“Wait… Disaster Report 4?!” I hear you say. “Where did the previous three go?” Yeah, bear with us and let me explain, because this is one of those game series whose history of release is rather messy. The first game released back on the PS2 in Japan in 2002 as Zettai Zetsumei Toshi or ‘The Desperate City’. It was then released a year later in America as Disaster Report, but for some reason had a title change to SOS: The Final Escape in Europe.
The confusion then continued with the second game, which released in 2006 and still went by it’s original Japanese title in Japan, albeit with a “2” at the end and the subtitle Itetsuita Kiokutachi or “Frozen Memories”, but America and Europe again changed the title, this time to “Raw Danger!” (Hey. At least they agreed on the title this time, right?).
The third title then released for the PSP in 2009 as Zettai Zetsumei Toshi 3: Kowareyuku Machi to Kanojo no Uta (say that 5 times fast), or just “The Desperate City 3: Damaged Town and Her Song” (God, I love these philosophical titles), which never saw a release outside of Japan this time, and as such doesn’t actually have an official English title. When it then came to the 4th installment, this game, which was initially supposed to release on the PS3, the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami of 2011 hit Japan and indefinitely cancelled the game.
With the IP having now been bought by Granzella, a company consisting of former Irem members (The guys behind the previous entries in the series), the series is now back from the dead thanks to fan support and the developers’ undying passion after having been laying dormant for 9 years. As such, Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories is now finally out, worldwide, for all to enjoy. This time bearing the Disaster Report title both in Europe and the US so that we can finally start getting some consistency… and ironically, this 4th installment centers around an earthquake in Japan and the aftermath.
So now that we know the backstory of Disaster Report, this ghost from the past that suddenly showed up in the “coming soon” section of your eShop, let’s take a deeper look at what we’re actually dealing with here.
You are a man or a woman. You start the game off being asked a series of questions about what you would do if disaster struck, and then get the chance to mess around with your character’s appearance (Which can totally be changed later in designated spots like changing rooms or bathrooms). So you can make your character look like a blue haired anime protagonist or a realistic looking Japanese citizen. I went with a black haired woman with a ponytail, because that’s how the protagonist looks on the front cover, but your gender ultimately doesn’t matter.
The game then starts in-media rez as your character rides a bus. You are asked by the game what your agenda is, but from my understanding the canonical answer is that you are on your way to a job interview when you suddenly get an emergency notification on your phone, warning of an earthquake that will strike momentarily, and you are given a choice of how to react.
The bus crashes, and when you miraculously survive and make your way out of the wreck, you are free to explore the surrounding area and check on people who might be in need of help. You can only really help certain important characters though, and that saddened me, as I wish I could do more for these poor people than just listen to them and remark that I felt bad for them.
Regardless, throughout the game there will be many people like that, people you can’t do anything for other than cheer them on, and people you will have to help. This game plays with the illusion of choice, in that different replies will result in different outcomes of the various situations, some more significant than others, and some that will affect your moral, but ultimately you will be forced to help the people who are mandatory for the story to progress, whether you like to or not.
This also means that if certain people die, they were destined to do so, and they can’t be saved. I won’t spoil too much, but I did come across quite a few colorful characters that I grew immensely attached to and wanted to see them survive. Your own character is a blank slate, but that is kinda the point as you shape them as you go along, but I would have liked to know their backstory at least to make me care just a bit more on whether they ultimately escape the city or not. Aside from that though, it wasn’t long before the game had me hooked and kept me guessing what disaster would happen next in the various locations you visit.
The controls feel heavy but realistic in Disaster Report 4. After all, you are not an athlete or a superhero, but a regular businessman or woman, though you do have a run button that seemingly do nothing to your stamina, if you feel your normal walking speed is making you age. I am not exactly sure on this to be honest though, as you can seemingly run indefinitely without losing your breath, but in the ‘Status’ section of the menu you do have a ‘Stress/Desire’ sub-menu that keeps track of your stress, thirst, stomach, hunger, and bathroom need.
Sometimes I checked this menu and noticed that my character was in need of one of these things, and I would then provide accordingly, but I am not sure what determines how quickly they become hungry or thirsty or if your running around affects this. I will say though, that I would have appreciated these needs to be represented by icons on your HUD at all times and not just when they become relevant. That said, I did eventually try just leaving my character be, alternating between running around and standing still (For hours, I might add) while all three needs were at their max, but nothing happened aside from my character crossing her legs when standing idle. According to the developer, whom I reached out to, they didn’t want the player to end up in a Game Over from fatigue, so they instead allegedly made the needs affect your stress. I didn’t notice anything, so I just started ignoring it.
