Ah, the forgotten, untapped well of gaming greatness that is the Fishing RPG. Many of our favorite RPGs over the years have included fishing mini games, with some so well-crafted that we tend to get temporarily lost in them, turning the main quest into an afterthought. Ocarina of Time is one such example, though the more recent Final Fantasy XV offered a solid fishing experience. Stardew Valley and the Harvest Moon franchise are prone to keeping players hooked-in for hours on end- pun entirely intended.
RPG franchises have given players a taste of fishing for years, but how many have actually been solely based on the sport of Fishing? The Legend of the River King tried it way back on the Game Boy, but it hasn’t been attempted all that much since. Reel Fishing: Road Trip Adventure attempts to cast out and resurrect an obscure sub-genre.
A group of college students are fortunate enough to be members of the “Fishing Club” at the local university, and it’s time put some work into the latest summer project. The group decides to visit the local museum, and as luck would have it, are struck with inspiration while viewing an original piece entitled “The Elusive Fish.” The art is as enigmatic as it is beautiful, and a bystander claims to know all of the details behind the piece, informing the group of a location in which they can obtain more information.
The group travels to the given location and unsurprisingly meet up with the same gentleman from the museum. He runs a tackle shop and explains that he is the creator of “The Elusive Fish” artwork. The aptly-named Mr. Shopman divulges that sightings of the Elusive Fish have all but stopped due to pollution of the local waters. His goal is to clean up the waterways and hopefully lay eyes upon the legendary fish again.
Although far-fetched, this story introduction certainly made me appreciate the presentation, easily taking the bait. Why does the university allow its students to join an out-of-town stranger in pursuit of a grade? Why does it condone the students taking an RV into the wilderness for an undetermined amount of time to fulfill this project? Does it matter when you’re cleaning the environment and reeling in lunkers?
Graphics and Presentation
One key lure of fishing is to get out and enjoy the majesty of nature. The sights, sounds, and overall experience can be downright cathartic, and one might think that beautiful scenery and sounds would be an absolute must for a fishing game. Natsume chose to provide the bare minimum, unfortunately, as fishing locations are limited to about 50 feet of shoreline and fishable water, consisting of rather bland rocks and foliage. I had assumed that a modern generation fishing game would put a full effort into at least making water itself lively and beautiful, but it’s just water and it’s blue. I truly wish I could provide everyone with some better adjectives but, sadly, there just isn’t much here to write about.
Your party consists of Neil, Sean and Alice. Their likenesses are presented in animated stills accompanied by text, reminiscent of a graphic novel. The stills attempt to show emotion through facial expressions, but there isn’t much depth to these, either. You will likely have viewed each expression within the first 2 hours of the game. This wouldn’t be much of a concern if Reel Fishing didn’t attempt to convey a compelling story- most of the text dialogue conversations occur after the party reconvenes to discuss their discoveries at the end of the day. This style of presentation just fails to completely provide the necessary context to aid in story progression.
Reel Fishing is actually light on fishing mechanics and slightly heavier on the RPG mechanics. Fishing controls are mostly relegated to the shoulder buttons. Casting is simplified to holding down the zR button to control distance. Landing a fish requires adequate timing of button presses in order to “set the hook.” There are tension and resistance mechanics that simulate actual fishing. Reel slower-or stop reeling completely- if a fish is putting up a big fight and is in danger of breaking the line.
Mr. Shopman sets a goal for each fishing trip that, when met, will allow Sean to level up and progress stats like stamina and experience. Stamina allows Sean to handle fighting fish more easily, and more experience allows access to upgraded equipment. Sean will have to continue to progress and upgrade in order to have a chance at catching the biggest and most rare species of fish for Mr. Shopman. For some reason, however, it starts to get dark in the world of Reel Fishing at around 3:00 PM. With this being the case, Sean has very little time to accomplish his goal, which means the player has very little time to actually enjoy fishing. This could’ve certainly used a little more balance, in my opinion.
RPG mechanics in a fishing game can certainly work. Mr. Shopman’s quests and goals are good ones that will keep a player interested, unfortunately, Alice and Neil’s roles feel a bit forced. Neil draws the short of the stick here and is tasked with cleaning up each fishing location per the project. Thankfully, there is no gameplay involved here. Neil is quite the creative guy, and will use his salvaged goods to create new tackles for Sean to use as he levels up. Alice is also there to aid Sean’s fishing exploits, but it seems that she is only there to act as the stereotypical female party member during moments of dialogue. She regularly points out that Sean is such a typical jock and Sean, in turn, returns the stereotype rhetoric. In recognition of her stereotype, she will cook meals for Sean that serve to increase stats for the next day’s fishing expedition. As Alice progresses, she gains access to more potent recipes that have more or better perks.
Reel Fishing is an up and down experience. Some of the story elements are interesting, some are downright bizarre, but that actually helps keep the player engaged, if they’re willing to ride it out. Fishing is fun and controls are tighter than a double Palomar knot, but it’s way too limited in ways the player can enjoy either of these elements. An added “leisure mode” , or something similar would’ve been a welcome addition for this Switch version. The balance between story progression and fun factor doesn’t quite make weight for me.
Reel Fishing offers a story that will lure you in and some good gameplay mechanics that might make you bite, but unfortunately the total package just wasn’t enough to pull me to the boat.