Ihatovo Monogatari is a weird game about weird stuff and if you like it, you’re probably weird too. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For some reason, this strange and almost totally unknown title for the SNES has been rising in Internet prominence recently.
As the title suggests, the game takes place in the fictional town of Ihatovo. The nameless protagonist gets off of a train at Ihatovo station with nothing but a briefcase in hand. From there, the game plays similar to The Legend of Zelda—minus the enemies to fight, dungeons to explore, and cool collectible weapons to find.
So what the heck do you even do in this game?
To start with, Ihatovo Monogatari is based around the works of famous Japanese author, Kenji Miyazawa. In fact, he’s something of a town hero, and he’s left behind seven notebooks in various locations. Your quest is to track them down.
When I say that he’s something of a town hero, maybe a better term would be a town obsession. Almost every person you come into contact with will talk your ear off about how remarkable Miyazawa is and mention aspects of the author’s real life, such as the fact that he taught at an agricultural school.
Fanboys. All of them.
This is an adventure game in the purest sense. So gameplay consists of talking to various people (and animals), gathering clues, and finding the lost notebooks. As mentioned before, there are no enemies to fight, no platforms to leap from, no challenge whatsoever really.
The quests throughout the game are filled with in-jokes and references to many of Miyazawa’s short stories and novels. And when you finally discover one of the missing notebooks, you’re treated to a character telling you a bite-sized summary of a Miyazawa story.
So what’s the point of playing Ihatovo Monogatari, and why has interest in it risen over the years? There are a few answers. First of all, the overall atmosphere of the game is pretty relaxing. The soundtrack is soothing and filled with several memorable melodies. The character sprites and settings also ooze retro charm. It’s not the best looking game on the SNES, but it’s a nice place to inhabit for a bit.
As for the recent somewhat rise in interest—it’s a game from the SNES-era that was never released in the West and also has never had an English translation—official or fan-made. This makes it somewhat of an oddity in a time where you can find fan-translated versions of almost any classic game.
Maybe the subject matter is too obtuse. Or maybe all of the allusions to classic Japanese literature are just too difficult to translate. You will definitely need a set of footnotes to keep all of the references in line. But that’s exactly what makes the thing so fascinating in the first place.
There’s also a frog bar.
There is a walkthrough in English on GameFAQs that was written about a decade ago. It will take you through the steps for each quest and get you to the missing notebooks, but it doesn’t really outline the story or what the characters are saying. If you just want to go from point A to B, check out the colorful retro surroundings, and listen to some nice music along the way, then it’s perfect for that.
On the rarity scale, this one is pretty high. A copy of the game in box is almost impossible to find. There are a couple of cartridge-only Buy It Now auctions on eBay for moderate prices, but unless you’re Japanese reading level is good, you’ll have a tough time figuring this one out.
Your best bet is to fire up the good old emulator and get cozy with that GameFAQs guide. I don’t think it will win any accolades for best game ever, but that music is really catchy. If anything, it’s definitely just odd enough that it’s worth a look.