One could argue that due to humanity's tendency to be social creatures, a group or family is a must for proper development as well as a requisite for survival. In the event that blood relatives cannot fill this void, people tend to turn to those with similar goals or interests to create their family structure. This is both good and bad, since people in similar situations can understand each other better, but lack the sense of duty that is present in those bound by blood.
Whether one has people around them or not is enough to make a great difference in what can be accomplished and what worries a person might carry, and Yamada Hajime managed to write what some would concider a "kamige" (Godly Game) centered on the themes of loneliness versus the warmth of a family. This game has recently been translated by Peach Princess, and despite being an oldie, is still fairly impressive. The game I speak of is D.O.'s Kazoku Keikaku.
Game: Kazoku Keikaku (US Title: Family Project ~Kazoku Keikaku~)
Kazoku Keikaku (Kakei for short) was released in Japan on November 2nd, 2001 by the studio D.O., and released in the US by G-Collections (a sub-brand of Peach Princess) on July 17, 2009. The game itself has seen a couple of re-releases in Japan, including a PS2 port that was released back in 2005. The title literally means Family Project, which in Japanese is somewhat funny being that it is the term for what we'd call "Family Planning" in English.
The player takes the role of Sawamura Tsukasa, a 20-year-old man living on his own while working part-time for a growing chain of chinese restaurants. For as long as he can remember, Tsukasa has been looking out only for himself, and openly rejects the idea of bonds with other people. His disdain is specially aimed at families, being haunted by a memory of his father giving him away to someone else.
Tsukasa's life takes a turn for the interesting when he finds a passed out chinese girl in the alley behind the restaurant he works at. Unsure of what to do about her, he carries her off to his apartment under the pretext that he'll let her rest before kicking her back out into the world. The girl's name turns out to be Wang Chunhua, an illegal immigrant that ran away from her "employers" when she found out she had been brought to Japan to work in a brothel. Soon afterwards, a half-crazed "elite businessman" named Hirota Hiroshi invites himself over to our protagonist's apartment, which subsequently gets destroyed when the Chinese mafia decides to target Chunhua.
The trio begins to wander around and eventually settles down in an abandoned lot, but not before running into a woman who was about to commit suicide. Then came an old flame of Tsukasa's, a homeless schoolgirl and a disinherited woman from a rich family.
In total, seven people who are down on their luck in various ways cross paths, and after Hiroshi's proposal of banding together in an agreement of mutual interest, form a "pretend family". This is how the Takayashiki Family Project begins.
|Wang Chunhua/Takayashiki Haruka C.V.: Sasa Rumiko|
Chunhua hails from China as a cheerful and naive girl that was brought in by smugglers with the promise of a good job and stable life in Japan. After arriving, however, Chunhua found herself in a brothel. Aware of what was coming to her, she decided to run away with what little she could take, which included a bag filled with stimulant drugs (Viagra et al).
After our protagonist takes her in, both become targets of the smugglers that brought Chunhua to Japan (who seem to be connected to the Chinese mafia). This makes things very complicated, especially once Hiroshi's Family Project begins.
Chunhua's true reason for coming to Japan was to search for her mother, with a photograph and the name "Junko" as her only leads. Aside from her search, however, she enjoys the company and kindness of the other characters, and is specially thankful to Tsukasa.
Being a foreigner, she is treated as a bit of a supernatural character, capable of physical feats that leave the other girls in awe (and an infinite appetite to match).
|Takayashiki Aoba C.V.: Hokuto Minami|
Takayashiki Aoba is the only "true" member of the Takayashiki family, and is the owner of the house that the cast decides to live in.
At a first glance, Aoba is a very cold person who simply allows Tsukasa's small group to live in her house for the convenience of having people pay her rent. She easily deflects any attempts Matsuri and Masumi make to get close to her, preferring to go about her own things without being bothered by others. She is also the only character that openly thinks the idea of an "artificial" family is stupid and a waste of time, but is forced to accept Hiroshi's Family Project because of her need for rent money.
As we delve into her route, we discover Aoba is in a bit of a fix. The house she lives in was given to her by her grandfather, but the deed for the actual land the house was built on was never transfered over to her name. This means that she's technically living on property that's not hers. An agreement is reached, where she would pay rent to the current owner of the land, but cannot afford to pay the rent on her own. To further complicate matters, Aoba has no one to turn to, since her family disowned her after she broke off the engagement her parents had set up for her.
