“We have a tech driven solution with a turn-key that’s optimized for the cloud,” says my boss. Meanwhile, the whole office has embraced 32-step verification and one of my coworkers has a spreadsheet to organize their bar graphs about pie charts, or possibly their pie charts about bar graphs. It’s a distressingly relatable exaggeration of office life, apart from one thing: my boss and coworkers are all elongated wooly creatures called llamaworms, and so am I.
At first, Mr. Saitou is about an ordinary human salaryman whose lonely life of endless work, train trips, and ramen for one takes a turn that leaves him in the hospital. And then his life takes another turn, one that sees him enter a dream-like alternate reality envisioned by a boy in the same hospital, a place where he’s an office-working llamaworm on a quest for metrics. It gets stranger yet when he finds himself on another quest, this time to find a cave of frozen gemstones in an underground realm of talking plants and dopey-looking birds.
If any of this looks or sounds familiar, you may be recognizing the whimsical style as well as the setting shared by Rakuen, an indie adventure from 2017 in which a hospitalized boy and his mother go on Wizard of Oz-style journeys through a delightful fantasy land that parallels their more tragic reality. Mr. Saitou is a spin-off rather than a sequel, so you don’t need to have played Rakuen to enjoy it, though now is the ideal time to do so because Rakuen’s getting a deluxe edition on March 23, the same day Mr. Saitou will be released.
Mr. Saitou is a shorter game than Rakuen, one I finished in just over two hours. It’s the same kind of adventure though, with appealing characters and uncomplicated puzzles. The only time I got stuck was when I got myself in a seemingly unwinnable position while pushing giant golf balls into place, but fortunately there was a perfectly placed autosave at the beginning of the puzzle.
The underground section has you solve basic math, slide objects around Sokoban-style, and hop across pads, but also features a giant bird that demands napkins to eat and a nightclub where a band with the wonderful name No Holds Bard plays. It put me in mind of the D&D module White Plume Mountain, which feels like an abandoned amusement park thanks to its greased floors, hanging platforms, and riddle sphinx. Mr. Saitou contains a similar variety of unusual underground oddities, more fairground than dungeon.
It’s also got a banging soundtrack. Creator Laura Shigihara is a composer whose tunes you may know from Plants vs. Zombies, Deltarune, To the Moon, and that one CS:GO Tacticians Music Kit, and has filled Mr. Saitou with tunefulness. There’s a musical number when you make it into the nightclub, Toby Fox contributed a hectic theme for an annoying coworker, somber piano chords play as you dodge ghosts, and urgent drums kick in when you’re trying not to drop something heavy. Almost every room seems to have new music, giving it a richness that makes backtracking pleasant.
It has other things in common with Rakuen too. Like a Miyazaki-movie love of food, from the glorious ramen Mr. Saitou slumps next to at an izakaya to the strange confectionery available at a convenience store run by fungus. And the RPG Maker interface that you’ll need to hit F11 to force into fullscreen. And a soulful bittersweetness that means it’s likely to, cliché as it sounds, make you laugh and make you cry. At least a little bit. It’s not the full emotional rollercoaster of Rakuen—it’s more of a bite-sized experience, a quick ghost train through a bouncy castle where you can whip to the last stop in a single sitting if you want.
Mr. Saitou will be available on Steam (opens in new tab) from March 23, as will Rakuen Deluxe Edition.