A Perfect Day
While the fashionable way to evoke nostalgia in videogames is to replicate the look of titles from classic hardware – the vibrant hues of the 16bit SNES palette, the crisp monochrome of early Macintosh games, and the stark colours and blocky graphics of games harking back to the Atari 2600 – Chinese developer Coconut Island Studio is taking a more artistic approach for this visual novel rich in wistful longing for simpler days and the recent past. Idyllic scenes of 1990s China are presented as distinctive hand-painted art on canvas. Its imagery is beautifully rustic, depicting a world unspoiled by the complexities and messy politics of modern life.
But A Perfect Day is more than just a visual novel about nostalgia. It also contains elements of resource management, chief among which is the need to watch your spiking anxiety levels. After all, what can be more difficult than mustering the courage to give your childhood crush a festive card, penned with the most heartfelt of wellwishes? In the game’s free prologue – which is currently only available in Mandarin – you experience the jitters of puppy love as Liang Chen, the adolescent boy at the heart of this tale. It begins with you waking amid a warm and monotonous afternoon class: the perfect conditions for a good nap. After a few jibes at your expense by the teacher, the principal abruptly announces a few days of school closure, effective immediately. That, of course, means a longer weekend and an unexpected break from school, which is surely cause for celebration. Everyone is delighted but Liang Chen, because his crush stepped into the classroom just moments earlier, her tear-stricken face a picture of despondence.
What can be more difficult than mustering the courage to give your crush a festive card?
Here’s when the key conceit of A Perfect Day starts to unfold. With the stuffy afternoon class ending in revelry for almost everyone, Liang Chen is determined to turn the otherwise humdrum day into the perfect one. To do so, however, is to successfully hand over that festive card – now months old – to his classmate. That said, you’ll soon find that carrying out this action, along with a few pivotal decisions, isn’t always possible; it’s one of many dialogue options that cannot be selected if Liang Chen doesn’t have the confidence, represented by a small meter at the top left corner of the screen. In other words, confessing your feelings is an activity that requires nerves of steel.
Fortunately, as with most stats in RPGs, this meter can be expanded via a variety of confidence-boosting ways: through minigames such as winning a Mini-4WD
circuit race, picking up a favourite toy or item from the street, or by completing tasks (side quests, effectively) such as finding your father’s missing lunch money. Along the way, you’ll run into a colourful cast of characters, each of whom may offer you aid or ask for a favour: close friends from school, a forgetful but less-than-pleasant neighbour, and even an exceedingly smug and annoying classmate who you yearn to punch in the face.
It’s through these delightful details that you piece together a tender and sympathetic portrait of a young teenage boy who’s nursing feelings for his classmate. But the events in Liang Chen’s childhood days aren’t always portrayed through a rose-tinted lens; he also has to learn to carefully navigate the often messy lives of the adults around him, such as attending an awkward family dinner with a stranger whose presence is clearly unsettling his father. At the same time, the game is just as forgiving and comforting with your temporary setbacks. Even if you didn’t manage to hand over the Christmas card to Liang Chen’s crush within the day, there’s always the next day. And the day after. That’s perhaps the game’s most poignant message: that every 24 hours represents a brand new opportunity to spend the perfect day.