Please remember to throw away your space rubbish!
It’s all very well being an RPG adventurer. You can march off into dungeons full of conveniently respawning loot, and experience-giving monsters – simply tossing aside your obsolete items, and chucking out your empty potion bottles as you continue on your glamorous quest for personal enrichment and empowerment. But what about the poor sod who has to pick up all the crap you throw away? Enter Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor; to shed some light on the little guys who keep the cogs of society turning. You play as a lowly custodian of a busy spaceport, who spends their days picking up and incinerating garbage. What you’ll quickly find however; is that one person’s trash is another’s treasure.
Dairies of a Spaceport Janitor bills itself as an anti-adventure title and it fits the bill. Every day you’re assigned to follow a quotidian schedule: you wake up, wander around the spaceport, picking up items and incinerating them to keep the spaceport tidy. At the end of the day, you go home and hope your meager wages will be sufficient to buy enough food to last you through tomorrow – and keep your incinerator powered up (it’s biochemically powered, don’tcha know!). There’s no way to lose and no way to die – this is a mundane daily life simulator, not a struggle for survival. Theoretically, you could wander the streets forever, picking up garbage – but when you dream each night, mysterious hints point you toward a way to break free of your humdrum life and become something more.
You’ll quickly notice – when doing your rounds of collecting garbage – that some of the crap you pick up will be be sellable to some of the many weird and wonderful merchants you find. Maybe the green mucus-like blob monster will be interested in buying that piece of damp cloth you found? Perhaps that furry purple creature will want to buy that magical sword you found. Did you think you’d get to use it to kill monsters? Hah!
The core of the gameplay is keeping a mental note of what items you’ve got on you, and what you’ve stashed in your apartment – and finding merchants who are interested in relieving you of that particular bit of miscellany for a high price. This will help augment your pitiful income and provide you with enough money to snatch up some of the items you’ll need to progress on your goal of getting the heck off the station and finding a new life elsewhere. The greatest drama is in deciding which potentially useful items to incinerate to make room for other stuff – an agonizing experience for any hoarders out there!
The strongest suit Dairies has is its charmingly ugly – yet original – aesthetic. You can tell this is the goal as the game’s set-up only offers you two graphics settings: “bad” and “worse”. Your environment is rendered in a chunky low-poly 3D style, with characters being colorful pixellated 2D sprites. It sort of looks like the original Grandia for the PlayStation One – if you were playing it while tripping on magic mushrooms.
Dairies is a relentlessly alien experience and seldom will leave you anything other than confused and bewildered. From the lack of much real guidance to your next objective – to the red-mushroom creatures singing a chirpy ewok-like tune as you walk the candlelit streets on “TheDay” festival – you’ll never feel too grounded or familiar in your surroundings. Dairies of a Spaceport Janitor reminded me of going on holiday to Japan and walking the streets of Kyoto alone, without a map, being completely adrift in a entirely different culture.
What Diaries is – perhaps deliberately – lacking in, is much in the way of plot or characterization. Don’t expect to be forming any deep, enduring relationships with those you find. You’ll never get more than three dialogue choices in conversations – which will usually be quickly funneled towards buying stuff, selling stuff or saying goodbye pretty darn quickly. The people you meet are an ephemeral part of your always moving, shifting surroundings. Different goods are bought and sold on the market every day and it’s a constant struggle to keep on top of everything.
The lack of a traditional narrative is offset by the innately satirical nature of the proceedings. You’ll find the ground littered with “Adventurers wanted” fliers, empty potion bottles and magical stones with their charges expired. There’s definitely more than a few giggles to be found rifling through the leavings of these glamorous adventurers. It gives one a sense of how these strange monster looting and killing based economies must actually work on a day-to-day basis! The question is: would being a cog in this bizarre machine be fun for you?
If you ever watched the original Star Wars and found yourself fascinated at the thought of getting lost in the weird and wonderful inter-species melting pot of Mos Eisley station – and listening to the motley alien cantina bands – then Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor is absoloutely the game for you. If you were mainly interested in the twisty-turny plot and the action-adventures of the human characters – then you might find Diaries a little lacking. Speaking for myself, I found this title distinguished itself by being bold enough to find the beauty in the everyday – even if that everyday is pretty bloody weird!
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed) ; Publisher: tinyBuild ; Developer: Sundae Month ; Players: 1 ; Released: September 16th, 2016 ;
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy provided to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.