Third-grader Shunsuke's life is a little bit strange, but it's peaceful enough... until he comes home from a visit to his grandparents to find his town a desolated wreck, his babysitter a mindless monster, and his mother a bloody corpse at the door. Shunsuke escapes to his clubhouse, and meets the remaining population of Kowada Town: six terrified children who just want to call for help. And then there's Yuuichi, the little boy behind it all, whose bizarre demands offer a promise of escape. Can you save your friends, or will you be left all alone? Re:Kinder, a free RPG adventure made by Parun and translated by Vgperson, might sound like a relatively straightforward horror story... but no, that's not the case. It's just that the sheer level of weirdness in this game is difficult to convey with words.
Guide Shunsuke through what remains of Kowada Town, solving puzzles and figuring out the right course of action before it's too late and one among your number is gone for good. When the party needs to fight, you'll be dropped into a turn-based battle. You'll need to pay attention to the characters' abilities and the enemies' patterns of attack— trying to brute-force your way through a battle is the quickest way to lose. Though the combat is far from the star of Re:Kinder (there's no levelling and only one weapon upgrade, and veteran explorers may find a way to skip the final boss entirely), it does an admirable job in its supporting role. Sometimes the gameplay gets weighed down by all the cutscenes, but that's pretty much par for the course in this type of game, and thankfully, Re:Kinder includes the option to skip dialogue. It's not quite as elegant as the skipping system found in, for example, Renpy games, but it is much, much better than nothing at all, and it definitely improves Re: Kinder's replay value.
Kowada Town is a great setting, with oddly-named stores and a park that's only there because the two towns who planned the thing didn't want it, and Shunsuke's friends are for the most part a likeable crew. Not everyone gets enough time to shine, but they work well together as an ensemble, and for me, keeping them all alive wasn't just about winning the game— I genuinely didn't want to see them go. The whole game is teeming with a strange sense of personality, leaping back and forth across the line between tragedy and comedy. Sometimes you're listening to a precocious child babble about sperm and adultery, sometimes you're listening to a depressed child tell you about how they want to disappear (a recurring theme in Re:Kinder, which takes place in a world with very little understanding of mental illness, and quite a few of the characters suffer for it). You learn to roll with the mood whiplash after enough exposure to it, even if it's never quite comfortable. Some games don't seem to know what they want to be, but not this one. Re: Kinder feels more like a game that knows itself perfectly well, but doesn't want to open up to you about it. It's very aware of what it does with game conventions, and it cultivates its unique style of odd in a way that seems... carefully halfhazard, if that's a thing.
Re:Kinder is, as the name implies, a remake of a previous game by Parun, simply titled "Kinder." Kinder hasn't been translated into English, and Vgperson hadn't been able to find it at the time Re:Kinder's translation came out. Some accounts of Kinder mention that the black comedy so prevalent in the remake was completely missing in the original game (link is very, very spoilery). It was a deliberate choice to make this game undermine itself so much, and it begs the question: why? Did Parun think his old game was silly, or needed to be lightened up? Was the comedy for the sake of dissonance; a way to make the creepiness pop? Did he just want to troll the players? Perhaps it tied into the themes of the game— Shunsuke is traumatized by the horrors he faces, but the story's tone doesn't change for him. It's eerily reminiscent of the way that certain characters sought help repeatedly for their problems, but were met with indifference every time.
Sadly, Parun passed away in 2011. Given the circumstances of his death, it's possible that his writing on depression came from somewhere personal. It's tempting, though reductive, to see this game as an explanation of sorts. I don't think it's that simple. Re:Kinder has a message, but it isn't only a message. It's a weird, creepy, funny game about struggling to survive and the hidden depths in people— even the ones you've got every reason to write off. Re: Kinder isn't for everyone, but if you're looking for something a little unconventional, you might want to give it a chance.
(Content note: Re:Kinder contains explicit language, sexual references, violence, and discussion/depiction of suicide.)
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