Channeling Journey (2012) and Viva Piñata (2006), albeit at a smaller scale, Fujii is a game about exploration and gardening with a dash of discovery. That’s not to say that you’ll be exploring epic landscapes or saving the world by discovering long-lost knowledge in ancient ruins… no, Fujii’s sense of discovery is more personal.
Developer: Funktronic Labs
Available On: Oculus (Rift, Quest), Steam
Reviewed On: Quest
Release Date: June 27, 2019
There’s almost no instructions in Fujii—a testament to the intuitive VR game design skills of developer Funktronic Labs. Players learn what to do and how to do almost exclusively by doing. Doing in Fujii typically means reaching out and touching stuff and seeing how it reacts to you. And react it does—seemingly everything in the game responds to you in some subtle, organic way, either by moving or making sound, giving you a rich sense of actually being part of the world.
The game is set in a colorful and organic fantasy world that at first is mostly cloaked in darkness. There’s no explicit objectives, story, or enemies; you’ll learn as you go that activating certain nodes along your journey will push the darkness back and let you progress to new areas. As you explore, you’ll find simple puzzles which reward you with both ‘orbs of light’ (which are used as a sort of universal currency for opening doors and buying things later) and seeds (which can be planted in your garden).
While Fujii doesn’t give players a grand landscape across which to roam, its relatively small areas feel carefully constructed to keep the player engaged. It feels like there’s always something to see or touch or collect around each corner, including a few small but welcome secrets if you have a sense for where to look. Between the strong art direction and accompanying music, uncovering Fujii’s world is a serene experience that never feels like a grind.
At any time while exploring you can return to your garden which acts as a sort of ‘home’ and hub in the game. The garden is not only a pleasant place to be, but a highly customizable space to make your own by planting and growing the seeds of the plants that you’ve discovered throughout the world.
When you plant a seed, you’ll need to water it to keep it growing. Every plant has multiple stages of growth, and some will even fruit the ‘orbs of light’ which you can collect and later redeem for more seeds or other useful items like pots, shelves, and walls to further make the garden your own. An impressive variety of unique plants in the game come in varying sizes from simple house plants to cactus-like plants that will tower over your head! Some plants are uniquely interactive too, like a giant dandelion which you can shake the florets from, and even an alien-looking plant which reacts to your touch with sound.
Fujii is a relatively short experience, and you can cruise through the game’s unique content in about two hours. If you get hooked on gardening you might spend a lot more time making the space your own. That said, at $15, Fujii never feels like it’s wasting your time, and that’s doubly important for VR; as I played, I found myself wanting to continue exploring just to see what I’d find around the next corner. By the end of the game I was glad I took the time to experience the feelings that Fujii’s world managed to elicit—even if I wished there was still more to explore and discover.
As much as I enjoyed returning to my garden between my explorations to pluck orbs of light and make sure my plants were all watered and nicely arranged, after exploring the extent of the game world I didn’t feel particularly compelled to come back. A way to share my garden with other players (and see their gardens too) probably would have given me more incentive to return. I also would have liked to see the plants grow fruit, which could be fed to some of the cute critters that eventually come to inhabit your garden.
Fujii drops players into a rich world that feels alien, but alive. Almost everything you interact with will react to your touch or presence in some way, which helps maintain the illusion of being in the game’s world.
The game uses teleportation locomotion that’s been very thoughtfully crafted with Fujii’s gameplay in mind. Instead of instantly teleporting with the push of a button, you actually use the thumbstick to ‘flick’ a ball of light to where you want to go, and then the game gracefully moves you there.
The way in which the locomotion and the game have been designed prevents the constant-teleportation-syndrome of some other games (where the game expects players to more or less be constantly teleporting). Rarely, it seems, will you teleport more than once or twice before Fujii gives you something to see, touch, or collect. In many cases, the game will smartly guide your teleporting crosshairs to ideal positions (like on a lily pad while moving across water, or right up close to something so that it’s immediately within arm’s reach) which makes it feel really seamless to get around. This is teleportation done right.
Fujii also has an incredible sense of ‘game feel’—animations and audio work together in a way that just feels organic and satisfying. It seems like there’s a sounds, visuals, and haptics to everything you do, and it really helps make the world feel real and responsive around you. I can’t think of another game in VR that does this quite as well and as consistently as Fujii.
The game’s inventory (which is effectively just an array of ‘buckets’ that objects can fit into) is a great example. When you open the inventory, it pops up always facing the perfect direction and within arm’s reach. When you store items, you get a satisfying sound and animation which instantly lets you know that you’ve correctly stuck an item into a slot. Often times it’s subtle, but all of these ‘confirmatory’ and reactive effects help the player understand what’s valid within the game world, which largely prevents clunky interactions that invariably breaks immersion.
Fujii’s teleporting locomotion is comfortable throughout and clearly woven into the core gameplay, preventing a sense of rapid fire teleportation which plagues some other titles. There’s a few brief moments in the game where the player experiences smooth locomotion; when you leave your garden you get on a little boat and glides you out toward the game world. This movement is minimal and isn’t likely to offend anyone; granted, you can ring a bell behind you on the boat if you want to skip the ride.
Between the way that the world reacts to you and the way that the game assists you in subtle ways, it almost feels like you can never make a mistake. For instance, some objects in the game simply float, which means you’ll never accidentally drop them and then need to reach down to the ground to pick them up. If there’s something on the ground that isn’t within arm’s reach, your arm will stretch to grab it without the need to reposition yourself. If you’re just a little too far away to place an object where you want it, you can even use the thumbstick to stretch your arms far out in front of you (which is not just a convenience but also a very smart accessibility feature).