Buildings will collapse around you and shakes are regular (Which are given even more impact with HD Rumble), so you have a dedicated crouch button and failing to use it when a quake hits will result in you falling over, which will hurt you and cause you stress. A stress meter will then appear at the end of your life bar and will gradually expand and shorten your maximum life the more danger you encounter. When the danger is over, it will slowly shrink again, but visiting one of the many regular save points, which are all marked by a big blue floating “S”, will give you the option to rest, completely resetting your stress factor. But you will need food or bandages to replenish lost health.
When talking to people who have a mission/request for you, what you need to specifically look for or do for them will be highlighted in green. When choosing a response in conversations, the multiple choices vary in sincerity and will earn you points accordingly, with good deeds and unselfishness earning you ‘Moral Points’ while greed and rudeness will earn you ‘Immoral Points’.
Some choices will range from you doing them a favor out of the goodness of your heart, to you pressing them for money, or you just plain out rejecting them. I wasn’t sure what these moral points did specifically, but as I didn’t encounter any obvious sign of their use by the end of the main game, I imagined it perhaps had an effect on the epilogue? The developer spoke that apparently there will be trophies and events to be unlocked with these, so I assume those will be available after the game’s launch.
As the notes in the right corner of your menu indicates, which also tells you everything from the weather and in-game time of day, to your location, name, stress, life, and money, this game is rather long and stretches across several days, taking you on a grand urban adventure across several locations from city streets and underground railways to flooded apartment complexes and classic rural towns.
During your adventure, you must also accommodate for the unfriendly terrain by sometimes getting around via lifeboat or motorbike when you can no longer continue on foot. Some people might say, “Just stick to one play style already!”, but I for one welcome a change of pace.
You start your adventure in a black business suit. You are, or were at least, on your way to a job interview, but throughout your adventure you will, if you explore and search well enough, find a wide array of different outfits and… compasses? Yes, in the bottom right of the HUD, you always have your trusty compass, and you can pick new funny-looking ones up, but these are purely for show. A bit of a shame since most of them clearly focus more on just looking weird, rather than actually being useful as a compass. I would have liked it if there was actually an incentive to use them, making your exploration worth the effort, like if for example they enabled you to discover extra hidden secrets or supplies. I mean, I am a completionist, so I go after them regardless, but they are really just a fancy collectible.
The costumes, on the other hand, don’t really hold any special properties either, but they are at least fun to change between, giving you something new and fresh to look at. I often found a new set that looked good on my character, and yes, there is a classic Japanese school sailor uniform for you to find, and I won’t deny that I got the biggest grin on my face when I did. Don’t kink shame. My only problem here is that clothing takes up individual spots in your bag. The developer has said that clothing, as well as story related items, has been set to zero weight, but how come my bag clearly counts them as well?
Speaking of your inventory, you start with a measly handbag, but do, as you explore, come across backpacks and shoulderbags of varying capacity, allowing you to hold more provisions and key/puzzle items which you can sometimes combine, by the way, though I wish they did more of that. Funnily enough, you keep all the bags you find, as they stack like your compasses and provisions, and at any time you can change back-and-forth between the ones you have obtained without it affecting your upgraded space, if there is a specific one you like.
The game generally has a really nice and balanced soundtrack. It welcomes you in with a soft piano piece that soon turns into a buzzing guitar riff that legitimately made we want to stay at the start screen for just a couple more minutes before heading into the game. Once inside, this being a game that goes for realism, all music was instantly gone in favor of more natural sounds. Having just survived a bus crash in the middle of a big city, you will hear the sounds of nearby people muttering, smartphones on speaker that share the latest news, birds tweeting, and the calming sound of the summer breeze. The later a detail my onlooking brother really admired, and I myself cannot deny that this all truly lent itself to the game’s atmosphere and made it feel alive and organic.
