“Japan never considers time together as time wasted. Rather, it is time invested.” –Donald Richie
On this day in 2017, I was sitting on the benches at the Vancouver International Airport awaiting a flight back home. Although exhausted, I was immensely satisfied with my excursion. Early in May, I boarded a plane bound for Narita International Airport. We’d arrived later in the evening, so after reaching our hotel, we had time for dinner at a Chinese-style restaurant at the Hilton Tokyo Narita Airport before hitting the hay. The next morning, after a full Western breakfast, we boarded our ride and headed straight to the heart of Tokyo to check out the Meiji Jinju Shrine and Tokyo Imperial Palace. After stopping briefly in Ginza for a shabu-shabu lunch, the afternoon consisted of walking the Sumida River and exploring the Kogan-ji temple. The day wrapped up with an exquisite Wagyu beef and snow crab dinner at the Hotel Heritage. Here, I had the chance to soak in their onsen: having seen the procedure countless times in anime, I felt right at home in cleaning up and enjoying the experience. On the second day of our lightning tour, we travelled deep into the mountains of Yamanashi, stopping at Heiwa Park near Gotemba to view Mount Fuji from a distance. Following yakiniku, we visited Oshino Village and Mount Fuji’s Fifth Station. From here, we drove out to Shirokabako Resort by Mount Tateshima, where we spent the night. The next day opened with a drive to Magome-juku, where we took in the quiet of the Japanese countryside and had a traditional lunch before being whisked away to the heart of Nagoya to check out Atsuta Shrine. The final stop for this third day was Gifu: we were now within a stone’s throw from Kyoto, and on our final full day, we entered Kyoto itself, stopping by the Kinkakuji in the morning. Here, I enjoyed matcha ice cream and the iconic golden-leafed walls of Kyoto’s most famous temple under drizzling skies. Following a kaiseki lunch near Yasaka Shrine, we visited Todaji Temple in Nara, known for its free-roaming deer population. The day concluded in Osaka: after taking in the sights of the Sakai shopping district, we stopped for an omurice dinner, and I swung by a local bookstore to grab a copy of Kimi no Na Wa‘s manga before turning in: the next day, I’d been slated to fly on over to Hong Kong for the trip’s second leg, so early in the morning, we made our way over to Kansai International Airport. Although a flight out usually is more a matter of procedure, a pair of surprises awaited me here at Kansai International Airport; I was able to try authentic okonomiyaki, and I came upon a copy of the Kimi no Na Wa artbook while waiting for my flight. Like the protagonist Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~, I had a very short window in which to take in the sights, sounds and tastes of Japan, and I similarly realised an inevitable truth: that it would take a lifetime to fully experience everything Japan’s got to offer: this game had come into my path some five years prior to my travels to Japan in 2017.
As the story goes, on a miserable late autumn afternoon, I was typing away in the quiet of my office space: having finished building a sodium-potassium pump on the same principles as the renal filtration model I’d designed during the previous summer, I was working on a term paper ahead of a presentation for my research course. As I reached the section on my findings, one of my friends appeared at the lab. His classes for the day had ended, and he had something amusing to show me: a YouTuber was playing through a visual novel about visiting Japan, and was doing a throw-your-voice style voiceover of the dialogue. I’d only been mildly interested at the time, and despite having picked the game up to try it out, Go! Go! Nippon! remained a bit of a curiosity for me until, four years after its initial release, the 2015 expansion was announced. The additional content and visual improvements were enough for me to pick this up, and I’d beaten one of the Makoto routes posthaste. However, a post never materialised, and it is with some irony that I reflect on how my typical tendency for procrastination meant that I would only write about the game a full five years after I’d returned home from my travels to Japan and Hong Kong. The premise in Go! Go! Nippon! is simple: a foreign traveller decides to visit Japan at the behest of two pen-pals he’d met in an online chatroom, and upon arriving, discovers they’re sisters, Makoto and Akira Misaki. Despite the initial awkwardness, said visitor gets a very personalised tour of some of Tokyo’s most famous destinations, and along the way, becomes closer to Makoto or Akira, depending on the choice of destinations visited. Despite its hokey premise, Go! Go! Nippon! has proven to be surprisingly entertaining, being part visual novel and part Lonely Planet travel guide: the game is remarkably detailed about the history and information surrounding some of Tokyo’s attractions, from Ginza and Akihabara, to Shibuya and Mount Takao. The setup provides players the ideal environment to acclimatise to what a visual novel is like, using a story that is relatable for overseas players who might be dreaming of one day setting foot on the Land of the Rising Sun. In this way, despite being cheesy on first glance, Go! Go! Nippon! ends up being a fantastic experience for both introducing players to visual novel mechanics, as well as providing a guide to Tokyo’s sights to the same level of depth as a travel book might. The visual novel consequently received a pair of expansions, which brought Go! Go! Nippon! into the world of HD and provided animated character models using Unity. In addition, additional locations were added along with a more sophisticated decision tree that brings with it, new events for players to check out. The concept has proven quite enduring: Makoto and Akira have since become Virtual YouTubers, and the developers, OVERDRIVE, have also been surprised with the success of this series and its characters. When they’d started the Virtual YouTubers programme with Makoto and Akira, they’d made a tongue-in-cheek remark about how if they ever hit ten thousand subscribers, they would begin development on Go! Go! Nippon! 2. This particular milestone has since been reached, and all eyes are now on OVERDRIVE as they begin work on a sequel to a game that I’m certain that no one expected to reach the heights that it did.
