I can’t help but wonder what thoughts run through your mind when presented with the promotional image for Blue Port J: Summer Sky Prelude, shown above. I’m preconditioned to be a bit suspicious of a Japanese games featuring young girls. It also doesn’t help that the developer, FoxEye, seems to have a sexual fascination with drowning.
No, please don’t leave! There’s a lot to Blue Port J outside of young girls in skimpy swimsuits.
Honestly, the promotional material misrepresents the game. I expected the usual fan service through suggestive dialog and girls grabbing each others’ breasts. However, Blue Port J never presents itself in this way. Instead, it is grounded representation of a childhood summer vacation. While the localization has some typos and awkward sentences, the dialog is written in a true to life style. The three friends just want to make summer memories by exploring the island.
Unlike the characters, the main scenario is exaggerated. You’ll start by simply exploring nearby beaches and underwater caves until eventually diving through modern and ancient ruins. The three girls’ thirst for exploration leads them to unintentionally save their island from a mining company. It’s a bit extreme and has a surprising amount of drama, although never strays too far from the laid-back tone.
The island you explore is colorful and the characters who inhabit it are charming. There’s something comforting about casually traversing the caves and beaches with a tropical beat playing in the background. “Blue Port J is a great game to sit back and relax with,” is what I would be saying if most of the game didn’t take place underwater. The music disappears with the splash of your dive and is replaced by the sound of bubbles forming and the echo of the current. The submerged environments are often cloudy, dark, mysterious and unsettling. There are no monsters, still it’s hard not to feel on edge. The threat of drowning is your only enemy.
Your character’s oxygen is your timer, which conflicts with the fact that Blue Port J is a exploration game. If you’re OCD about exploring every corner of the world, this is going to drive you crazy. Frequently, there’s not enough time to fully take in an area without tedious backtracking to get more oxygen.
How much time you can spend underwater also greatly depends on the character you’re using. The starting character can stay underwater the longest and is best for scouting out each new area. Later on, you’ll use two other divers who have special skills for solving puzzles. They can’t stay underwater nearly as long, which reintroduces old areas under new restrictions.
Mastery of the controls and memorization of the swimming paths are a must to complete later objectives. New challenges increases the pressure of performing but also introduces frustration. Picking up items and maneuvering in tight quarters can be clumsy and unresponsive. When literal seconds are the matter between life and death, any fault in the controls becomes a huge sore point. You’ll die at least a few times simply because the game’s handling keeps you from succeeding.
Blue Port J does have its tranquil moments. Less demanding tasks reflect the easygoing nature of the premise. Exploring and solving puzzles on land or photographing fish in shallower waters is a breath of fresh air from the stressful diving sequences.
Riddles, clues and combination locks are spread throughout the island. They’re fairly easy to conquer until the last handful, which become extremely convoluted. I ended up having to look at what limited online resources there are for help. While nothing seems immediately wrong with the puzzle designs, I saw some users questioning the translation of clues because they seem insufficient for finding a solution. With unpolished text throughout the game, I wouldn’t be surprised.
It is worth mentioning that one late game puzzles requires an extreme amount of repeated backtracking with near perfect execution for each dive. The puzzle took almost two hours, not to solve, but to execute the solution. That’s almost a third of my total playtime. Maybe I missed something. If not, it’s a serious flaw and an amazingly poor design choice.
As dirty as I thought I’d feel playing Blue Port J, I couldn’t help but be charmed by it. It’s a hard game to sell to someone since the promotional material will likely make people scoff or consider reporting you to the police. If you don’t mind putting up with some frustration and listening to a podcast or something while you solve the ridiculously tedious puzzle toward the end, it’s a unique game that hasn’t gotten much exposure.
For the curious, DLSite sells an English version of the game.