Every so many years there will be an indie game that will use a game engine that is often reviled, but people will accept it since it's used more as a vehicle to tell a story rather than just being another RPG. That was the case for To the Moon and A Bird Story, and it's also the case here. Rakuen is made by former exclusive composer Laura Shigihara, and now she tries her hand at games with this title, one well worth undertaking for oneself.
Rakuen is about a nameless boy that is in the hospital undergoing treatment so he can potentially get out and return to his old life. His mom works, and usually isn't there to be there for him, but one day she visits and tells him the story of Rakuen. Of course this fills the boy with some much needed escapism, but venturing the hospital also see the boy coming into contact with the other patients, thus expanding the scope of the world within his book.
You'll go back and forth through the world of Rakuen and the hospital to solve puzzles and advance the story at key points. Even though the game is designed around the RPG Maker framework, it is structured more like an adventure game. There's no combat of any kind much like in To the Moon or A Bird Story, but there are dark parts in the game that feel more akin to moments in Yomawari or Corpse Party. The boy will meet a variety of patients like a man visiting his comatose wife whom was a victim of a dispute between strained Japanese and Korean relations, and a man with Alzheimers. By interacting with these patients, the boy will ultimately face his own inner demons about his own tenuous grip on mortality.
It's a real good story will plently of fun and tear-jerking moments. The story makes a good attempt at covering the perspective of a boy facing dark moments in their life, and using escapism to gain the courage to do so. If there were any weaknesses in the game, it would primarily have to do with the limitations of the particular engine of RPG Maker itself. Gamepad support is weak and non-configurable, and resolution options are practically non-existent. However the story, music and atmosphere make up for it. Even Dale North lends their vocal and composing talents to the game's score. The game is also very colorful or dark and muted when it need to be. If you like good and cute story with a touch of sadness, Rakuen is a good recommendation.
The Good: The music and story are sweet and full of emotion.
The Bad: The sad parts are pretty brutal.
The Ugly: being made in RPG Maker, the game's faults can also be tied to the engine.
SUMMARY: Rakuen is a fun, sweet, sad, and bittersweet story of a boy's journey to face their own mortality through others hardships.
Promotional consideration provided by Laura Shigihara (aka Supershigi)