9.03m: A Short Game Dedicated to the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake

9.03m by Space Budgie (2013)

Notice the style of the title tries to imitate the wave of a tsunami

   9.03m is an admirable game with a minimalist setting that attempts to relate the player to the 2011 tsunami that devastated a large part of Japan. The feelings of loss and sorrow are felt throughout the game, with a stirring climax at the end, but a few negative aspects take away from this experience and distract the player from what could have been a better game.

Standing over Baker Beach in a journey to find butterflies

   You start off overlooking Baker Beach, located in San Francisco, which is significant due to the presence of debris that washed ashore in the years following the tsunami. You walk along the beach guided by small orbs of light to the shadows of people that disappear in a beam of light as you get closer. In their place rests an object that belonged to that person. The most powerful objects being a tie between the teddy bear left by a little girl and the baby basket left by the couple standing above a crack in the sand. You interact with these objects to find the butterfly symbol on it where the object then turns into a butterfly that leads the way to the next shadow. These shadows represent the people that have either died, or are still missing, because of the tsunami. This continues until the touching climax that will certainly make you think about the magnitude of any natural disaster.

Japanese text was included as well, which was a nice touch

   What I believe this game does exceptionally well are the many finer details that act as symbols to reinforce the main message. The most important being the butterflies that emerge from the objects and lead the player onward. In Japanese culture, butterflies represent the souls of the living and dead so their use in 9.03m is very meaningful. The title of the game itself is the magnitude of the earthquake that caused the tsunami, which, to the unknowing, could be mistaken as 9.03 ‘meters’; which I thought it meant until learning more about the game. A more subtle detail was how ocean’s shoreline recedes every time you reach a new shadow. Since this “drawback” is one of the main warnings of a tsunami, it gives off an eerie feeling if noticed. All of these details show the thought that the creators put into the game to make it as authentic as possible.

The Golden Gate Bridge off in the distance

   The most noticeable negative aspect of this game is the blurriness of its environment. It is very distracting when trying to play through an emotional game to have almost every shot look like it’s out of focus. The objects themselves are quite clear, but the sweeping panoramic view of the beach, that could have been beautiful, is reduced to an unappealing blur (click the image below for a full sized one).

Blurry scene
Visually unappealing blur ruins an otherwise majestic scene

   Having been to the Tōhoku region of Japan and seen first-hand the devastating effects of the tsunami, I can understand the feelings that the creators wanted to convey. 9.03m is still an unpolished game because despite the positive details mentioned that worked well in the game, the overall experience is just not specific enough to make a strong connection between the game and the 2011 disaster itself. This leaves the player with a somewhat clichéd journey of an unattached experience of loss that has to be clarified at the end with a dedication page. Nonetheless, 9.03m still does a great job in creating a somber mood with a lightly played ambient piano and calming beach sounds. Other players may react differently to this quiet game so I encourage you to try 9.03m and see if it changes your perspective on those lost in natural disasters.

A lone teddy bear belonging to the shadow of a child

With the low price of $1.99 and only 15-20 minutes of gameplay, it is definitely worth a small investment of your time. Plus, with 100% of the royalties made going to disaster relief charities, your money goes to a good cause.

9.03m is available on Steam, Desura, and IndieGameStand.

*now $0.99 on steam and IndieGameStand*

Learn more about Space Budgie and their other games at their Homepage.

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 A BIRD’S EYE VIEW

Music – 4/10

Visuals – 4/10

Flow – 5/10

Story – 6/10

Final Score – 4.8/10

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