The successor to Rakuen appears as a Steam Next Fest demo
Since my teenage years, RPG Maker has always fascinated me. While the engine is often associated with low-effort RPGs that claim inspiration from some combination of Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy 6, and Earthbound, it is also a platform for artists with lesser coding experience to bring imaginative concepts to life. To The Moon, Ib, and A Bird Story are all examples of how creatively this engine can be used, and fans of those should absolutely give Mr. Saitou a look.
Mr. Saitou is the newest game from Laura Shigihara that is set in the world of her previous title, Rakuen. Among other works, you may know Shigihara as the talent that gave us Don’t Forget in Deltarune and the absolute banger of an ending song from Plants vs Zombies. Rakuen’s a widely loved game that I’ve meant to play for years now, so I wanted to see if Mr. Saitou worked as a standalone title. After playing the demo, I can confirm that Mr. Saitou is a fun piece of what looks to be an endearing game. This is mostly a good thing.
An overworked man meets an imaginative child
The titular Mr. Saitou is a busy man. Through a visually stunning montage, we see the man work and drink himself to exhaustion before passing out in a train station. It’s a short sequence that lasts all of a handful of seconds, but it conveys plenty about Mr. Saitou and the life he lives.
The next thing we know, Mr. Saitou is in the hospital. After some cursory gameplay, our protagonist reluctantly meets a child named Brandan. The child shows Mr. Saitou his drawing of a llama/worm hybrid, and on the spot, he decides this creation is also named Mr. Saitou. He even makes llamaworm Saitou a salaryman, just like the human counterpart! Yet it’s not just one llamaworm; Brandan draws many llamaworms with some variation of Mr. Saitou’s name after citing it’s “a common name.”
This initial section of Mr. Saitou is evocative yet wholesome. Without context, you might think the game will focus on these two stuck in the hospital. Then this happens.
Adult life through childlike eyes
So yes, the core of Mr. Saitou is a businessman’s life imagined as a llamaworm doing work that probably makes sense for creatures like these. There are reports, there are analytics, and there are opinionated plants. I’d continue this description, but I’d run the risk of spoiling this 20-minute demo. That said, this is a small slice of a game that Shigihara herself calls short in the Steam store description, so don’t expect any plot twists before the demo ends.
Even without playing Rakuen, it’s apparent that this childlike view of Mr. Saitou’s unsettled life is the game’s hook. Mr. Saitou is grounded in quirky absurdity, since you’ll find characters who are as prone to talk about unfaithful manga adaptations as they are to discuss business expenses. There are even unique sprite animations of Saitou and company recoiling into the ground in case you forgot that these characters are, in fact, meme-y looking animals and not actual businessmen. Don’t expect top-tier satire, but it’s relatable in the way an episode of Rugrats is when you watch it as an adult.
The story so far works by itself, but Mr. Saitou is clearly intended as a supplemental experience to Rakuen. Just a few minutes of playing Rakuen after I was done gave me important context to understand Mr. Saitou better. They’re even being bundled together on Switch, which should indicate Shigihara’s intention. Rakuen‘s already a short game with a budget price, so consider this more a heads-up than a notable barrier to entry.
Let’s talk about music
Funny enough, the highlight of this demo was a scene that features music by guest composter Toby Fox. You might know him for writing a song about some guy climbing a tower and making a track inspired by a Live a Live song. It’s not that Fox’s contribution is the only reason why this scene worked well, but it did ironically make a character intended to be annoying come off as strangely endearing.
I mostly mention this because Toby Fox’s contribution to anything is a conversation starter. That said, Shigihara’s music is ample enough reason to be excited for Mr. Saitou. Every track here exudes personality and blends into the scenery of the game impeccably well. Even the abrasive track that plays when you see the… thing allegedly infesting the llamaworm office building is strangely catchy, which is a testament to Shigihara’s talent in this department. This shouldn’t come as a surprise if you’re familiar with her work, but if you aren’t, now you know.
More music from the game has since been posted to Shigihara’s YouTube channel, and these tracks make me really excited to see the places Mr. Saitou will go when the full game is released. However, this brings me to my sole sticking point with this particular demo.
Should you play the demo?
While I like the Mr. Saitou demo, I’m not sure who it’s for.
If you loved Rakuen, you likely were sold on this game already. Given Mr. Saitou will officially launch on March 23rd, there’s little need to whet our appetites. Meanwhile, if you’re on the fence, the demo doesn’t do much to sell you on the experience. It’s too short to establish where this story is going, and there’s no compelling gameplay to show off in a title like this.
I bring this up because the trailer for the game already paints a very evocative picture of the themes Mr. Saitou will tackle. This makes the demo feel redundant by comparison, especially since it doesn’t offer further insight into either Mr. Saitou or his wormy counterpart. For now, I can only say it’s impossible to take a small chunk of a short story to showcase what the finished product will look like. You need to have enough faith in Shigihara that the full game will be as stirring and heartwarming as the trailer promises.
On the whole, the Mr. Saitou demo is primarily a showcase for the sillier dialogue you could expect to see in the finished product. Though no joke in this demo elicited more than a smile from me, these more wholesome experiences are welcome breaks from combat-centric titles. If your favorite adjectives for indie games are “quirky” and “charming” then the Mr. Saitou demo will absolutely make your day. For everyone else… well, there is what appears to be an exclusive scene for the demo where Shigihara herself turns into a toilet.
On second thought, forget everything I said. Absolutely download the demo for Mr. Saitou and experience this masterpiece adventure for yourself.