RPG maker is an engine that has seen perhaps more titles than any other in existence. The pixel-based game engine is, as the title suggests, for the creation of RPG games. The simple to learn nature of RPG maker has allowed a ton of creators to bring their original stories to life in the form of games, and the engine has built a reputation for powering heartwarming indie titles.
Rakuen is another one of these titles. Originally released in 2017, Rakuen is a story Laura Shigiara, singer-songwriter and Twitch streamer known for her work on games like Plants vs. Zombies and CS:GO. Rakuen was her first title and is 100% her vision from start to finish.
Rakuen: Deluxe Edition is the Nintendo port of Shigiara’s vision. Originally released on Steam, Rakuen Deluxe Edition features the original Rakuen game along with bonus features for the Switch audience.
Rakuen is the story of a young boy and his mother. Hospitalized with a terrible illness, the boy’s mother has been visiting him every day and reading to him the story of Rakuen, a tale of a magical forest where the Morizora resides. According to the story, the mystical Morizora has the ability to grant one wish to those it deems deserving, granting them anything they desire.
One day, the boy’s mother reveals that the Morizora is real, and the two discover a mysterious door that leads them into the world of the story. Inside the world of Rakuen, the boy decides to find the Morizora and ask them for a wish, only to discover that the Morizora is asleep. In order to wake them and receive his wish, the boy must find the five parts of the Mori no Kokoro, a magical song that will wake the guardian.
As the boy and his mother travel through the magical forest, they interact with this world’s counterparts of the patients back at the hospital, helping them overcome their traumas and getting closer to finding the Mori no Kokoro with each new friend you make.
The story of Rakuen is sweet, and can hit you where you live more than a few times. At times there is a sense that not all is what it might seem, but overall the experience is very wholesome and friendly.
Rakuen was made in the RPG maker engine, meaning that gameplay is very simple and straightforward. In Rakuen, you’re never really doing more than walking around and interacting with the map. Most of the gameplay comes in puzzles, which are pretty simple to figure out. If you find yourself getting stuck, you can always ask your mom for help, which is a neat little way to help the player out while making it feel like you really are a child accompanied by your mother in a strange new land.
One complaint I have with the game, which I see other players and reviewers seem to agree with, is the walking speed. Rakuen is an incredibly slow game, and that’s due in major part to the very slow move speed of the main characters. A run button would be nice to get through an area quickly when I’m done sightseeing.
Something that can’t go unsaid about Rakuen is how absolutely astounding the soundtrack is. This should come as a surprise to nobody, as Laura Shigiara is responsible for every song on the track. As a composer first and game dev second, it should be no surprise that Rakuen’s OST is well put together, and each song is filled with the soul of the magical forest the game takes place in; You really feel the world Shigiara has put together in the music.
The art of Rakuen is absolutely beautiful. featuring stunning pixelated environments in the overworld and gorgeous 2d character portraits for the characters in the game. The two artists listed as staff for Project Rakuen are Emmy Toyonaga and Matt Holmberg, and I wish I could say I knew who worked on which of the equally gorgeous styles featured in the game.
I’d like to extend congratulations to Toyonaga, Holmberg and Shigiara, as well as any other artists who worked on the game that I may be missing here; You all created a real work of art with Rakuen, and you deserve to be proud of it.
Rakuen: Deluxe edition clocks in at about six to eight hours of gameplay, and all of it is spent with the game’s story. If you’re not into story-heavy games, Rakuen is not the title for you, but the story it tells is heartwarming and worth the experience from start to finish.
As a bonus, Rakuen: Deluxe Edition also comes with the newly released sequel, Mr. Saitou. Mr. Saitou follows the story of Saitou, a salaryman who lacks satisfaction with his life in the magical forest. When his house is broken into by a bud named Brandon, Mr. Saitou finds himself escorting Brandon to the Gemstone Caverns, fulfilling a lifelong dream of his.
The tropes of the unfulfilled salaryman are used really well in this little spinoff, and the game is not lacking in the soul the first game had to offer. While super short, Mr. Saitou will give you a little more to do in Rakuen’s world once you finish the main game.
The Final Word
Rakuen: Deluxe edition is a great port of a fantastic indie game. Fans who love a great story and want to experience Rakuen’s gorgeous soundtrack and art design now have a new platform to do it on, and I’m looking forward to more games from Morizora Studios.
Rakuen: Deluxe Edition was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website! Rakuen: Deluxe Edition and the original Rakuen and Mr. Saito are available on the Nintendo Store and Steam.