There is a degree of irony in the fact that I ended up playing through and writing about Go! Go! Nippon! five years after my travels to Japan; a trip to Japan costs around 2400 CAD for an individual, whereas Go! Go! Nippon! and its expansions together are two orders of magnitude cheaper (since I bought Go! Go! Nippon! during sales over the years, my total for all three games was 14.91 CAD). However, despite the dramatic contrasts in the manner in which one gets to experience Japan, there are also striking similarities, attesting to how well Go! Go! Nippon! is able to capture the feelings of travelling Japan. While on first glance, Japan possesses a dramatically different culture, set of values and customs compared to somewhere like Canada, setting foot in Japan also made it apparent that the similarities were greater in number than differences. Outside of Japan’s numerous temples, attractions and sights, I found that whether it was Tokyo, Gifu, Nagoya, Kyoto or Osaka, the roads and streets were filled with people getting from point A to point B. Some were salarymen headed to work, while others were students who were out and about on their daily activities, no differently than how my days ordinarily went back home. My vacation had allowed me to see Japan’s sights, both iconic and ordinary. Seeing tranquil power surrounding a shrine to the striking views of Mount Fuji, enjoy some of their finest food, including kaiseki, Hokkaido Snow Crab and Wagyu beef and iconic experiences like soaking in an onsen was lovely, but I also had a chance to order ramen in a restaurant where the staff did not speak English (or Cantonese), buy manga from a bookstore and sit down to an omurice in a department store restaurant. The scope of my experiences thus ranged from the touristy, to the everyday, and in retrospect, this is what had made this vacation especially memorable. Recalling this allows me to better understand the reason why some folks seek out authentic experiences that allow them to do what locals do now, and having now revisited Go! Go! Nippon!, it becomes clear that this is also one of the reasons behind the game’s charm: Makoto and Akira take the players to iconic locations around Tokyo, but also gives one a chance to see things from a local’s perspective, whether it be a Japanese summer festival, fireworks performance or even Comiket itself. Thus, with this being said, being able to travel to Japan for real, curiously enough, gave me a better sense of appreciation for what Go! Go! Nippon! was going for, too.
Additional Remarks, Screenshots and Commentary
- It may surprise readers to learn that, when this blog was about three months old, I’d actually written a first impressions piece about Go! Go! Nippon!. Back then, my posts had no consistent format and style; that particular post had six screenshots, and barely covers any of my reflections surrounding Go! Go! Nippon! (the idea of a reflection would come about four months later, after I finished cell and molecular biology). This post, then, aims to offer a slightly more comprehensive set of thoughts on what is my first-ever visual novel experience on top of giving me a place to reminisce about my travels five years earlier.
- Typically, visual novels simply entail reading the text, gaining a modicum of understanding as to what’s happening and then playing through by making decisions at critical junctures, decisions consistent with one’s own values to see what the outcome is. Depending on one’s choices, an outcome can end up better or worse, pushing players to evaluate their own decision-making in specific contexts. Go! Go! Nippon! is a little more gentle in this regard in that there are no wrong choices. One’s itinerary in Go! Go! Nippon! impacts which of Makoto or Akira players spend more time with, and this cascades into a tearful ending that, sometimes, will end with a romantic outcome.
- On my own trip to Japan, I ended up visiting Meiji Jingu (a Shinto Shrine just a stone’s throw from Shinjuku Koen), Ginza and Sumida Park, just across the river from the Tokyo Skytree. All of these locations are fairly close to the spots that are available in Go! Go! Nippon!: in its original incarnation, Go! Go! Nippon! had been focused on Tokyo’s attractions, but the expansions allow players to check out Mount Takao and Kyoto. On my trip to Tokyo in 2017, I did not have a chance to visit Asakusa, one of the most iconic spots in Tokyo.
- As a natural part of Go! Go! Nippon!‘s progression, players will “accidentally” walk in on Makoto drying herself after a shower. Of Makoto and Akira, Makoto is better-endowed, and it is in the expansion games, where the character models are animated, that players really appreciate the HD updates bring to the table. The newer games are rendered in Unity, and I imagine would use the game engine’s rigging to handle animations. Attention is paid to details: when Makoto perks up or leans forward, oscillation is also present in her model. As an aside, I prefer showering in the evening, so were I to take the protagonist’s place, there’d be no chance of this happening.
- Dialogue with Akira and Makoto is such that players gain a bit of insight into their character; Makoto feels weighted down by expectations and is graceful, studying English at the local university, while Akira is a fantastic cook, tsundere and feels like she lives in Makoto’s shadows. In between Akira and Makoto explaining the history and details behind every location to the level of detail that would be appropriate for a Lonely Planet travel guide, one gains the sense that Makoto and Akira are full-fledged characters whom, in addition to their profound knowledge of Japan, its attractions and history, also have their own unique traits.
- One could say that Akira and Makoto’s knowledge of Japan is encyclopaedic: both bring up nuances and details that really illustrate the history of a given area, but isn’t something that one could readily just recall off the top of their head. To put things in perspective, while I’m familiar with the history and trivia of some of the most famous attractions in Calgary, I can’t just bring this stuff up in casual conversation with the same level of detail. Granted, this is a visual novel, which allows OVERDRIVE to thoroughly research locations and incorporate them into the game, allowing Go! Go! Nippon! to be both instructive and entertaining.
- Folks looking to learn about the locations visited in Go! Go! Nippon! can easily look up their details online, and Go! Go! Nippon!‘s expansions include a link to Google Maps, allowing one to get the precise spot that players visit in the game. Here, I’ve opted to try an izakaya out; the Japanese equivalent of a pub, izakaya are quite different than a pub in that food is served over a duration of time and is shared by a party. Having Akira and Makoto around would make an izakaya easier to experience: while my rudimentary Japanese allowed me to order food in a more conventional setting, I’m certain that without a guidebook at my side, an izakaya would be trickier to order at.
