Fujii is never anything less than endearingly wholesome and impossibly pleasant. Its brief ramble through breezy landscapes feels feather-light and eager to delight at every turn. And though I often did stop to marvel at the wonders of its alien vegetation, I can’t help but wish developer Funktronic Labs had sunk its hands a little deeper into the virtual mud of its vibrant gardens.
This is part otherworldly nature trek, part gardening sim. Much of the time, you’ll be traipsing through one of the piece’s three biomes, awakening wildlife by spreading light through the world, opening locked doors with collected orbs and gathering seeds. Then, back in a hub world, you can plant those seeds in pots, water them and buy more using leftover orbs. Over time, well-cared-for plants sprout more orbs, rewarding return visits and cultivation.
Exploring each world comes with certain highlights, be it hopping between enormous lily pads, wrestling tentacle-like stems to the ground or even matching musical notes to corresponding flower petals. Fujii is light to the touch and often rewarding to engage with. Ruffling the fur of your cutesy gnome companion or simply sitting beside him as he plucks away on a tiny banjo brings a cheerful smile to your face, for example, and I lost myself to toying with a plant that evaded my hands like a magnet on the wrong pole. It almost makes you want to play outside on a summer’s day so you can enjoy the virtual sun in all of its glory.
And yet I can’t help but wish Funktronic had doubled down on the nitty-gritty of its wildlife and let players develop a green thumb of their own. In Neat Corp’s Garden of the Sea, for example, I felt like I’d earned my rest after raking the earth, gathering resources, crafting the right items to grow plants and then watering them. In Fujii you simply drop seeds you find/buy into pots and shoot water at them. I like my gardening to come with a little labor.
For all its vibrancy, the game often feels like its circling the rabbit hole rather than tumbling down it. Each biome is, for the most part, pretty small and linear, with potential diverging paths often just leading to dead ends. Forgive my inner hipster but I never felt like I was truly ‘out there’, lost in the wilds and roughing it. It was more akin to going out to stretch my legs in the park next door.
Still, you could do far worse for VR palette cleansers. Fujii’s subtle soundtrack mixes electronic influences with orchestral voice work to wondrous effect, and it’s tough not to be swept away by its winding waterfalls and tranquil ponds. Strange native wildlife scutters under your feet, scurrying away when you start to move. Some have Ghibli-esque qualities about them, while others are truly bizarre, like a snail that carries plants on its back and needs to be watered. At its best, it can be wonderfully weird.
I suspect I’d have had an easier time falling for its charms if there were simply more of it. Even strolling through at a leisurely pace, Fujii can be seen through within the hour, which undercuts the experience’s more-interesting gardening component. Much like real gardening, returning to the hub world after a day or so to tend to your plants is cathartic and curious. But you’ll likely see the ‘story’ content through before you really even dip your toes into this section of the app and Funktronic says it doesn’t have plans for future content updates/DLC. In an experience designed to reward repeat visits, that feels like a missed opportunity.
Final Say: Worth Seeing
Fujii is a soothing, peaceful brand of VR that could stand to get its hands dirty. It’s a fitting destination to whist away an hour or two but often feels too light to make a real impact. With more to see and do, it would be easier to get swept up in its charms and its persistent gardening aspect would be better served. As it stands my virtual garden is likely to go neglected.