Kana Quest Review
It’s all the rage right now: games that are designed not as gung-ho competitive showdowns, not marketed as the new most immersive dystopian experience or even the freshest killing simulator on the market. Titles like Animal Crossing New Horizons, no matter what PETA might tell you, are at the forefront of a burgeoning new low-pressure, innocent and wholesome class of games that are gripping a demographic looking harder for a stress-free distraction from the woes of the world than ever before.
That brings us to Kana Quest, an educational puzzle game produced by Melbourne studio Not Dead Design and released earlier this month. Kana Quest is designed to provide a groundwork experience for learning Japanese. The premise is simple: match the tiles on the board according to their sounds, linking every tile together in a string of adjacent syllables in order to beat levels and advance in the game.
Throughout the early levels, you are introduced to different varieties of tiles, representing simple phonetics, which act differently on the board. Some are made of stone and can’t be swapped into other spaces or with other tiles, requiring you to move others around to suit it. A little further in, mystery kana tiles appear which have their written representation and sound hidden; you have to move tiles and see what matches with the mystery kana before you can guess its identity. No further details should be spoiled, but as far as the gameplay itself, it may bring simplistic elements but the experience serves its purpose of providing a foundation for the basics of Japanese.
In the context of the wider ‘wholesome’ boom, however, the aesthetics and visual immersion of Kana Quest must be mentioned too. This title successfully follows all of the design attributes that have helped popularised this new caper: vibrant hues everywhere you look in menus and in levels, lo-fi music (with that said, the demo advertised upbeat Japanese music and although it deviates from that label, the more jazzy feel in later levels matches a low-pressure environment nicely) and a cute array of faces on NPCs, which are represented by the tiles in this case.
All in all, Kana Quest achieves what it sets out to do in all aspects: a brightly coloured, calming and pleasant art style with lovable character design despite the square yellow restriction, an OST (due to be released separately) featuring traditional Japanese elements mixed with chiptune and a smattering of jazz to complete the highly trendy lo-fi feel, plus gameplay that can be customised between divisions of Japanese writing, to guide the player along the way in an engaging yet educational manner.
Kana Quest should obviously be primarily recommended to its target audience, that being those looking for a helpful avenue to gain their footing in the pursuit of a new language. Alternatively, though, the game still possesses enough charm and engagement through its music and design to appeal to those only looking for a simplistic and soothing method of escape from reality.
Reviewed by Jesse Robertson
Review key provided by Not Dead Design