- On the second day, players “accidentally” walk in on Akira changing after Makoto asks them to check in and see if she’d awaken yet. Unlike Makoto, who’d taken things in stride and is swift to forgive, Akira’s reaction is par the course for what one might expect in reality, and in most anime. Akira’s dissatisfaction is most apparent when she swaps out sugar for salt in the player’s coffee, but seeing the player taking their lumps leads Akira to forgive them in the end. This is where my old post ends: in 2012, my patience for playing visual novels was nil. In the decade that’s elapsed, I’ve come to appreciate a much wider variety of games.
- From here on out, I venture into a side of Go! Go! Nippon! that I’d not previously visited; my choice of destinations for my first full play-through of the 2016 expansion took me to destinations that were quite similar to those I’d visited in my 2017 trip. This particular trip had been billed as “美食” (jyutpimg mei5 sik6, literally “beautiful eats”) oriented: attractions had been secondary to visiting places with particularly fancy Japanese cuisine, and as a result, the places we chose to visit were a bit more inconspicuous, selected to be closer to the dining venues.
- While we didn’t visit the Tokyo Skytree itself, or Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine as a part of this trip, the locations we did end up hitting were quite scenic and enjoyable in their own right. A bonus was that the crowds here were fewer, allowing us to spend less time in lines and more time exploring. In retrospect, I am glad that I picked the 美食 oriented approach: especially nowadays, it is possible to gain a good measure of what an attraction feels like using virtual reality and Google Maps. However, there is absolutely no equivalent for being able to sit down to a meal in another country and enjoy what foods a nation has to offer.
- Unlike the original Go! Go! Nippon!, the 2016 expansion gives players a chance to visit Kyoto, as well. Kyoto was day four for me: having spent the first day in Tokyo, our second day was in Yamanashi, and the third day was spent in Gifu prefecture. On the morning of the fourth day, the Kinkakuji was the only destination I visited; this is an iconic part of Kyoto, and because we were there on a Saturday, the crowds were immense. Here at the Kinkakuji, I remember marvelling at how brilliant this gold-leafed temple was, even on an overcast day.
- Aside from spotting some tourists decked out in maiko outfits (it was 1100 in the morning, and real maiko usually begin making their rounds at around 1700), I also had a chance to sample the iconic matcha soft-serve ice cream. Japan’s soft serve is in a category on its own: while visiting Oshino village at the foot of Mount Fuji, I ended up going for a blueberry ice cream, as well. Enjoying these smaller things accentuated my experiences, and I had been glad to have brought the equivalent of 250 CAD worth of Yen in cash for this trip. This allowed me to buy things where credit cards wouldn’t work: while Japan is an ultra-modern society, I was quite surprised to learn most places didn’t accept credit cards.
- The Kinkakuji is such an integral part of Kyoto that every single anime with a class trip to Kyoto will inevitably feature this park, and of note is the fact that both K-On! and Kinirio Mosaic: Thank You!! visit the area as a part of their third year class trips. Besides being an iconic landmark with a storied history, I know the Kinkakuji best as Futurama‘s “Omaha, Nebraska”, and recall that one of the Kinkakuji’s most famous tales is that it was burned to a crisp by a monk-in-training during the 50s. Its lesser-known cousin is the Ginkakuji, which, contrary to its name, is not covered with silver plating.
- Go! Go! Nippon! captures the look-and-feel of a quiet Kyoto side street perfectly; after my visit to the Kinkakuji ended, I headed on over to Torihisa, a kaiseki restaurant. Kaiseki is a multi-course meal in which numerous small dishes are served in an artistic fashion. I thoroughly enjoyed lunch; kaiseki had been high on the list of things I’ve wished to try. Torihisa is located across the street from Maruyama Park, home of Yasaka Shrine. Maruyama Park is a fantastic place for hanami, but I’d arrived about two months too late.
- Although the protagonist of Go! Go! Nippon! has two full days in Kyoto to explore, I was on a more rigid schedule: as soon as lunch ended, we immediately set course for Nara Park, home to their famous sika deer. The portrayals of Nara Park in anime is no joke: the deer are very friendly towards people, and I watched one deer boldly snatch a tour pamphlet from a visitor’s hand here. After Nara had wrapped up, my final destination was Osaka. During my last evening there, I had dinner at an omurice restaurant and decided to go with a curry-katsu omelet rice; this was an all-in one that allowed me to try authentic Japanese curry and tonkatsu in conjunction with what is a contemporary Japanese comfort dish.
- Just like that, my week had come to a close. Go! Go! Nippon! makes it clear to players that there is so much to see and do in Japan that a single week will be insufficient to experience things in full. This message is accentuated by the visual novel format; one has the opportunity to go back to a save point and make different decisions, allowing for a more complete experience. The equivalent to doing this in real life would be prohibitively expensive, but I was impressed with the breadth of my experiences over the course of a week.
- If I had to pick the most standout moment in a vacation that was one long pleasant memory, it would be on the first full night. After we spent the day exploring Tokyo, we went out over to Saitama’s Heritage resort, a secluded retreat on the western edge of Musashi Kyuryo National Government Park. This evening saw the fanciest meal of the entire trip: an exquisite Wagyu beef nabe, sashimi and several small, artfully presented dishes, including unagi, pickled daikon and a side of fried potato croquettes. This was a feast for the eyes and the taste buds. There is an old saying of unknown origin: the Chinese eat with their mouths (taste is king), the Japanese eat with their eyes (presentation matters) and the Koreans eat with their stomachs (a meal should be satisfying). I’m not sure where this comes from, but seeing the artful presentation of meals in Japan, I confirm this certainly holds true.