All the more intense does this quiet ambient setting make the game when all of a sudden an unexpected disaster strikes that you’ll have to react to. For example, you meet this teacher very early on in the game, whose students you help find. Not long after that, they help you push a truck that is in the way, but suddenly a slip of oil that has leaked onto the street around you catches fire, and you are given a series of options as to how you wanna deal with the situation. The music intensifies in these make or break situations, but as I got further in the game and experienced more of them, I realized that the music is only there to put you on edge. In reality, you can take all the time you want. Main character immunity much? And again, your choices don’t really matter.
After the truck incident, following a moment of respite as my character sat down like on the main menu picture, gathering her thoughts, all while a nice piano piece played to the soothing vocals of Japanese singer Mai Iida, whom the developers have had a long history with and whom you will also hear at various points throughout the game.
The cutscenes are fully voiced in Japanese, but regular text boxes are not, and all of the characters do a very good job of expressing the emotion they are trying to convey, whether it be confusion, surprise, sadness, or happiness. The game goes for a realistic aesthetic in a realistic setting after all, and so the native Japanese voice acting ads phenomenally to the authenticity of the game. Granted, I wouldn’t have minded English voice overs, but I also didn’t really expect it.
Speaking of localization, I find it odd that they decided to keep the Japanese presentation Disaster Report 4, since when 1 and 2 were localized back in the day, they applied minor changes to character names and appearances to make them appeal more to western audiences, so why did they suddenly release this one unaltered? Well, I’m glad they did, personally.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE
As I touched on earlier, Disaster Report 4 was originally planned for a 2011 release on the PS3, and the graphics show, looking like something late PS2/early PS3, but I honestly didn’t mind at all. Granzella is no triple-A studio. Many developers can only dream of having that kind of budget, but I still really like the graphics and the attention to realism and detail here.
The way light reflects off surfaces and the lighting in general makes everything pop and makes the world feel real. This game can be really pretty when it wants to, and with all the NPCs that flood the streets, I was surprised how they all had various clothing that made them feel unique. Plus, all of them had different things to say. I know, I checked.
So the graphics aren’t state of the art by modern standards, but I feel we have to remind ourselves that it isn’t always about that and that sometimes there needs to be room for AA games like this. For what it tries to accomplish, that is setting a realistic scene of a city in peril, I thought that the graphics, both on people and the environment, did a really good job. I don’t know. Maybe I am just easy to please.
I won’t cherry-pick though. The game is releasing on both PS4 and Switch, and on the Switch version especially, the frame rate often chucks massively. So unless portability is really important to you, I would definitely recommend you go with the PS4 version. Aside from this however, I didn’t encounter any graphical hiccups or glitches, so aside from the Switch having a bit of a hard time keeping up, the game itself runs solid enough.
With NIS America being very strict and sensitive about spoilers for this title, and with certain sections of the game being plastered with 4th wall-breaking promotional posters of the front cover as well as the singer, it is clear to me that they want the revival of this franchise to succeed, and with what I have experienced from my many hours of playtime, I want that as well. It ain’t perfect. Graphically looks like something from the PS2 era and does show some rough sites every now and then, not to mention the terrible frame rate, but I still find there is a certain charm to it and the world it tries to build.
This title has made me a fan of the Disaster Report series for sure, and after I am done with this review I will definitely go back and play the other titles to see where it all started. Like I said before, in times like these where games take a lifetime to make because they need to be the grandest and most graphically impressive thing ever, it sure is nice, in my humble opinion, to once in a while allow yourself to go back and experience a game that reminds you of simpler times.
Disaster Report 4 sits at a premium £53.99 full retail price, which is admittedly a bit much for a mediocre AA title like this, so I would wait for a sale. Even if you, like me, are into these odd niche titles. If you are the physical type, NIS America has you covered here as well, as Disaster Report 4 releases both physically and digitally for both PS4 and Switch in all regions.
Story - 7/10
Gameplay - 7/10
Audio - 8/10
Visuals & Performance - 8/10
Value - 7/10
While rough around the edges on some aspects, and feeling somewhat unfinished on others, Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories still manages to be a fun disaster simulator with a lot of heart. It may often feel like it loses focus on the overarching story, in favor of several smaller plots, but with a lot of lovable characters that doesn’t really hurt the game overall. Pick it up if you like those niche games that have a lot of charm but nobody really seems to talk about.
- Vivid atmosphere
- Memorable characters
- A grand urban adventure
- Detailed environments
- Illusion of choice
- Fatigue means nothing