This is not your typical role-playing game. It has many of the classic elements: characters, powers, stats and rules. What it doesn't have are villains, or even "bad guys." This is a game about life, and looking at humanity from an outside perspective. An adorable, fun perspective.
Golden Sky Stories is an English translation of a Japanese RPG. You don't have to be well-versed in Japanese lore to play, since the book has nicely written sidebars explaining the differences that matter in-game. You also don't have to worry about "Engrish," as the game received a professional translation thanks to its Kickstarter campaign. It actually has fewer typos than most games written natively in English!
The PDF itself is beautifully done. The artwork is manga-style, with all the big eyes and intricate shading you might expect. The layout and art compliment each other, rather than feeling as if any one element was pushing the rest out of place. Text is easy to read, even in the darker sidebars, and the art layers are quick to load on my PC. Characters are just plain cute, fitting with the overall theme of the game.
In Golden Sky Stories, you play as a magical animal known as an "henge." These animals can understand human speech and take human form to interact with us. The setting is a small, unnamed Japanese rural village, but this is easy to adapt to a more familiar locale if desired. Players create their characters as one of these animals and interact with the townsfolk. Most humans don't realize what you really are (unless you transform right in front of them), though some children or elders can figure things out. After all, you may look human, but you still have animal instincts!
Where we in the west have legends like Aesop's Fables, with trickster foxes and wise turtles, the Japanese have similar legends about their own native creatures. Golden Sky Stories draws from these legends, as well as pop culture, to make the animal characters each have their own unique personalities and quirks:
Fox henge are long-lived and wise, but prone to vanity, as well as being a bit stubborn & set in their ways. Older foxes may dress out-of-style, or insist on doing things the old-fashioned way.
The Raccoon Dog (or "tanuki") henge are your lovable, bumbling neighbors. They are a touch clumsy, but mean well and have an innocent, childlike outlook on life. Tanuki are also master shape-changers. As GSS is meant for all ages, they don't have some of their other, erm, traditional endowments.
Cat henge are basically what you'd expect, as their personality is pretty much the same in the west as in Japan. They're finicky, independent and sometimes put their own desires in front of others (especially when it's time for a nap), but they are very curious and good at sneaking up when you least expect them.
Dog henge are excitable, friendly and a bit daft. Whether they have a human home or live on their own, they get along with people better than any other henge.
Rabbit henge are perhaps the best example of different legends between east and west. Rabbits in GSS are masters of dreaming and very nimble, but a bit impatient and desperately want to be surrounded by friends. A lonely rabbit is a very sad sight!
Bird henge are, quite literally, bird brained. They have strong associations with the wind and sun, and are master singers, but don't expect them to hold onto a complex thought for long.
Players create their characters by choosing one of these animal types, describing their human form (often children, even if the character is hundreds of years old, but you can play as a teenager also) and picking from a list of available powers. These aren't your typical "fireball" spells, but abilities that either affect your shape-changing or let you influence people around you. GSS uses a system of Connections to describe your relationship with other player characters and NPC. These connections provide you with points in Wonder and Feelings. Feelings can be spent as a bonus to your Attributes when you want to accomplish something, while Wonder points are spent to use your powers. Both of these refresh every "scene," depending on your Connections to the characters present. Everyone at the table can also award Dream points for when your character does or says something particularly helpful or just plain cute. Dreams are used to improve your Connections, and anyone can award Dreams to a player even if their own character isn't in the scene; there's no set number of Dream points, it's just a way of saying "Good job!" to your fellow players.
And this is the real focus of Golden Sky Stories: interacting with people and helping them solve their problems. The example of play, for instance, involves two players meeting a young boy who is running away from a young girl. Through various conversations, social faux pas and use of powers, they finally determine that the two are in love. However, the girl has outgrown the boy, and he's being teased about being shorter than his girlfriend (hence the running away). The story then shifts to helping the pair get past that awkwardness so they can enjoy their relationship.
That's the kind of adventure you have in Golden Sky Stories. Rather than fighting off evil, you are helping the people of the town (and other PCs) figure out solutions to their everyday problems. As it's put in the introduction:
"People are strong creatures. They build towns, they make tools, they build houses to protect themselves and words to express their feelings... Still, sometimes people become weak. Sometimes because of their words, sometimes because of their complicated hearts... Since you’re a henge and not a human, you can create the opportunities they need."
Golden Sky Stories, then, is an opportunity to tell very human stories about life and relationships, but through the unique lens of these magical, mythical creatures. It's about helping others figure out the best way to solve their problems. It's also about making strong. lasting relationships with the people around you. Plus, it's about just plain having fun with friends. Which is really what RPGs are for.