- To round out what was an excellent dinner, I set foot inside the onsen, and because of my timing, I had the entire baths to myself. After cleaning myself off thoroughly, I lowered my body into the waters and felt all of my aches melt away. Meals on the other days were still solid: the second night saw me at a buffet at Shirakaba Resort Ikenotaira Hotel. What stood out most to me here was the fact that they had bakke and fiddlehead tempura available. We’d travelled through Yamanashi so we could see Mount Fuji from several different vantage points on this day, and although Mount Fuji remained completely obscured by cloud throughout most of the day (as Yuru Camp△‘s Rin would describe it, “wearing a hat”), we did end up hitting the Fifth Station at Narusawa for an up-close-and-personal look at Japan’s most famous mountain. Aoi, Hinata, Kaede and Kokona start their ascent of Mount Fuji here in Yama no Susume‘s second season, so my second day essentially had me visiting Yuru Camp△ and Yama no Susume destinations.
- On day three, we continued through the mountains of Nagano on our way into Gifu. The highlight of this day was the stop at Magome-juku, the forty-third of the stations along the Nakasendō trail. It’s a beautiful village perched on a hillside, and after venturing from the top of their main street to the bottom, we stopped for lunch at Magomekan Food Stands. Their set lunch was as beautiful to behold, as it was generous in portion sizes, and tasty to eat. Featuring rolled omlette, karaage and grilled fish, as well as a massive bowl of noodles, it was the perfect way to round out the morning’s activities.
- Back in Go! Go! Nippon!, I’ve reached the end of my first playthrough, and thanks to the way I roll, I ended up with what is considered the best ending for the Makoto route: I chose a Makoto destination for days one and three, and did an Akira destination for day two. In this way, I unlocked the ending where players and Makoto ring a bell together. Although Makoto struggles to be forward about her feelings, in the end, she comes through and openly returns the player’s feelings. Contemporary reviewers found the whirlwind romance aspect of Go! Go! Nippon! to be completely contrived, out of the blue.
- However, players with enough maturity will quickly realise that Makoto and Akira are representations of the joys of visiting Japan itself: in this way, Go! Go! Nippon! might be seen as a visual portrayal of falling in love with Japan over the course of a week, coming to see for oneself the nation’s pluses and minuses, and deciding for oneself if their initial impressions were on the mark or need rectification. Whether it is house-hunting, travel or romance, there are many commonalities. All involve that initial honeymoon-like phase where everything feels perfect, and how over time, imperfections manifest. What happens next then depends on the person: individuals willing to accept imperfections and embrace what they’ve fallen in love with will find happiness, while those who cannot accept the imperfections will restart the process anew.
- In my case, nailing the Makoto route on first try was quite entertaining. However, in the spirit of playing through Go! Go! Nippon! properly, I switched over to one of my other saves so I could check out the destinations I’d not visited on my first run. Tokyo Skytree ended up being first on my list; while in Tokyo, I gazed wistfully across the Sumida river: this hadn’t been a destination we had in mind, and therefore, we skipped over checking out the tallest building in Tokyo. In retrospect, I am okay with this choice: that day had been overcast, and the view from the top wouldn’t have been quite as impressive.
- In 2015, following my journey to Taiwan, I ended up going to Hong Kong, and here, I did check out the Sky100 observation deck, in addition to Taipei 101. On any given vacation in East Asia, Hong Kong inevitably becomes a part of the itinerary because the flights are actually more economical this way, and it gives me a chance to visit family. Whenever heading into Hong Kong, I always get the feeling that I’m going home: to me, Hong Kong simply feels like a super-massive Chinatown, where Cantonese is the lingua franca. Unlike Japan, or Taiwan, where I only know enough phrases for the basics (and in the case of Japan, enough to surprise store clerks and servers at restaurants), I’ve got level three proficiency with Cantonese and can carry out conversations.
- While I technically are a native Cantonese speaker, I have next to no exposure in legal and professional vocabulary, so I’m unable to conduct business in Cantonese; for instance, I have no idea how to describe the process for sorting out a build error in an Xcode project in Cantonese. While my Cantonese is practically native at the conversational level (I know enough slang to keep up with things, for instance), I hesitate to say I have native proficiency on things like a resume because that would imply I can read and write, as well. If I had to guess, I have level 2 proficiency with written Chinese, and level 3 proficiency with Cantonese, having worked in a Chinese language-setting previously.
- Here, I accompany Akira to a ramen joint after picking the “ocean” option, and she demonstrates how to properly eat ramen. While it is appropriate to make some noise in Japan, the practise is not kosher in China or Hong Kong, but when I visited the ramen place in Gifu, I followed local customs just to express my enjoyment of the noodles all the same. Sushi etiquette is a little easier to follow, and this reminiscence did leave me with a hankering for sushi. Fortunately, there’s an excellent sushi place within walking distance now, and I’m making good on my promise to try things out. Yesterday, I ordered a combo with California, Volcano and Dynamite rolls, plus salmon, tuna and shrimp nigiri with a takoyaki: this was a very tasty lunch, a welcome change of pacing just before the Victoria Day Long Weekend arrived.
