IFComp 2020: For a Place by the Putrid Sea

A young woman (“I’d been 16 for a couple years now”) returns to the fictional city of Gotomomi, on Tokyo Bay, to lie low after some unpleasantness abroad, bearing a horrible new scar and a story she’d rather not tell. She has no place to stay, and there’s a years-long wait list for even the seediest of apartments, so she immediately turns to crime. A tenement by the docks has a tenant who just died, and the caretaker will let you unofficially take her place if you can dispose of the body discreetly. And after that, there are opportunities to move up to better apartments by doing more shady favors.

It’s the sort of story where nearly everyone’s out for themselves, and operating at least slightly outside the law, from the wretched souls picking over the trash illegally dumped in the bay to the well-heeled operators of a clandestine casino. Mix in a few heavy doses of social satire, like when you can’t call in a rescue for a stranded seaman without providing his health insurance number, which he doesn’t have, because he’s American. That’s the flavor of this piece. It takes place in a system with deep problems, where the protagonist gets ahead, and gets closer to a personal agenda that even the player doesn’t know about until near the end, by acting as problem-solver.

And that means it’s a puzzle-based adventure game. It’s pretty neatly designed, with a tight little core map with some larger mazy sequences dangling from it. The constraint in the early game makes it easy to get going, and the progress upward from floor to floor of the tenement is a good way to mark your progress in the story. I do think the puzzles get a little too obscure in the middle, where you have to think of making a Molotov cocktail on the basis of too-vague prompting, and then are expected to have some real-world knowledge of how they’re made. But overall, it’s well-built.

I’m a little leery of the fact that the puzzles make our Japanese teenager protagonist undress on multiple occasions, sometimes in the presence of a Russian motorboat pilot. That seems fetishy, but at least it doesn’t dwell on it.

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