Is there anything more relaxing than drifting through calm waters and staring up at the clear, blue sky? This adorable little froggy knows exactly what the secret to a happy life is, and it’s all about being zen.
Tabikaeru (Journey Frog or Travel Frog) chronicles the daily life of your average amphibian, if that amphibian had a nice little garden, a clover patch, and a stone house on the side. It lives as simply as it possibly can, away from the hustle and bustle of the daily grind, occasionally heading out to explore the world and bring home a new token of his adventures along the way.
You don’t play as the frog itself, but you do help it along by making sure it’s got enough to prep it for its journey. You stash its backpack with hearty meals and little gadgets, like a jar for collecting souvenirs, a sturdy tent for camping in the great outdoors, and a camouflage cloak in case it ever needs to slip by humans in the big city and go unnoticed. Occasionally, you might chance upon your froggy just hanging out inside his home, reading a book (and dozing off), eating breakfast, sharpening tools, and writing letters (because a frog’s gotta keep correspondence). And then, when it’s ready, it’ll set off on a trip to all of these amazing places around Japan as you patiently wait for it to come home.
From the makers of the hit backyard-cat-collecting game Neko Atsume, Tabikaeru teaches players all about the value of simplicity and the virtue of patience. While your frog (whom you can name) is away, there’s nothing much for you to do except collect clovers from the pond and stash them so you can buy goodies like food and props from the in-game shop. You can collect mementos and lottery tickets from your frog, the latter of which you can use to spin for cool prizes like special access passes to farther areas of Japan.
Sometimes, a happy little friend comes to visit, so they hang around the front yard for a while for you to feed them in exchange for tickets. Your froggy’s friends can also show up in its photo souvenirs when it gets home, which is the goal of the whole game.
Collecting the photos that your frog takes of his adventures is essentially what the whole gameplay is all about. You collect these memories in a photo album - the more expensive the meals and tools that you pack for your frog, the better and rarer the photos will be. Here, you c can see exactly where it has been and how it’s coping with humans and other animals in its travels, from sneaking past a human sneaker under a camouflaged blanket to gazing longingly at some freshly baked bread from outside the window of a bakery. Your tiny buddy can spend the day in the peaceful outskirts of town amid mountains and lakes, or mingle with tourists in temples and shops.
Sometimes, it shares its adventures with friends like a mouse, a crab, and a butterfly, or meets new friends along the way like happy ants and a mantis boatman. It’s in this simple, no-frills way that the game really touches your heart. When I open up the game, I feel a painful twinge in my heart every time my frog friend is away, and revel in a surge of delight and anticipation each time I see that it’s home. I eagerly await what new photos it’s brought me, and browse through the album with a smile on my face just to see what it’s been up to in its travels. There’s an undeniable sense of longing that reverberates through me whenever my frog is away for days at a time (and it really can be gone that long), which reflects exactly how we feel when our loved ones are away on a trip. And when they come home, they bring us goodies and stories and we welcome them back with open arms, just the way you’d do with Tabikaeru.
The game has been out since 2018, but it’s one of the few casual mobile games that I still play to this day. It’s all in Japanese, but there are a number of handy guides out there that you can consult to make sure you know what’s going on. Everything is pretty intuitive though, and I’ve pretty much bought everything that can be bought from the shop, but that doesn’t stop me from playing.
There’s an overwhelming calm and serenity that envelops me each time I boot it up, and the delightful background music only enhances that feeling all the more. There’s not much you can do to control where your froggy goes, so all you can do is ease the anxiety by making sure you pack everything well to the best of your ability and hope for its safe travels. The non-competitive nature of the game - along with its virtues of acceptance and appreciating solitude - is also incredibly therapeutic. It might be an old game, but I truly believe it’s THE game to play this 2020 now more than ever. With everything that’s happening in the world today, a game that reminds you of what truly matters in life is definitely more than welcome.