- By now, I’ve become a ways more receptive of raw fish dishes: five years earlier, I ended up dousing my sashimi into the nabe at Heritage Resort, rendering it cooked, as back then, I wasn’t too fond of raw fish (exposure to shows like Yuru Camp△ have since broadened my mind). These days, I enjoy raw fish as much as I do cooked fish: the salmon and tuna nigiri were the highlights, being excellent with a dash of soy sauce. Although it is mentioned frequently, food is only a secondary aspect of Go! Go! Nippon!: being a virtual experience, things like food cannot be adequately mimicked. While one can see Akira explaining how to properly eat a ramen, one’s imagination must kick in to fill in the rest; imagination plays a very large part of enjoying visual novels: these games are quite static, and although they provide a few cues (such as sound effects and whatever visuals are available) to convey a moment, on top of what the dialogue yields, one must let their mind’s eye do the rest.
- One of the numerous events players can unlock in Go! Go! Nippon! is the summer festival; although absent in the original, the expansions introduce events which unlock after certain conditions (flags) are met. The summer festival is a pleasant event and would allow players to really experience an authentic Japanese celebration; the natsumatsuri is equivalent to the state fairs of North America (or for my Canadian readers, the Calgary Stampede), featuring plenty of games and eats, plus performances and fireworks. If memory serves, unlocking the summer festival requires going to specific destinations on the first and second day.
- Visual novels have a vocabulary that is quite related to programming. “Flags” in software usually refer to Booleans that control whether or not something happens (e.g. if the “isLoggedIn” flag is true, show the home screen, otherwise ,show the login screen). In visual novels, flags keep track of a player’s state, and “events” result from certain combinations of flags being set. I normally think of events as certain actions or inputs a program listens for, but in visual novel speak, “events” are simply things to show a player. Go! Go! Nippon! allows me to demonstrate this: if I visit certain destinations on days one and two, the flag for the Comiket event are set true, allowing me to experience it. It took me several attempts to get this right.
- On the topic of conventions and gatherings like Comiket, it’s the May Long Weekend, and that means Otafest is now in full swing. Back in February, I declined to submit an application to volunteer, feeling it to be more prudent to leave time open in the event that my move had left me busier than anticipated. In typical fashion, I’ve finished all of the essential tasks, and even got my driver’s license and banking information updated to reflect the new address, so this long weekend, I’ve actually had more time than anticipated. However, I’ve decided against attending the local anime convention; having experienced Japan so thoroughly, the appeal of visiting an anime convention as a guest has diminished for me.
- Instead, I became more interested in taking a more active role through volunteering, which gives me a chance to give back to the local community. My plans to continue volunteering at Otafest will depend on my schedule, so I’ll have a better idea of whether or not I’ll be returning closer to next year’s application deadline. For now, my long weekend has consisted of sleeping in, tending to housework and hitting the gym, before swinging by the local mall so I could pick up some new shirts and shorts. Afterwards, we sat down to our first-ever Southern Fried Chicken at the new place. This year’s Otafest looks like it’s a scaled-back event, and there’s nothing particularly stand-out on the schedule, so I’ve no qualms with sitting this one out in favour of a relaxing long weekend.
- Go! Go! Nippon!‘s easy-to-use UI means the user experience is solid, and in this way, I was able to go through the game several times in order to accrue screenshots for this post. Here, I accompany Akira to Mount Takao, which Hinata and Aoi hit back in Yama no Susume‘s first season. Located about an hour from the heart of Tokyo, Mount Takao is about a ninety-minute hike in total and offers stunning views of Tokyo. It was nice to see Go! Go! Nippon! include a vast range of destinations into the expansions: the original game only had six destinations and two possible routes.
- This would have made it considerably simpler to complete, and in retrospect, Go! Go! Nippon! “grows up” with players. The first game truly is a suitable introduction to the visual novel format for first timers, and I’ve long felt that while the game’s subtitle is My First Trip to Japan, the title also can count itself as My First Experience With a Visual Novel: the premise of travelling and exploring different destinations is a much gentler and accessible introduction to the format compared to something like CLANNAD or Higurashi, where making bad decisions can irrevocably alter the outcome of one’s experiences.
- First-time players will also be unfamiliar with the save mechanics. Visual novel veterans will tell players to save right before decision branches come up. This is a matter of efficiency: if one makes a bad choice, they can instantly revert and make another pick. Similarly, in a game where a choice causes the story to open up in a different way, one instantly has a snapshot they can go to. On my first playthrough of Go! Go! Nippon! in 2012, I saved simply when I needed to leave the game, and this made revisiting the game somewhat cumbersome. By the 2015 expansion, I was better versed in how visual novels work and more ready to explore new routes.
- In the present day, I know enough of the ins-and-outs so that I could easily navigate the storylines of Go! Go! Nippon! and swiftly acquire screenshots for this post. I am glad to have picked up the 2016 expansion; I had debated doing so when it first came out, having already dropped coin for the 2015 expansion, but after visiting Japan in 2017, I decided to bite the bullet and complete my Go! Go! Nippon! experience when the expansion went on discount during the summer of 2018. Although I had intended to play and write about Go! Go! Nippon! back then, 2018 was a bit of a more difficult time for me: my start-up was in dire straits, and I had been in the middle of discussions to take on a Xamarin project, which meant I needed to swiftly pick up Xamarin and C#.
- Further to this, I had been invited to Battlefield V‘s closed alpha, and Harukana Receive was airing. Between everything that was going on, Go! Go! Nippon! was benched, and for four years after that, sat untouched in my Steam Library. The five-year mark to my return home from Japan, coupled with one of my friends bringing the game’s recent successes in the Virtual YouTuber scene and OVERDRIVE’s intention of making a sequel came together to provide the encouragement I needed to finish enjoying, and writing about Go! Go! Nippon! in its latest incarnation.
