Japan's brutal working culture isn't exactly a secret. You've probably heard the horror stories, or at least, got the general gist that success in Japanese business often equates to time. You don't necessarily need to be doing work, you just need to be present as the clock hands shift. A hard worker is reduced to a statue that only springs to life again when their boss gets up to leave.
Mr. Saitou is a short pixel art RPG that offers a hilarious commentary on the absurdities of working culture in Japan, with occasional flashes of seriousness. Completable in one sitting, it's a game I'd recommend to anyone.
Mr. Saitou comes courtesy of Laura Shigihara, the brilliant mind behind Rakuen, another pixel art RPG of a similar ilk which we absolutely adored. Mr. Saitou is an extension of that universe, but if you've not played Rakuen, don't worry! Mr. Saitou tells its own story and you don't need any prior knowledge to enjoy its short tale.
The game stars Mr. Saitou, an average white collar worker who's being crushed under the weight of overwork. A combination of burnout and social isolation result in a hospital visit, where he wakes up to find an innocent kid called Brandon hiding in his room. At the time, Brandon is everything Saitou isn't: easygoing, fun-loving, enthusiastic. The only things Saitou is able to muster are slight irritation and a frown.
Brandon eventually draws Saitou as a Llamaworm - a cross between a llama and a worm - amidst a gaggle of other llamaworm friends. They're all called Saitou according to Brandon, as he explains that even if the wider llamaworm is called Widetou, they're all variants of Saitou. It's at this point where things shift from reality as we know it, to one that's composed of llamaworms and big blue owls called minimoris.
Saitou is warped to an office that mirrors his own in reality, except in this one, he's a llama worm. Everyone is a llamaworm. His boss is called Bosstou, a strict individual who has a moustache that exudes authority. One of your very first tasks is to collect bundles of paper simply called "metrics" - because obvious decisions can't be made without metrics!
From there on, the game becomes a very simple RPG where you steer Saitou around, chat to folks, and complete basic puzzles. There's a slight element of backtracking later on, but the path forwards is mostly obvious and cleverly constructed. Without spoiling too much, the vast majority of the game doesn't take place in an office, but sees you explore the mysterious cavern systems of the llamaworms. Your overarching aim is to collect the blue owls and place them on platforms, which unlocks something I won't get into.
Throughout, I found the game to be genuinely funny. Like, I actually laughed and chuckled to myself in real life, thanks to Saitou's excellent interactions with his quirkiest companions like Robtou, an odd dude who is determined to get a bear to pay its taxes. There's also a blast of comedy gold when you're confronted by Irritatou, who, err, really gets up in your face.
While many of your chats and interactions are silly, the game's overarching theme hangs over it all. You discover that llamaworms say "Have a long day!" to one another as they part ways. Or when you're forced to go for drinks after work, Bosstou is determined for you to drink up (you drink mud, naturally), as how else are you going to blow off steam?! Shigihara might make light of Japan's work culture and how it's baked into Saitou, but that's precisely the point. She manages to draw out Japan's ridiculous working ruleset by placing it in an equally ridiculous setting. The two mesh terribly well.
Mr. Saitou is a wonderful, short RPG which sees a troubled salaryman rediscover bits of himself, all thanks to a bright kid with a dream of his own. And while there's some serious bits in there, Shigihara cleverly ensures that the overarching theme of Japan's working culture is presented as laughable - because it is. Ultimately, business is weird, so make sure it's your business to give the game a whirl.