Not quite the hype train I had hoped for
I like simulation games, but I love Japan. When I heard the news that Japanese Rail Sim 3D Journey to Kyoto was coming to the Nintendo 3DS eShop, I just had to try it out. After all, what could possibly be more gratifying than transporting groups of lovely people through the scenic surrounding areas of Kyoto during the fall season on one of Japan’s classic electric railway systems? Well, I couldn’t wait to find out.
Japanese Rail Sim 3D Journey to Kyoto greets you with warm, welcoming Japanese music. No words are sung, and I’m perfectly OK with that; it seemed to set the mood quite nice, actually. Before starting, I navigated the game’s menu where I found options for “All aboard,” “Operating Records,” and “Library.” All aboard simply transitions you into the actual play mode while Operating Records tracks your driving performance for the fifteen included sections of Japan’s Eizan Electric Railway system. The Library maintains informative documentation for particular areas of interest (such as popular shrines or landmarks), different train models and series, and background music — all of which are unlocked based on how well you drive for each section.
What I really admire about Japanese Rail Sim 3D Journey to Kyoto is that it immediately placed me into an environment similar to that of a real-life Japanese train station. Natural sights and sounds, speaker announcements for departures, chimes, and security guards blowing their whistles — all things I experienced while manning the seat in the virtual cab area of the train. I could also peer through the front windshield (shown below) to see mansion-style apartment buildings, lush green mountains, colorful Japanese maple trees and, most importantly, the railway that I was about to move my 30-metric-ton locomotive along. After living in Japan for more than four years, I found a natural draw and sense of calmness and relaxation to the atmosphere the game invoked. I liked that, and I appreciate the developer for adding that fitting, ever-so-important touch.
When departure time comes along (you sit idle at each stop for typically ten to fifteen seconds), the train doors automatically close. At this point, you’re in control of the behemoth-sized steel beast. The lower Nintendo 3DS screen displays your controls dashboard. The brake is on the right, the master control on the left controls your speed, and there’s even a few gadgets such as a horn and background music selector. Once you shove off to the next stop, on-screen notifications alert you of posted speed limits, downhill gradients, uphill gradients, crosswalks, bridges, and corners. Failing to obey posted speed limits can result in penalties that decrease your allotted travel time to the next stop, which can add a bit of stress to the expedition.
Your performance per railway section is based on how accurate you can stop and arrive at each arrival location of the Eizan Railway — measured in distance and time, respectively. Stopping locations are clearly marked with highlighted zones, making it easier to judge and control your speed. For both stopping and arriving, you can be “late,” “early,” or “on time.” Results earned are lettered A, B, and C, with A being the best; an A unlocks two Library documents while B unlocks one.
Results don’t seem to be all too consistent, however. For example, for my third attempt on the Nikenchaya section, I received an A even though my stopping position was 97 cm too far. I also arrived 2 seconds early. But during my first attempt on the Ninose section, I missed the stop target by 31 cm and arrived 3 seconds late, and I received an A. Once you complete the game (with or without achieving all As), “Full Line” mode becomes available. Here, you can drive the entire Eizan Electric Railway from start to finish free of interruptions during the day or night. It takes roughly 30 minutes and you can earn special titles and bonus items and, perhaps, even become “Eiden Master” if your performance is good enough. It took me less than four hours of gameplay to achieve an A for all fifteen sections of the line; this completes the game’s Library and unlocks the “Bonus Item Corner” where all six tracks of the game’s background music can be listened to at any time.
While driving, you can adjust your view two different ways. You can either have a clear view, free of windshield wipers, a microphone, controls, etc., or you can hide those items — seen in the image above. There’s even a switch you can flip to make the on-screen guide disappear. Note, however, that you’ll no longer be warned of approaching speed limits. I do understand that Journey to Kyoto is a driving simulation game, but having an option that lets the player experience the scenery as a lone passenger would add needed depth to the game. I would have liked to take a back seat, free of any responsibility, and view the entire Eizan Electric Railway while having a 180-degree left-to-right view. Adding to that, it was difficult to enjoy the view because focus was constantly placed on maintaining speed or being on the lookout for approaching curves, speed limits, and the remaining distance. To that end, the view was nothing to write home about. Viewing in 3D looked mediocre at best, and I ultimately chose to have it turned off while driving.
Japanese Rail Sim 3D Journey to Kyoto relies largely on beautiful 3D autumn landscapes as its selling point. Said beauty, however, is not experienced until much later in the game — about three-quarters of the way through. Up until that point, scenery is mostly based on urban visuals with an occasional fall feel. And the option to drive at night doesn’t become accessible until you complete the entire railway. During my journey, I noted numerous language localization errors; this did not impact my scoring or overall opinion of the game itself.
While Japanese Rail Sim 3D Journey to Kyoto offers a unique railway simulation experience by integrating real scenic visuals and sounds from the surrounding areas of Kyoto during the fall season, it ultimately fell short of my expectations; it became too repetitive, too soon. Branded as a simulation game, Journey to Kyoto seems to focus more on providing historical information about the setting in which it takes place. My advice would be download and test drive the free demo from the Nintendo 3DS eShop before making the purchase.
Japanese Rail Sim 3D Journey to Kyoto is developed and published by Sonic Powered Co. It launched in the North American Wii U eShop on August 6, 2015 for $19.99.
Review copy provided by Sonic Powered