- I am glad to have done so now: the game offers an interesting parallel with my own experiences, and although I didn’t have two kawaii guides walking me through the history and etiquette of various areas, I was able to see for myself the wonders of Japan, both historical and modern. While my experience with Go! Go! Nippon! started out as a joke, I was pleasantly surprised to find that even in a game meant to instruct and gently poke fun at foreign impressions of Japan, there is a considerable amount of depth in the writing. For instance, Akira’s tsundere personality is not representative of Japan as a whole, but from a broader perspective, shows how something that initially seems difficult to understand has more to it than meets the eye. Akira feels like a close friend, a companion over time as players spend more time with her destinations.
- I’ve long been a Makoto fan, and my decisions on my first run through Go! Go! Nippon! reflect this. However, in revisiting the game, I learnt more about Akira. In time, I came to like her character, as well. Finding newfound, pleasant surprises in the familiar is something I’ve always been fond of, and much as how revisiting Titanfall 2‘s campaign allowed me to get my paws on the EM-4 Cold War in one mission, re-playing Go! Go! Nippon! let me to see a side of the game, and a set of destinations that I’d otherwise never see.
- The premise in Go! Go! Nippon! shows players why there is incentive to replay the game again and make different choices; this outcome would extend to different visual novels and similarly encourage players to go back and try things out again. In the case of CLANNAD, for instance, players can make choices to go down the most well-written central route, which follows Nagisa, or they can opt to check out Kyou, Kotomi and Fuu’s stories. However, whereas Go! Go! Nippon! does not have a persistent state that lingers even after one has completed multiple play-throughs, CLANNAD does: certain actions can only be achieved by revisiting the game multiple times and making smart decisions. In this way, Go! Go! Nippon! can be seen as an introduction to a genre which is one that I do not play often, but one that has its own nuances, as well.
- As a consequence of playing the Akira route with the aim of unlocking one of the events (at the time of writing, I’ve yet to succeed), I ended up with the second outcome for Akira, which has her bringing players to Toshimaen, a theme park that is quite special to Akira. After returning to Tokyo from Kyoto, the sum of a player’s decisions allow them to visit a special destination, and there is no “bad end” here in Go! Go! Nippon! in a traditional sense. Visual novels are legendary for their bad endings: unlike the average first person shooter campaign, which only has one ending, and any “bad end” is dying in the campaign, visual novels can take depravity and the macabre to the next level.
- All told, spending a day with Akira at the waterpark isn’t a bad outcome by any stretch: it gives players a chance to see Akira rocking a polka-dot bikini. Tango-Victor-Tango incorrectly pegs Akira as being flat, although this moment also led me to wish that there was such an equivalent moment with Makoto. I’m now curious to see what the optimal route for Akira yields, but I’ll likely get around to this later in the future. The Division 2 had just opened their ninth season, and having spent the whole of last year on break from The Division 2 after completing the Manhunt event for Faye Lau, it’s been fun to return to the game and learn that my old standby, the Hunter’s Fury gear-set with the Chatterbox and Ninjabike Kneepads, is still viable. Similarly, I’ve recently resumed playing Ghost Recon: Wildlands on account of an excellent sale, so between these two games, I expect to be somewhat busy in the gaming front for the foreseeable future.
- For the remainder of my revisit through Go! Go! Nippon!, I have a bit of footage from the other destinations I ended up going to as a result of trying to unlock various events. Here, I’m back in Ginza: in a curious turn of fate, Ginza was the first place I visited when I played through Go! Go! Nippon! in 2012, and it was also the first stop on my trip to Japan in 2017. Ginza is known for its high end shopping experiences, and while we browsed shops, we found that prices were jaw-droppingly high. Here, Makoto welcomes players to the district and the famous Wako Store, with its distinct clock face. I most vividly recall Ginza because we had shabu-shabu here.
- Because of the scope and scale of any trip to Japan, I would contend that there is no right or wrong way to go about things. Anime fans tend to visit Tokyo and Akihabara, while folks looking for a more historical experience will tour Kyoto. Visitors looking for the ultimate seafood experience are best served checking out Hokkaido, while Japan’s southern section, near Hiroshima or Kumamoto, would provide a quieter experience. For me, one potential return trip would entail taking a closer look at Kyoto’s highlights; it’s a destination that K-On! and the Kiniro Mosaic movie both swing by the old capital as a part of the third year’s class trip.
- However, this would be secondary to my long-standing wish to travel Takehara in Hiroshima. Well off the beaten track, Takehara is home of Tamayura, and even a full decade after I’ve finished watching the anime, the town’s iconic warehouse district has more or less remain unchanged. If I were to visit, I imagine that I’d be able to see the sights that Fū and her friends saw in their everyday lives. On such a trip, I’d likely choose lodgings anywhere outside of the Warehouse district: hotels right in the old town are considerably pricier. I imagine that a week in Takehara would be more than enough to explore all of the spots in Tamayura.
- Back in Go! Go! Nippon!, for my shot at getting Makoto’s second ending, I ended up playing through a completely different set of locations, in turn allowing me to unlock a host of achievements to go with my adventures. The 2016 expansion is the only way to actually unlock achievements, but as of the 2015 expansion, Go! Go! Nippon! added Steam Trading Cards and badges. It took me a while to collect enough cards to make a level 5 Makoto card. The only way to get an Akira badge is to get foil drops, but badges cost a dollar apiece, so the logic of doing so wouldn’t be sound.
- The CG scenes in Go! Go! Nippon! are of a varied quality: the protagonist is rendered without eyes, and this creates a bit of a disconnect whenever he’s visible. The faceless male is a long-standing element in visual novels, meant to give players additional immersion, but here in Go! Go! Nippon!, the effect is quite uncanny and looks a little off. Conversely, stills of just Makoto and/or Akira look gorgeous, and I found myself thinking that, were Go! Go! Nippon! ever to be made into an anime about touring Tokyo, I would have no qualms in watching it.
