eyes of the biggest damn dweeb you could ever possibly imagine.
Yeah. That’s this visual novel. I can’t tell whether developer Overdrive is playing a trick on you, or this is what they think the average westerner interested in visiting Japan is like, of if they didn’t realize just how much of a dweebosaurus their viewpoint character is, but this guy. This guy. Such a monumental geek. It’s absolutely cringeworthy at times. This nerd is you. You can name him after yourself. Which is just going to make the subsequent scenes more funny. For me. Probably extra cringe for you. I don’t recommend naming this guy after yourself, is what I’m saying.
So, your guy loves anime and all that Japan pop-culture stuff. So much that he learned Japanese to a level that he’s fully fluent and hangs out on forums with Japanese citizens, and yet he somehow avoided picking up anything more than a very shallow cultural knowledge about the country. Which is understandable from a storytelling perspective, given that he has to not know these things so that the Misaki sisters can tell him and, therefore, us, about them, and it wouldn’t be all that notable in a normal story, but combined with this dude’s personality it makes him seem an extra-large dweebenheimer. So yeah, he met the Misaki sisters on that forum, and they agreed to host him for a week-long visit to Japan, so he saved up his money and flew out there. But the sisters, Makoto and Akira, have gender-neutral names, and dude spent however many years convinced that they were actually the Misaki brothers, only finding out the truth when he showed up at the airport and started wondering why women were paying any attention to him whatsoever. Also their parents aren’t home. The implications are not lost on him. But this isn’t an H-game, so nothing comes of it.
So the visual novel runs along two lines. Most of the time, it spends being remarkably practical, talking about the ins and outs of navigating Japan or introducing major landmarks or cultural features around Tokyo or Kyoto and giving the stories and whatnot around them. The first three days of your trip, you’ll choose what location in Tokyo to visit, which will determine which of the sisters you’ll spend time with. Whichever sister you’ve spent more time with by the time you hit the fourth day and the tale gets more linear will, inexplicably, fall for you. So it’s not just educational. It’s a love story, too.
So, you get one side of facts. One side of characterization. The facts can be pretty interesting. They range from taking you through the sort of things you probably already know if you’ve spent a decent amount of time with Japanese-set works (Japan has robot toilets! Hachiko has a story! Japanese houses are made with Tatami mats!) to things that I, at least, didn’t know (How to navigate paying for and entering subways! A whole bunch of cultural landmarks and the history behind them! Japanese bathrooms don’t have locks so don’t try the door without knocking if your sharing the home!). I’ve never been to Japan, so I can’t say how useful it’d be, but it strikes me as having a bunch of bits that are helpful, but not nearly enough that you can rely on what you learn here alone. Then again, it’ll be more entertaining than other guides, by virtue of, you know, having anime girls to go along with it. Plot and characterization are rather shallow. I won’t say it’s bad, but it’s not deep. Makoto’s a traditional high-performing princess type. Akira’s a tsundere. I hate tsunderes. Guess which one the game decided to hook me up with? Your character wets himself regularly. They do play with it a bit, in that although Makoto is more of what’s considered traditionally “feminine” in character, it’s Akira that has the more “feminine” hobbies. Honestly, though, there’s not a lot of mileage to get out of that, especially as such distinctions have less and less weight culturally. Beyond that, the plot just plays it safe. Nothing with a lot of nuance, nothing that you haven’t seen before, nothing that takes any risks except for the fact that your lead character is such a huge dweebzilla. I entertained myself quite a bit by screenshotting all the times the lead acted like a total loser (I got 99 pictures!) but I don’t think it’d be all that fun without it. Like I said, it’s not a bad story, but it’s not good either. It’s just kind of there. It’s plain vanilla cake, no frosting. From a box. Overall, your enjoyment of this is going to rest on how much you enjoy all the tourism-related learning, more so than the story.
Visuals are good for the most part. The characters are decently designed, although I think Akira’s look is probably better in meatspace than it is in anime. The backgrounds are absolutely excellent. Very highly detailed, seems like they really capture the atmosphere they’re trying to project, and I’m assuming they’re really good representations of the real life fixtures they’re trying to transmit here. At the least, they match up really well with photographs I’ve seen of these landmarks, so I’ve been giving them a lot of faith for their accuracy. The CGs, big old splashes of character activity, are pretty good as well, the few times they come up. Art is definitely the high point of this visual novel. Which, I mean, normally they’re an erogame studio, so they’d better be good at their art, but they use it to really good effect here in this game that’s pretty light on the ero.
I lot of the other parts are just fine. Sound is ok. Music is forgettable, but not distracting, and matches the mood they’re going for well, generally. Writing style is mostly fine. Doesn’t get in the way, but also doesn’t really add to the work. Plot is inoffensive, maybe trending to the bad. It’s light on content, character driven, and one of those characters is a tsundere so…. Character conflict occurs late in the story, and at least on Akira’s route, was one of those deals that could have easily been solved if they just agreed to talk like two people who weren’t emotionally crippled for five minutes. But overall, the plot, such as it is, is fine, just running in some very well-worn ruts. Nothing you haven’t seen before. It’s all safe. Riskless. And in doing so, it doesn’t reach itself toward anything.
Which kind of puts this game in a weird place. What purpose is this serving? As a guide for travel to Japan, it’s not content-dense enough to be super useful. As an entertainment medium, it doesn’t even try to dazzle. Now, there is definitely something to the fact that you will learn more from something that entertains you, and maybe it holds value there, but otherwise, this has the Red Mage problem. Doesn’t educate you as well as other things you could get just as easily. Doesn’t entertain you as well as other things you could get just as easily. Maybe if you’re really curious about Japanese tourism and just starting to dip your toes into it, this could be worthwhile to you. But otherwise, I’ve completed it once, and I don’t have any urge to do so again.