Despite her cold and stubborn demeanor, Aoba and Tsukasa are actually very similar in the way they look at families. While our protagonist remembers being given away by his family, Aoba feels she was used as a tool by her parents and has never received genuine affection from them.
|Ogawara/Takayashiki Jun C.V.: Imai Yuka|
Ogawara Jun is a 20-year-old woman who used to go to school with Tsukasa. She's the only character in the cast that has an actual history with our protagonist, even if she is generally associated with painful memories.
At first, Jun seems to be an emotionless person with a strong interest in money. People have a tendency to get the wrong idea about her because of the fact that she'll do anything and everything for cash, while showing little to no remorse when it comes to her more unsavory enterprises (like selling drugs and prostituting herself).
Throughout most of her life, Jun has tried her best to remain aloof from people, and preffers to never get emotionally involved with anyone or anything. This outlook on life is first put to the test when she "sold" herself to Tsukasa back when both were in high school. While she developed feelings for him, she would not allow herself to break the contract between them. This choice left Tsukasa hurting, and further reinforced his idea that bonds with people bring only pain and suffering.
Still, Jun's philosophy is put to the test yet again when she is dragged into the Family Project proposed by Hiroshi. Despite her attempts to get out of the arrangement, Tsukasa manages to get her to participate, on the condition that he'll pay her five thousand yen per month.
|Kawahara/Takayashiki Matsuri C.V.: Katase Yui|
Kawahara Matsuri is a homeless girl that runs into Tsukasa & Co. after she decides to camp at the seemingly-abandoned Takayashiki house.
Being the youngest member of the cast, Matsuri is already an orphan by the time she is introduced. Before Tsukasa came along, she was living in a vacant lot nearby, using cardboard boxes to protect herself from the elements. Because of this, Matsuri is very resourceful when it comes to living outdoors, and seems to greatly appreciate simple things. Aside from having no home to call her own, she also goes to school and works part-time at a small home business.
While hesitantly accepted into Tsukasa's small group, Matsuri becomes one of the staunchest supporters of Hiroshi's Family Project. All she really wants is a roof over her head and the warmth of a family. While the former is easily attained, the latter proves to be difficult because of Aoba's cold demeanor and Tsukasa's own opinion on families. Even though Tsukasa is the nexus that brings the cast together and Chunhua/Haruka is the catalyst to the story, Matsuri is the glue that tries to hold the "family" together during tough times. She also constantly attempts to get our protagonist to open up, and succeeds several times.
|Itakura/Takayashiki Masumi C.V.: Hatakeyama Miwako|
Itakura Masumi is a thirty-year-old woman that is introduced when her leg gets caught on the guard railing of the bridge she tried to jump off.
Simply put, Masumi is a person who regularly contemplates suicide. While this is treated as a bit of a gag every now and then, this presents very strong suggestions as to what her mental state is when not surrounded by others. As the story progresses, we discover that this particular heroine is weighed down by uncertainty, guilt, and shame. She was originally set to marry someone, but had to constantly give him money to the point where she gave him all her savings and even went into debt for him.
Having lost everything, she would have killed herself if not for Tsukasa saving her at the last minute. After trying to find her own direction in life, Masumi decided to join the group of wanderers led by our protagonist, and is later accepted into Hiroshi's Family Project as the family's "mother". While she is pretty good at playing the role of housewife and mother, Masumi openly admits to being weak if left on her own. This part of her really bothers our protagonist, who is convinced that people like that are more trouble than they're worth. Of course, Tsukasa eventually learns that while weak on her own, Masumi is stronger than most once she knows there is someone by her side.
Story, Structure & Game Engine
The story takes place in the summer, spanning about four months before the stories resolve themselves. The prologue itself is rather lengthy, and covers a good chunk of the game content, all the way up until the Family Project begins. After this, the OP movie will play, and the story focuses on the trials and tribulations of these seven strangers who are brought together under one roof.