- That no such anime has appeared a decade after Go! Go! Nippon!‘s release indicates that such a wish will remain a pipe dream at best. Here, at Tsukiji Market, I explore Tokyo’s largest fish market. After departing Japan and landing in Hong Kong, I had the pleasure of checking out Sha Tin Market, an indoor wet market, while awaiting a dim sum lunch with relatives. I’ve always been fond of wet markets because they represent a very active place where seafood is sold; by comparison, most seafood is frozen at home, although some supermarkets do carry live seafood, as well.
- Looking back, the Hong Kong side of my travels were also superbly enjoyable: I know Hong Kong like the back of my own hand, despite only having visited a handful of times, and this is largely in part owing to the fact that 1) there are English signs everywhere and 2) I speak Cantonese well enough, allowing me to ask for directions without any trouble. The MTR is also intuitive, allowing one to visit any part of Hong Kong with ease. My time in Hong Kong was characterised by spending plenty of time with family, window shopping at various malls, and experiencing Hong Kong’s culinary landscape.
- In Go! Go! Nippon!, since Makoto isn’t much of a cook, players won’t pick up anything from the fish market here, and instead, she’ll bring players to the Tsukiji Hongan-ji, a Buddhist temple that originally opened in 1617 but burned to the ground forty years later. It was moved to a new site, was destroyed by an earthquake in 1923. The modern temple was completed in 1934. This does appear to be a recurring theme in Japan’s landmarks, which have been destroyed and rebuilt on several occasions. While the buildings we see now might not be in their original form, seeing them rebuilt is a testament to the tenacity of the Japanese people.
- Having now gone through three-quarters of Go! Go! Nippon!, it is evident that attention has been paid to the background artwork, as well. Backgrounds in this visual novel are intricate and life-like, and although some scenes are blissfully quiet, others are filled with people. This aspect is one of the most crucial elements in Go! Go! Nippon!: visual novels often feel empty and devoid of human presence, isolating players and forcing their attention towards the heroines. This was the case in Sakura Angels: although the artwork was stunning, the world felt very empty. According to my records, I began Sakura Angels in June 2015, but never finished, and the last time I opened the game was back in 2017, so the time is probably appropriate for me to go back and wrap this one up.
- Stay! Stay! DPRK! had similarly felt quite empty, but then, it was a logical design choice because players are visiting North Korea. As such, when Go! Go! Nippon! strikes a balance between the tranquil areas of Tokyo, and the livelier ones, it gives this world a more life-like feeling: Sakura Angels exuded a sense of isolation and loneliness that is simply absent in Go! Go! Nippon: Makoto and Akira keep it lively, but cues in the game’s artwork and presentation also serves to capture the sheer energy (and volume) of crowds in Tokyo’s most iconic locations.
- Having tea in Japan is a quintessential experience: for 850 Yen, one could stop by Nakajima-no-Ochaya for whisked matcha and wagashi. One element in Go! Go! Nippon! that initially appears inconsequential to gameplay was the inclusion of a wallet. Players are asked to enter the exchange rate (at the time of writing, 1 CAD is exactly 100 Yen), and then the game keeps a running total of how much one has spent over their travels. One could play the game as someone with infinitely deep pocketbooks, or approach things more frugally, but as far as I can tell, one’s expenses don’t affect outcomes. Having said this, the wallet mechanic helps one to ballpark how much their itinerary might cost in reality, to within a precision of ±20 percent.
- As far as landmarks go, I know Tokyo Station best as being the home base for Rail Wars!, and in 2017, I do not believe we passed by this landmark: the original brick building was constructed in 1914, and over the years, became infamous as being the site of two high-profile assassinations. With a passenger volume of up to half a million every day, it is the busiest station in Japan and is Tokyo’s equivalent of New York City’s Grand Central Station. With the ten-year mark of Rail Wars! fast approaching, I have plans to revisit the series again.
- On my all-Makoto run, I ended up wrapping up the day to Tokyo Station by accompanying her to a sweets shop of sorts, located in the labyrinthine interior of Tokyo Station and its many shops. Owing to the sheer volume of foot traffic at train stations in Japan, stations also double as shopping centres. This stands in stark contrast with home, where our light rail stations appear to be arbitrarily placed. Urban planning in North America is built around vehicle ownership, and while this creates sprawling cities where people have a great deal of space to themselves, it also results in inefficiency. Having now moved to somewhere within a stone’s throw of a light rail station, I am rather excited by the fact that I can now hop on a train and be anywhere in the city on short order.
- Moments like these really serve to showcase Makoto and Akira’s personalities beyond initial impressions the original game presented: Makoto might not be a capable cook, but she absolutely enjoys her sweets. It was very endearing to see Makoto this way. This is something that was only introduced with the 2016 expansion, which really fleshes things out. I would hold that the expansions are not optional add-ons, but essential parts of the Go! Go! Nippon! experience: the expansions each give the UI significant upgrades, and the 2016 version will openly indicate which of Makoto or Akira will accompany a player to a destination.
- This makes it much easier to determine which destinations one should visit when playing through Go! Go! Nippon!: on my first run, my thoughts were that I should bias the game slightly towards Makoto. To this end, I picked Makoto destinations for two of the three days, and then went with an Akira destination for the remaining day. If I had to guess, going with Makoto or Akira for all three days seems to create in Makoto or Akira an overwhelming sense of yearning, causing both to wish to remain with the player, whereas balancing things out gives either Makoto or Akira a chance to think things through and come to terms with expressing how they feel more openly.
