Summer’s here in the UK, which in real terms means beautiful sunny days that suddenly turn into torrential downpours and back again at a moments notice. If you would like a more reliable summer, your best bet is Millennium Kitchen’s Boku no Natsuyasumi (ぼくのなつやすみ) series.
The series has a very simple premise – jump into the shoes of a young boy in 70’s/80’s Japan and have a fantastic holiday. The basic framework is largely the same throughout the series - Boku has to spend the summer away with relatives for one reason or another, but apart from mealtimes and a few special event days he’s free to roam around the countryside catching butterflies and exploring. Boku’s name is something of a pun: “Boku” is also a way of saying “I/me” in Japanese - Boku is meant to be more of an avatar than a character in his own right. His summer holiday is yours, and there is no right or wrong way to spend it.
There are currently four games in the series; one each for the Playstation 1 – 3 & PSP, then two PSP remakes of BnN 1 and 2. I can only hope a Vita remake of BnN3 or an entirely new entry is on the way at some point.
Each day is structured in a particular way – breakfast, free time, dinner, some more free time then forced to bed at 11pm if you haven’t put Boku to sleep before then yourself. While the series is all about allowing you to go off and have your own adventure that doesn’t mean everything’s available from the start, some areas only open up later in the holiday when characters return home (such as BnN3’s glass shop) or if you find a more circuitous path that then opens up a short cut.
At the end of each day before bed Boku writes in his diary about an important event that happened to him that day, and the vibrant illustrations that go with them can help to encourage even the most dedicated bug collector or fisherman to go try out something new!
The real draw of the series though, more than anything else, is its charm. There’s no question it’s a rose-tinted view of our childhoods and yet at the same time it’s very honest too – the fridge isn’t tidy, the tables at dinner don’t match and when you go sliding down a hill you do it on the remains of an old cardboard box. This balance gives Boku’s impossibly idyllic sunny holidays something of a raw and realistic edge, and mean that although the games are no doubt pandering to nostalgia they never come across as false or forced.
If you’re at all interested in playing these games I have some good news for you – they’re all reasonably priced, do not link to each other in any way whatsoever (so there’s no “Oh I can find BnN2 but I haven’t played the first one!” worries), and thanks to the PS3 and PSP being region free anyone can play any game in the series with the minimum of hassle. They are of course only in Japanese… but I have written a basic translation of some pertinent information from the first game’s manual to get people started. You’'ll also find that this is a very “visual” series and on the whole anyone with a bit of common sense will be able to have their own fantastic holiday, so don’t despair if your Japanese knowledge doesn’t extend beyond dubbed Godzilla movies – dive in!