Friday, January 6, 2012



有野: 「巨匠。これ・・・巨匠に聞くのもおかしいと思うんですけど、犯人誰ですか」 
『ゲームセンターCX』 #105

As expected of the Master. He naturally knows everything about the game, so...

Arino: "Master, it... it is kinda awkward to ask you this, but... who is the criminal?"
"Game Center CX #105"

We were just a week in January and I've already reached my monthly quotum! Yay! And it's even nicely rich in variety with games, manga and novels. Like I totally planned this.

Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken ("Portopia Serial Murder Case") is one of those games any self-respecting (detective) adventure gamer should have heard about. It is often seen as one of the earliest examples of the Japanese visual novel and has inspired many game creators afterwards, for example Metal Gear's Kojima Hideo. But then again, Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken is created by one of the greatest names in games history: Horii Yuuji. Whose name is probably most strongly connected to Dragon Quest. Apparently, Horii wrote and programmed the whole game on his own in six months. It was released for the PC in 1983, apparently the first original Japanese PC adventure and the very first detective adventure. It was later ported to the Famicom by Chunsoft and was a huge success in Japan. Whereas the original PC version featured an old-fashioned verb-noun parser system (where the player had to manually input commands), the Famicom version featured command buttons, a feature that can be considered to have defined the way detective adventures looked like on the Famicom and later. For example, on the Famicom itself, Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken's success resulted in similar detective adventure games like Famicom Tantei Club and Tantei Jinguuji Saburou, but even now the command-style adventure is very common (and even parodied). In short, Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken is detective gaming's The Murders in the Rue Morgue.

Set in the city of Kobe (which explains the name Portopia), the story is played in a first-person perspective, with the player assuming the role of a police officer in charge of the investigation into the murder of Gouzou, a wealthy man who was found with a slit throat inside his (locked!) study. You're assisted by your subordinate Yasu, who funnily enough forms the link between the player and the game-world: all the commands are in fact orders you give to Yasu for him to perform. The two of you thus start investigating, coming across a wide variety of suspects, false leads and red herrings and because the title of the game says it is a serial murder case, there will be more murders. Yep.

To be honest though, time has not been kind to this game. The lack of music and the simple graphics, that is something I can live with, but this game has some really frustrating moments. A gigantic first-person maze for example, with no map or clue to how the complete maze looks like (yes, there is the hint to get to one room in the maze, but there are actually two rooms in the maze and there is no hint to that). Famicom Tantei Club 1 also featured a maze at the end of the game (probably as a homage), but there was actually a hint to how the maze looked like. There are also several instances in Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken where you have to manually look for clues on the screen, although there is no hint, no sign that something might be hidden there. So you just have to guess that something is there. Which is frustrating. And like in its spiritual sequel Hokkaidou Rensa Satsujin Jiken: Okhotsk ni Kiyu ("Hokkaidou Linked Murder Case: Disappear to Okhotsk"), Horii also programmed several instances where the player needs to fumble around before the story continues. So you have to aimlessly select commands until you have fulfilled a certain condition ('choose all commands once', or 'go away once and then come back'), which is again not linked with the story an sich, only way to frustrate the player.

Thus as a standalone game, Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken is not so memorable, but there is no denying its importance in Japanese (detective) adventure gaming. It was apparently the first game on the Famicom where the story was actually the main course. Not just some lines about saving a princess or stopping an ancient evil before the action started: the plot was the game itself. It also featured some form of non-linearity, with multiple conversation trees and optional dialogue and background information. The game also allows the player to make arrests, and with several fake endings / 'solutions', it is up to the player to judge who to arrest and when. In this sense, it is a revolutionary game that, together with its command-style input, definitely forms the foundation of the modern visual novel. In fact, Chunsoft, the company that ported this game to the Famicom, was probably strongly influenced by this (and they have of course strong relations with Horii), as Chunsoft was the company that invented the sound novel genre. And their second sound novel was a mystery game too! Metal Gear's Kojima said that it was the story-telling and characterization of Portopia that made such an impression on him, and while we can definitely argue whether Kojima hasn't gone to far with his story-telling, it is clear that Portopia stands symbol for a shift from pure action-based console games to more story-oriented console games.

And of course, Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken is still fondly remembered for its denouement and the identity of the true killer. And this sense, it really does not differ much from Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue. Amongst the Japanese internet community, it is actually quite really popular to comment on mystery movies / books by saying The Murderer Is [Name Murderer of Portopia] as a joke. It shows how well known Portopia is, as well as how much an impact the story made on the players. In fact, I also knew who the murderer was before I started this game, as I had seen the comment often enough, yet I can't say I'm really mad for being spoiled. Penny Arcade explains this the best.

Oh, and that mystery movie with Edgar Allan Poe as the detective? Not sure what to think about that...

Original Japanese title(s): 『ポートピア連続殺人事件』

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