🎮 里山のおと 夏草こみち (Satoyama Note: Natsukusa Komichi)

2024年 2月 14日
Indie Tsushin 2024 February issueThis article was featured in our 2024 February issue. Check out more articles and interviews in the full issue.
Satoyama Note: Natsukusa Komichi by nyacchu and michi

Over a decade ago now, Daikon and I used to live up in the northern part of Niigata Prefecture along the Sea of Japan coast. The town we lived was quite rural with a low population. There was a joke that there were more monkeys and tanuki then there were people, and I don't know if that was entirely inaccurate. It was a gorgeous place, with huge, shimmering rice fields, and pressed in on all sides by towering cedar forests and emerald hills. At night, frog song rose up from the flooded plains, and the sound of old forests creaking in the wind lulled us to sleep.

Black-and-white sumi-e style illustration of the Japanese countryside, with people tending to rice fields in the foreground and forested mountains in the background.

I can just feel that good, clean mountain air against me when I look at these illustrations.

Whenever I play a Fox and Tanuki game by nyacchu and michi of satoyama note, I am overwhelmed with memories of my time in northern Niigata. Their games have a playfulness and nostalgia for a place where humans and animals live in harmony, where cute old baachans with weathered faces and gnarled hands work the earth and curious frogs watch from a distance. This series of games includes キツネとタヌキ ~探しもの見つけて、また探すの巻~ (Fox and Tanuki: Find and Seek) and タヌキくんの春さんぽ (Tanuki's Spring Walk), among several others. They stand out with their beautiful ink drawings, traditional wooden flute playing, and an obvious and deep love of both nature and the people who live along its edges. Their games are quiet and thoughtful, usually tasking the player to learn more about the environment and communities. With their most recent game, 里山のおと 夏草こみち (Satoyama Note: Natsukusa Komichi), we are treated to their first commercial game that fleshes out both the world of Fox and Tanuki, and also introduces us to the lovable and childlike Frog.

Tanuki lecturer wearing a hapi coat and standing in front of a crowd of tanuki students.

Tanuki, just like humans, need to brush up on their knowledge of the satoyama.

We start the game at Tanuki University, where the nervous crowd of tanuki students are informed that they will be tested on their knowledge of the satoyama, or mountainside village, where they reside. We then see our familiar Tanuki-kun wondering if they ought to start studying or if they should take a break. Knowing what Tanuki is like, I naturally chose to first spend some time goofing off. Tanuki then returns home and pours themself a cup of tea. They cradle the cup in their hands as they gaze out the window of their forest home. Studying for the test will have to come later, at their own pace.

Tanuki holding a cup of hot tea and gazing out at the bare branches of a tree outside of their home.

Small, quiet moments of reflection leave a lot of room for characters to just be by themselves with their thoughts.

The sound of cups rattling and the ceramic thunk of the tea pot against the grain of the wooden table adds to the cozy atmosphere of the scene, ribboned with the sweet song of a wooden flute. Tanuki gently curls their face into their furry paws. "Oh, I wonder what Frog is doing right about now," they say quietly, eyelids heavy with sleep. "Has Frog woken from hibernation yet, or are they still sleeping in the mud..." And with that, Tanuki slips into a quiet daytime nap.

Tanuki sitting at their table, teacup in hand, while slowly crumpling down into a nap.

My heart burst when I saw this picture. Sleepy Tanuki is just way too cute.

This sense of peace, tranquility, and gentleness is infused throughout the entire game, and indeed, the pair's entire body of work. The black-and-white ink drawings mimic the brushstrokes of traditional Japanese sumi-e art, with shading and textures pooled in like watercolor. There are no harsh outlines or edges, and everything blends smoothly into each other. The background music is a mix of wooden flute, Japanese hand drum, and distant bird song, creating a lovely soundtrack for the Japanese countryside in summer.

Index page for dokudami, a kind of flower. The description is written in brushstroke calligraphy and describes the plant's characteristics.

The entries that you can unlock are structured like a guidebook, and make me want to go back out to the Japanese countryside and try to identify all of the plants and animals.

The writing is simple and charming, with the occasional word or phrase in orange. Clicking on the orange words brings up a notebook page going into more detail, and even here these tend not to be straightforward dictionary entries but rather the notes and observations of Tanuki themself. Reading these entries is delightful, and for those of you hoping to get a perfect score when Tanuki does eventually take the exam (spoiler alert), you would do well to pay attention to the information in these pages. More importantly, it teaches the player the joy of observing their surroundings and notice flowers, people around their town, and singing bugs in the real world. The true joy in playing these games is the way it teaches you to reconnect with your own satoyama, wherever it may be.

Tanuki sitting at his table and furiously cramming for their big exam, brush in hand and notes scattered in front of them.

While you're enjoying the breezy story, don't forget there will be a test at the end!

The relationship between the three animals is lovely and sweet. Fans of the previous Fox and Tanuki games will be delighted to see them pretending to be humans while playing games at the local festival. Meanwhile, Frog is also looking forward to the festivities, and is particularly excited to see the fireworks, which his two friends have been hyping up. Things don't quite go to plan, but in typical fashion, the trio don't sweat the small stuff, and find new ways to delight in the world around them.

Frog perched within Fox's tufty tail. Fox holds up a paw and tells Frog about the fireworks that will go up that evening.

The childlike Frog has never experienced fireworks, and is enraptured with stories about what they look like.

Once you've played through the story, or if you decided to start studying right away, you will be quizzed on your knowledge of the various creatures, people, objects, and phenomena around the satoyama. It's a neat way to bring together all the things you've learned from this little slice of life, and encourages you to both find and read through all of the entries throughout the story. Depending on your score, you can unlock bonus images and the beautiful soundtrack to fill out your experience in this world just a little more.

Colored illustration of Fox, Frog, and Tanuki reclining on the grass. There is a note from the artist explaining that although the illustrations in the game are black-and-white, this is what the characters would look like in color.

Scoring well on the Tanuki University exams opens up little bonus illustrations, music, and notes that go behind the scenes of the production of this game.

I don't think it would have been possible for me to write objectively about this game, because I just love the Fox and Tanuki series so much. I always look forward to a new title because I know it will be a comforting and nostalgic trip back to a place that I love. I heartily recommend not only checking out Natsukusa Komichi, but the rest of their games on itch and Unity Room. I cannot wait for my next excursion back to the satoyama and see my friends Fox, Tanuki, and Frog!

Satoyama Note: Natsukusa Komichi is currently out on Steam. Visit satoyama note's homepage for more information and links to their other games on itch and Unity Room. And you can watch us play Satoyama Note: Natsukusa Komichi on stream!