As indie developers from Japan and around the world descended upon the former Japanese capital of Kyoto for Bitsummit 2022, some developers present at the event were showcasing their games a little closer to home. Having already been hyped up amongst Japanese games outlets for its unique visuals and inspirations from Japanese yokai and folk tales, Kitsune: The Journey Of Adashino was a rather hot ticket at the event, and with an English localisation and a release in 2023 or 2024 planned, it stands with the opportunity to shine a light on the Japanese indie gaming scene.
While it may perhaps be reductive to make a Studio Ghibli comparison to the game’s opening moments, the familiarity many have with those films compared to Japanese folklore makes the equivalence an easy one. My time with the demo was from a moment early in the game, when you’ve already set foot into this new world but don't have much knowledge about the yokai-infested supernatural surprises that await you.
Getting off the boat at the port of a lantern-lit town in the midst of a festival - street vendors meeting the occasion with Japanese food stalls stuffed with tasty delights, and creatures of various sizes serving as their customers and staff - is reminiscent of the moment of Spirited Away when the abandoned theme park turns into the onsen district.
Not that you, a fox girl with a frog companion and the power to temporarily summoning flames, are in a position to talk. Still, as you bring light to the pathways you explore by using your ability to wield fire and light shrines, you run across a tall shadowy fiend who eats your froggy friend and chases after you. It’s only while running that you meet a catgirl who saves you by taking you down a path away from the being, and with the monster deciding frog is not the most exciting food on the menu, you happily reunite in front of an inn where you can stay the night. But even here, everything isn’t what it seems.
The game is steeped in references to Japanese folklore and yokai, from instantly recognisable kitsune (like our main character) and kappas, to ones far more obscure. A knowledge of these is unnecessary, but what it does do is offer the game a distinctly Japanese flavour that helps it stand out. Indeed, illustrator and concept artist Risa at the booth pointed out the team coming from Kyoto, and the tendency of fantasy to lean into a European setting, inspired this more localised interpretation. To compete around the world, they said, the game needs to show a Japanese fantasy not found elsewhere - something they have achieved.
Hand-drawn backgrounds serve as an artistic allure into a fantastical past, and you're left longing to return to this dangerous yet intriguing world the moment you put the controller down. Luckily, Kitsune: The Journey Of Adashino's enthralling world is already set for an international release, although with no timeframe set for the localised version yet. While it may be early days, this looks like it could be worth the wait.