If you’ve had the chance to take a look at my post on Bleach Advance, you’ll know that I recently found a GameBoy Advance gatcha machine on a small street corner in Japan. Today, I’d like to continue my adventure into these random prizes and see if I can uncover any other gems. After being rewarded with Bleach during my first time around, I was excited to find out what would emerge next, and I found myself heading back over to the gatcha machine a mere few hours later. Since then, I’ve left Japan and have returned to the UK’s sunny shores, and unfortunately I didn’t have much time to test out the second game I was rewarded with by the machine. I could see it sat there – a grey GBA cartridge with a saccharine pink and yellow sticker on it reading ひまわり動物病院, otherwise known as Himawari Veterinary Clinic. I have to admit, it wasn’t exactly calling to me, but the more I thought about it, the more excited I got to try it out. This is, after all, the fun of trying out random games – you never know what hidden joys could await you in unsuspecting pink ribbons.
When I first booted up the game, I was met with a pleasant surprise – it seemed that this was a game in a similar vein to the Harvest Moons and Stardew Valleys of the world, where I’d be living the day-to-day life of this avatar – clocking in at work, helping take care of some sick pets, wandering around town… It all seemed very promising indeed. If only that positivity lasted past the first ten minutes! Instead I was greeted with a world that felt pointless, poorly designed, and, to be honest, somewhat offensive at times. I’ll come to that last point a little later, but let’s start by looking at what exactly the game does offer.
As a new trainee veterinary nurse, you’ll be tasked with helping the animals that are brought into the clinic. This takes place twice a day, with the animals being brought onto an examination table where you are provided a list of their stats – hunger, temperature, stress, and so on – before deciding whether the animal can be sent home with just a prescription or if they’d need to be admitted to the hospital to be given more hands-on care from the veterinary staff. The problem is that this judgement seems to be completely arbitrary and you can choose whatever you like. Now, I understand that this is a game targeted towards younger kids, so having Hopsy the rabbit die because you didn’t make the right call regarding his medical treatment might be a little severe, some more guidance from the other characters on how to make the right call could go a long way to making it feel like there was at least a little weight behind your actions.
I tried bringing in a cat for care, and found it taken off to a side room where I could pet it and feed it after my lunch break and before I went home for the day. As I did, the various statistics changed and it started to get better. Then my game skipped four days and I couldn’t help but wonder if the cat had been there, alone, the whole time. Alas it was, and thankfully its stats hadn’t changed since the last time I left him – the thought of having accidentally left a cat without food, water or contact for four days seemed a little cruel, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it would’ve been better for me to have sent him home with his owner and a packet of medicine in the first place.
Alongside the main meat of the game that is the veterinary clinic, there are a couple of mini-games that you can join in – namely bowling and tennis. The former works decently enough for what it is, but the tennis… Well, I don’t claim to be a pro-gamer just because I’ve beaten a few FromSoftware games, but the tennis mini-game in this was just nigh-on impossible! No matter when I swung the racket, no matter how I positioned myself in relation to the ball, it just seemed to pass straight through me. And then we get into another rocky patch when we look at the owner of the tennis courts. In a game populated with Japanese characters, the tennis court owner is the only foreigner in the mix. You know this not from his character design, which looks no different really from the other cutely designed characters, but instead from his speech. See, his speech isn’t written in the standard mixture of kanji and hiragana with a sprinkling of katakana, but is instead written solely in katakana – a writing system typically reserved for foreign loan words in modern Japanese. Alongside his ‘katakana Japanese’ designed to mark him out as ‘other’ by the game, he also makes a few grammar and vocabulary mistakes. In response to this, our main character tells him – ‘your Japanese is so good!!’. It’s a phrase that many foreigners living in Japan will be accustomed to, and which many will come to loathe as it always comes across incredibly patronising. A pain for many will be simply saying ‘thank you’ or ‘hello’ to Japanese people before being told ‘your Japanese is so good!!’. On the outside looking in, it might feel like something kind, but when you’re living in this environment, it can feel like you’re being treated with kid gloves. That the game was training children to respond this way to foreigners and their mistakes was at once amusing and mortifying.
Compared to the first game I won from the gatcha machine, Himawari Veterinary Clinic falls short indeed. It’s a shame that a game which started by showing a little bit of promise became so poor, so quickly, but hey, I guess not everything that I get for 300 yen is going to be brilliant. In this case, I unfortunately can’t agree with Jade from RuPaul’s Drag Race, and I have to say that I’m not happy with what I got from the dumpster. I’m putting these feelings aside however, and am now looking onto the next game I’ll be diving into as I continue this series – わんわん名探偵 (Doggy Detective). What have I gotten myself into?