Between the likes of Strangeland, Lost Words, and When The Past Was Around, I feel like I’ve written a lot lately about games dealing with grief—not to mention things like Adios and Olija that aren’t about grief per se, but traverse adjacent territory. And yet, no two of those games are even remotely alike; grief is both so universal and so personal that everyone’s experience of it is different, and every artist’s exploration of it unique. Sumire is no exception: a beautiful, heartbreaking, bittersweet story about a young girl figuring out not just how to say goodbye, but also how to cherish the moments we have and live a life with no regrets.
What’s clear from the moment you start a new game is that Sumire’s grandmother was the light of her life. Her grandmother was always there for her, through her parents’ rocky separation, through her childhood best friend growing distant and hanging with a new, meaner crowd, through all the emotional turmoil that comes with adolescence—until she wasn’t. Everyone has to say goodbye sometime, but for Sumire, losing her grandmother left her stranded, lost in the depths of depression and regret.
Then, one night, Sumire sees her grandmother in a dream, but it ends before the grandmother can pass on her final words of wisdom to the girl. The next morning, desperate to find out what the message was meant to be, Sumire visits the old wisteria tree near her house—a special place for her grandmother—in the hope of seeing her again. That wish doesn’t quite come true, but instead she finds a flower who, with only until sunset to enjoy what the world has to offer, asks Sumire to show her the best day she possibly can.
This fateful encounter sets Sumire on a path of overcoming her burdens, finding some peace, and saying goodbye. What begins with a simple request to be shown the sights of a little rural town turns into a blossoming friendship, and the playful little flower encouraging Sumire to try do all the things she thought she never could: to reconnect with her friend Chie, to tell her mother and father how she truly feels, to tell her crush how she feels, to visit “the beautiful place” she hasn’t seen since her grandmother passed, and most importantly, to see her grandmother again.
It’s a poignant, bittersweet adventure through a dreamlike rendition of rural Japan, full of playful spirits and gorgeous scenery. While grief is obviously one of the main ideas at play, Sumire is as much about what comes after saying goodbye. Learning to let go is something Sumire needs to do, but that’s only the first step; her perfect day with the flower is more about trying to learn from her grandmother’s wisdom and learn to live each day to the fullest—”if you had only one day left to live”, and all that.
It’s a journey about making friends, helping people, and trying to do what’s good. It’s about spirituality, not so much in the sense of religion, but in the way spirits—whether you view them as literal or metaphorical—embody and inform every aspect of the world, and help shape the people we are. It’s about grappling with those darker feelings that are still so fundamental, about dealing with bullies and trying to tell your parents about how much their fighting is hurting you. It’s a story about connecting with your own self, about finding meaning in a life where everything that used to give it meaning seems to be gone.
One of the remarkable things about Sumire is how effortlessly it’s able to traverse all these different ideas with nuance and thoughtfulness, without overstaying its welcome or getting too bogged down by its own scope. At a couple of hours long, it’s a relatively short game, and all the better for it—never lingering on an idea but making sure to let every point be made, ensuring every moment, every conversation, every interaction leaves its mark.
While Sumire is very narrative-driven, it’s also a game that leaves some room for you to explore, in both a literal sense and in terms of understanding your own feelings and your own way of reacting to what Sumire is dealing with. There’s a “karma” system that seems very black-and-white on the surface—good karma for good deeds, bad karma for bad—yet in the context of everything else, amounts to one of the most thoughtful takes on this sort of mechanic I’ve seen. It’s not about “being good” or “being bad” so much as truly understanding those feelings, the negative ones especially. Simple puzzles and mini games bring with them a bit of levity, as you play cards with your friends or try to help an old tortoise find its way home.
In its harrowing but ultimately hopeful story, its surprisingly dark moments and lighthearted breaks, Sumire amounts to a beautiful, bittersweet outing. The watercolour art style ties it all together perfectly: colourful but not overwhelmingly bold, it builds up the dreamy mood of the whole piece, lets the subtle details stand out, and most importantly, helps to drive home the emotion in every scene.
Sumire isn’t quite like anything else out there, because that’s the nature of grief—it’s deeply personal stuff, despite being such a universal thing to deal with. It’s heartbreaking, in the way that losing a loved one can only be, but it’s also a bittersweet story of hope: of keeping the memory of loved ones alive in our actions, about living each day to the fullest, and cherishing all the little moments that we’re blessed with. It’s beautiful.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.