Story progression is not very even, but is good in pacing. For a good part of the post-OP storyline, the player is witness to small events here and there that slowly bring the cast together, or at least allows them to resonate to one another. Due to their character motives, Aoba and Tsukasa are obviously resistant to the family atmosphere, with the latter trying to remain aloof while the former simply rejects everyone.
Character development is determined by Tsukasa's choices throughout the routes, and reach as far back as the prologue. Should our protagonist fail to develop or bond enough to one heroine, the game will give a "bad" ending where he leaves the house unfulfilled. Partly, I can say this game's script truly leaves the question of who the true heroine of the game would be unanswered, since all character have very important plot points that are exclusive to them, while the rest of the cast is left undeveloped should the story go down a certain route.
Engine-wise, the game's engine is truly that of a game from 2001, and in my opinion was most hurt by the lack of a replay option for spoken lines. There is no real text box, instead a semi transparent square at the bottom of the screen. There's no menu buttons, and the options can only be seen through a drop-down meny that appears when right-clicking on the mouse.
Translation was provided by Robert/The Great Satan (don't ask), with editing being done by Shingo and MatsuriMatsuri. From a translator's perspective, the job kind of borders on lousy, since the script lacks consistency when it comes to speech patterns and lines of the script used throughout various routes (not to mention honorifics, which leads me to think that more than just three people were involved in translating this game). There are also blatant translation errors here and there, but not enough to ruin the experience.
From an editor's perspective, the translation did an incredible job at outlining the things that are more difficult to understand, offering explanations in parenthesis alongside with spoken lines throughout the game. Admitedly, the script in general expects you to know something about Japan in the first place, but makes it relatively easy to understand.
This being a Peach Princess sub-brand, there were bound to be some nonsensical lines and errors in translation (along with coding errors when displaying text), but I'm thankful those were kept to a relative minimum (compared to something like X-change).
Character designs were provided by Fukunaga Yumi. The designs are overall nice, and consistent when it comes to character proportions. My only real complaint is that Kakei is a little short on CG artwork. There's even a scene where Matsuri and Tsukasa are in a pitch-black room, where Matsuri breaks the fourth wall and comments "so this is how the production crew was aiming to save money...".
That being said, Peach Princess is getting some heat due to the fact that certain CGs involving Matsuri were altered in the US release of Kakei.
Sound & Video
The game is fully voiced, and boasts of an all-star cast (at least, that's how Peach Princess is advertising the game). Indeed, several well-known VAs are present, including Wakamoto Norio AKA Hiroshi's VA (who would later play Chiyo's father in Azumanga Daioh, Dr. Markus in Yatou hime zankikou, and M.Bison/Vega in Street Fighter Zero).
BGM was provided by Nakazawa Tomoyuki and WATA from I've Sound, with Takase Kazuya (also from I've) credited for the OP and ED songs. The game's soundtrack is quite nice, relying on piano tunes to set atmosphere. The OP is an obvious KOTOKO song, but the ED song (Philosophy) has been hailed as a kamikyoku (Godly Song) to the point that it was included in the NicoNico Douga Kamikyoku Medley.
As for video, the OP vid for Kakei can be seen here.
Not much to speak of, aside from access to the full game soundtrack after clearing the game once.
A very moving title in several ways. Kakei puts true emphasis on the concept of why we have families in the first place, while at the same time leaning towards the idea that a person cannot truly progress on their own. Tsukasa learns this throughout the story, as do the other characters. The game's music does a great job in helping set atmosphere, and the voice acting is (as expected) quite good.
I'd personally say the game is worth the $40.00 that Peach Princess is charging for the translated version, errors and all in mind. Mistakes and all aside, a definite keeper. Anyway, that's my two cents on the matter.
"In family life, love is the oil that eases friction, the cement that binds closer together, and the music that brings harmony." - Eva Burrows
Peach Princess needs to get more editors, or look for people amongst current and former fansubbers (*coughmecough*) to work on those game scripts. For an attempt at bringing a true non-smut title to our side of the Pacific, there should have been a lot more effort put into how the script looked. What bothered me most was the lack of consistency in spoken lines. That aside, they went out of their way to make sure the player understood some of the more difficult to grasp jokes and references in the game. For that, I truly commend them, since few translators put in the effort to make sure the player understands what's going on. At the same time, I also appreciate the fact that the script expects the player to know something about Japan to begin with.