As a narrative device, role reversal can be quite powerful. When the hunter becomes the hunted, it lets you empathize with how the other half lives, a half that you likely hadn't even bothered assigning emotions to in the first place. Finny the Fish & the Seven Waters, published in the US by the consistently spunky and peculiar Natsume, doesn't take the role-reversal concept quite so seriously, but it's an interesting foil to games like the Sega Bass Fishing series, without quite as much of the heavy-handed moralizing found in the Ecco the Dolphin games. Finny's tone and relative simplicity make it clear that it was designed for the younger end of the lunchbox spectrum, but vague mission structure and some unusually punishing elements work against the rest of the design.
Finny's good intentions and plucky spirit aren't enough to carry the otherwise bland game design.
As the eponymous Finny, you're recruited by a strange little hermit-turtle-man named Mr. Kappa to travel around the local network of ponds and tributaries, collecting special statues from the seven benevolent masters who guard over the waters. The statues are needed to ward off some rather ill-defined forces of evil, but Finny the Fish isn't so interested in epic conflict, and the overarching story doesn't come into focus until fairly late in the game. Instead, you'll spend most of your time exploring the serene waters, performing simple tasks for the masters, eating animals that are smaller than you, and avoiding being eaten by the bigger ones. Lazily trolling the waters without a specific goal isn't entertaining for long, and once you want to start making progress in the game, it's often needlessly difficult to determine what your next objective is.
Finny is a pretty unassuming little fish. He's a strong swimmer, and rapidly pumping on the X button can get him moving at a good clip--fast enough that he can break the surface. This is an important skill for Finny, as the game is rife with areas that are unreachable through a straight underwater path and that require judicious use of acrobatics. The instances where you need to catch some air are usually easy to identify, but the behind-the-back camera, which you're given no direct control over, can make it difficult to line up your jumps properly, and that's just frustrating. There are also sections where you'll have to jump your way up a stream that's going down a series of steps, and the timing on the jumps in these sequences seems unusually punishing.
Aside from the game's unwieldy camera, the presentation in Finny the Fish is pretty good and has the kind of cheery, kid-friendly Japanese vibe that Natsume games are known for. The levels aren't particularly huge, and the loading times between levels are suspiciously long, but each level teems with life. Though Finny and any character with a speaking part are rendered in a cartoony, anthropomorphic style, you'll see all kinds of fairly realistic-looking life in the water, as well as all kinds of microscopic debris. There's a nice, wavy water-refracting filter effect when you're underwater, and even the surface of the water has a nice look to it. The sounds underwater are effective and are backed up by an oddly soothing soundtrack driven by synthesized strings and electric keyboards. The most inconsistent part of the presentation is the voice acting, where the performances are just all over the place. There are a pair of duck-billed platypuses whose constant sibling rivalry is genuinely funny and convincing, but a giant orange salamander you meet early on sounds amateurish, and the frog you meet before that is just downright grating. But, for better or worse, most of the characters you meet will say their lines out loud only the first time you encounter them.