Sure, it’s A Disaster, But it’s A Disaster With Heart.
Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories is a strange beast. From the moment you begin your journey into the fictional Hisui City where the story takes place, it feels like the game is actively trying to see just how far it can push you before you turn your Switch off in frustration. From the way the opening cinematic stutters like a slideshow to the in-game performance – which sometimes sees the framerate tumble into the single digits in large, busy areas – it is, without a doubt, the most poorly optimized game you’ll find on Nintendo’s hybrid console today.
Though despite these issues, it’s a game that can be nearly impossible to put down. Like a spectacular train wreck – or better yet, a skyscraper plummeting to the pavement below – it’s a disaster, but it’s one you just have to see to its conclusion.
That’s not to say Disaster Report 4 is one of those games that’s so bad it’s good. Instead, there’s a genuinely engaging game buried beneath the numerous, hard to ignore flaws that pile upon the experience like so many tons of twisted rebar and shattered concrete. And while it’s probably not for everyone, fans of Deadly Premonition and the Yakuza series will likely find the game’s quirky personality and distinctly Japanese brand of melodrama hard to pass up.
Waiting For The End Of The World.
If you’re going into the series fresh, Disaster Report 4 will probably be a bit overwhelming at first. There’s virtually no handholding or tutorials in the game. You’re literally thrown from a bus and into a city as buildings collapse around you and the ground beneath your feet buckles and cracks. You’ll need to learn right away when to run shelter or duck and cover when the earth begins to shake as deadly surprises occur frequently. However, natural disasters aren’t the only things you’ll need to keep an eye out for. Food, drinks, and even bathroom breaks are all things you’ll have to factor in when exploring the ravaged world around you.
Without any waypoints or indicators telling you where you need to go and what you should be doing, you’ll mainly need to feel every area out yourself. As you wander around each of the game’s many districts, you’ll meet all manner of colorful characters, and interacting with them and helping solve their problems is more often than not the key to progressing in Disaster Report 4’s story.
And what a story it is. Sure, there’s an earthquake that’s reduced most of the city to rubble. But like the ghouls in a good zombie movie, the quake isn’t what the story is all about. It’s about the way humanity behaves in increasingly desperate situations. Throughout the game, you’ll meet plenty of solid gold heroes out to help those around them, and despicable villains looking to use the chaos to their advantage. Add corporate conspiracies, evil cults, and the occasional melees between rival communities to the mix, and you’ve got a pretty damn compelling story to move things forward.
I’m The Decider.
Of course, you’re more than just a casual observer of all of these interwoven plot points. In RPG fashion, the game allows you to choose from a surprising amount of dialog options when dealing with Hisui City’s locals. Even though some of the choices you make will affect the game’s story, which offers several different endings, most do not. Instead, they factor into a morality point system that mostly just keeps track of how you treat those around you. And to be honest, it’s not implemented very well. Becoming the leader of an evil cult will reward you with Morality Points. However, doing something you’d think would be a bit more noble, like bombing a human traffickers’ ship, will cost you big time.
Speaking of missed opportunities, Disaster Report 4 has a crafting system. The problem is, you’ll hardly even know it’s there. The feature is limited to creating a few key items to use in a small handful of locations.
It’s a little disappointing that developer Granzella didn’t do more to make the morality and crafting systems feel more meaningful parts of Disaster Report 4’s package. While the concepts are solid, their execution leaves much to be desired. They come across as little more than feature padding than anything else.
It’s Not The Heat, It’s The Calamity.
Despite its many problems, Disaster Report 4 can be a hard game to put down once the action picks up. This is due in no small part to the way it keeps shaking things up from moment to moment. One minute you’re fending off drunks looking to take advantage of your new traveling companion, the next, you’re rowing a rubber dinghy through a flooded apartment complex as the sea swallows entire tenements. My favorite moment involved running around town with an injured octogenarian on my back. She was either totally oblivious or just didn’t seem to care as I crept through windows and appropriated all the money and cute collectible anime girl compasses I could from the townsfolk with her riding piggyback. You just never know where the story is going to take you next.
And you know what? I love that about Disaster Report 4. One minute the drama runs high as people are dying and dealing with genuinely awful situations. The next thing you know, some goofy story arc pops up at just the right time to cleanse your palette before the next horrible tragedy occurs.
In many ways, Disaster Report 4 lives up to its name. Sure, it’s a disaster, but it’s a disaster with heart. It’s a buggy, technically-flawed mess that somehow, seemingly against all odds, manages to pull you in with its charming characters and compelling narrative. If you can overlook its unpolished nature and a few questionable design choices to experience a game unlike anything else on the Switch, you may just enjoy this quirky and chaotic adventure.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Switch (reviewed), PS4; Publisher: NIS America; Developer: Granzella; Players: 1; Released: April 7, 2020; MSRP: $59.99
Editor’s note: A review copy was provided by the publisher.