- On this route, I ended up taking Go! Go! Nippon! over to Shinjuku Gyoen, a beautiful park at the heart of Tokyo that folks know best as the setting for Makoto Shinkai’s Garden of Words. For the player and Makoto, a rainstorm soon develops, perhaps being a clever (and subtle) callback to the events of Garden of Words, soaking Makoto to the bone. During my trip to Japan, our destinations did not include Shinjuku Gyoen, and instead, the day began with a visit to Meiji Jinju Shrine, which is a twelve-minute walk away from Shinjuku Gyoen.
- The end result of this route sees Makoto pick up a stylish new outfit, and with this, I’ve now got two of the three possible Makoto endings unlocked. I never thought that Go! Go! Nippon! would be quite as engaging as it was; my introduction to the game had been through a friend who was watching a YouTube playthrough of the game in between classes, and the game had seemed quite hokey at first glance. However, going through the game again, I’ve come around: while Go! Go! Nippon! might be a dating simulator pretending to be a Lonely Planet travel guide, it does feel sincere in its portrayal of things.
- This is why I’m rather excited to see what Go! Go! Nippon! 2 has in store for players; since Makoto and Akira broke into the Virtual YouTuber scene, their popularity has increased, and generated enough buzz so that OVERDRIVE seriously considered a sequel. While Makoto and Akira are unvoiced in Go! Go! Nippon!, they have the traditional “anime dub” voices as Virtual YouTubers, which makes them sound like RWBY characters. High on my wishlist for Go! Go! Nippon! 2 would be to have some proper dubbing: in particular, Ayano Taketatsu is suited for playing Akira and her tsundere personality, and Ai Kayano similarly could play Makoto: Kayano’s voice has a matronly and warm character to it.
- Besides complete voice acting, other items on my list include a wider set of destinations, extending north to Hokkaido, and south towards Hiroshima and Kumamoto, or even perhaps Okinawa. Additional things I’d like to see include high resolution character models and 4K support: Go! Go! Nippon!‘s character models look a little fuzzy compared to their CG counterparts and the background artwork, so seeing improved assets would be fantastic. Similarly, Go! Go! Nippon! only goes up to 720p, but even back in 2016, 1080p resolution was already commonplace. A 4K visual novel with 1440p and 1080p settings would bring this series into the present. Beyond these technical aspects, it’ll be exciting to see what OVERDRIVE chooses to do with their next iteration in the series.
- Reminiscing about my vacation to Japan and Hong Kong in 2017 a full five years later was a fun exercise: since then, I’ve only travelled abroad for business (having gone to Denver to consult on and save an app, and then to Silicon Valley to attend an F8 developer conference). Aside from statuary holidays, I’ve been putting my nose to the grindstone for the past five years, and as a result, my world now is quite different than it had been then. While I had a life-changing experience in Japan, I continue to maintain that it would be most unwise of me to uproot my life and become an expatriate in Japan (as one of my former friends had done, at the expense of their career), but now, things have reached a point where I am able to begin considering a return trip: for me, one of the biggest joys of travel, outside of seeing the world outside my routine and enjoying a culture’s best, is knowing I’ve got a home and a warm bed to return to.
Although travel is doubtlessly a large aspect of Go! Go! Nippon!, the elephant in the room is the fact that this game also has elements of a traditional dating simulator, in which player decisions impact the story’s outcome in a tangible way. The setup in Go! Go! Nippon! prima facie appears implausible, and contemporary reviewers felt the romance aspect in Go! Go! Nippon! to be wedged in as a means of appealing to the demographic most likely to look at such a title. While it is the case that the romance in Go! Go! Nippon! can appear superficial at first glance, Go! Go! Nippon! cleverly utilises the dating sim mechanic to, again, speak to the joys of travel. It is the case that Makoto and Akira can be anthropomorphic representations of what travel entails: there are goods and bads, moments worth remembering, and accidents one would rather forget. When one travels to a destination for the first time, they fall in love with the initial impressions. As one’s experiences broaden, they learn more about the destinations, both the pluses and minuses, ultimately cultivating a unique and distinct collection of memories that accompany them home, and in some cases, creates a yearning to return. With this as a metaphor, it is not so implausible to suppose that one could fall in love with someone as quickly as they do a place. Watching the player depart, and how each of Makoto and Akira handle this moment, brings to mind what happens at the end of a vacation: there always is a desire to extend one’s stay, to do more. This aspect of Go! Go! Nippon! proves surprisingly enduring, and it is, curiously enough, through a dating sim setup that different facets of travel can be explored. I imagine that OVERDRIVE had initially designed this more as a piece to ensure players would gain the classic dating simulator experience when going through Go! Go! Nippon!, but the consequences of this element, intentional or not, is that it brings additional depth and enjoyment to the game. Curiosity to see what happens when one makes different decisions to see how things with Makoto and Akira turn out also pushes one to visit, and learn about, different spots. Getting to know Tokyo and its surroundings better, then, is analogous to getting to know Makoto and Akira better. On my first run of this game, making decisions as I would in reality earned me what is considered the “best end” for Makoto: I received a kokuhaku and the story allowed us to reunite. This speaks volumes about my character, but jokes notwithstanding, I would very much like to visit Japan again in the future. Until then, Steam is suggesting that I’ve still got about a quarter of the achievements to unlock in Go! Go! Nippon!, and its successor, Go! Go! Nippon! 2, looks like it’s going to be a reality now, so I’m curious to see what this entails. This time around, I will try to complete Go! Go! Nippon! 2 at least once before planning out a return trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.
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