I found Haiku Adventure tucked away in the Leftfield section on the basement floor of EGX Rezzed this year. A gorgeous game inspired by Japanese art, it mesmerized everyone who caught a glance at it. In that loud and crowded room, as soon as I put the demo's headphones on and heard the relaxing notes of the plucked koto I was transported. It was like a quiet oasis.
Maybe that seems overly poetic, but Haiku Adventure is all about poetry and calmness. It's a point-and-click game where you assemble haiku to solve puzzles. You play an old man who sets out on a journey to stop a volcano from erupting. When you click on parts of the landscape, the old man is inspired by them and writes lines of poetry that, when you have collected enough, you can form haiku with. It's about slowing down and admiring the small details of life and nature.
The demo at Rezzed was a short but beautifully crafted experience where the goal was to collect enough haiku lines to cross a turbulent river and calm down a flock of majestic cranes. Bringing peace to the natural world seems like it will be a prominent theme in Haiku Adventure.
The demo began with a conversation between the old man and the Poet Master who teaches you how to use haiku. You can choose different replies to the master's dialogue, some wise, grumpy or cheeky.
As you explore the tranquil areas you click on parts of the scenery—the sun, plants, mountains, and wildlife all inspiring the old man to scribble down a line. These scraps of paper go into your inventory where you arrange them to form a haiku. The aim is to create a haiku that poetically describes the effect you want to have on a scene. With help from a mythical spirit bird, you realize that the birds are squabbling over where to migrate to escape the volcano—you need to calm them down so they can make a decision.
Several of the lines of poetry are intricate and could be a little confusing, but following the syllable structure of 5-7-5 provides hints as to which snippets go where and it's very forgiving if you get it wrong. The haiku, even if they are a little abstract at first, are beautiful when placed together in the right order. To solve the bird conflict the haiku was: Wing beats stir currents, Calm center in circling gale. Dispersed on the wind. Haiku have this ability to depict a scene in the simplest of words and I think the game really captures this.
Haiku Adventure is heavily inspired by Japanese ukiyo-e landscape prints (think of The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai). These prints were often made by carving images in wood, covering them in paint and pressing them onto material, leaving a beautiful image. Haiku Adventure's visuals have been hand-painted to imitate the art form, from the thin brush strokes and the color pallet to compositional elements like the smoking volcano always looming in the background like Mt. Fuji.
When you return to the river with your completed haiku you can calm its waters, but then you have to find a way to make a bridge. The finished haiku reads: Heavy with perfume, Drifting in whisper-thin spring, Settle and gather. This influences sakura petals to fall from a nearby tree and form a walkway. Haiku Adventure uses haiku to allow for a more magical interpretation of the natural world. We get to experience a different perspective of nature through the eyes of this elderly poet, a true wanderer of the world. It's about being inspired by nature and then using that inspiration to give back to it.
Haiku Adventure is in the very early stages of production with the demo at Rezzed being made in only a couple of months. The developers, Small Islands, hint at more mythology, magical realism and a deeper mystery regarding the erupting volcano and the questionable motives of the young poet master. They plan to go into production in the summer.