Umihara Kawase’s latest incarnations inject more life into the game

For many years, who Umihara Kawase is was a mystery. Past games established her as a traveling sushi chef. They never explained how she ended up in a strange world with doors leading to nowhere and bipedal fish. Instead, it offered a “just go with it” approach. Yet now, suddenly new games are adding unprecedented context. By refreshing the series with Umihara Kawase Fresh and bringing her in as a crossover character for games like Blade Strangers, we have more substance.

Blade Strangers was actually the first to offer a little more insight into Kawase’s character. After the motes bring her in to compete, we have more insight into her enjoying fishing and going on a journey as a chef. We get to see her meet Emiko, her childhood friend. Their conversation suggests the two (attempted) to learn how to swim together. When she runs into her eventual descendant, Yokoyama Noko, we learn that Kawase thinks the battles are about getting the ultimate cooking ingredient.

What’s interesting is that Blade Strangers drops the “sushi” part of Kawase’s backstory. Instead, it focuses entirely on her being a general chef. Which doesn’t completely eliminate the importance of her fishing focus, but does provide an even better explanation for her constantly traveling to improve her craft. It also helps make her a little more well-rounded as a cook, which is important for her next journey in Umihara Kawase Fresh.

See, in Umihara Kawase Fresh, we get to see an installment where there is an actual storyline! Kawase and the people around her talk! There are even reasons for her to be going through the topsy-turvy world. She is a traveling cook exploring the world and traveling because she has this feeling where she doesn’t belong anywhere. That is, until she reaches Kingness, a town she’s dreamt about for years. It is the otherworldly place with all of the disjointed platforms and anthropomorphic animal people Kawase envisioned and we’ve essentially seen her explore in past games for years.

By making her a voiced protagonist and having her be hired as a delivery-person and cook for Kingness’ Hunneyheim Home restaurant, we get some semblance of answers. Suddenly, unorthodox enemies make sense. Her cooking capabilities mean players can find ingredients for recipes as she goes along, making different sorts of meals that can have an effect on gameplay. Plus, her making deliveries accounts for her surprising agility and parkour skills.

Granted, we never needed or were due an explanation. Umihara Kawase games have always been enjoyable for the challenge they represent and their otherworldly nature. But, having this extra element is a very big help and can make it more engaging. With Blade Strangers, it gives us context and an introduction that was otherwise only present in instruction manuals. In Umihara Kawase Fresh, it provides a motivation to keep going and do better.

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