Monday, July 30, 2012

「ぼくは言った。犯人は・・・ぼくだ」

「犯罪は『芸術』なんかじゃない!!・・・・どんなきれい事で飾ろうと、犯罪は悲劇しか生まないんだ!!」 『金田一少年の事件簿: 蝋人形城殺人事件』
"Crime isn't art! No matter how you dress it up, crimes only bring forth tragedies!"
"The Case Files of Young Kindaichi: The Wax Puppet Castle Murder Case"

Finally saw the live action Detective Conan TV drama special Kudou Shinichi -  Kyouto Shinsengumi Satsujin Jiken ("Kudou Shinichi - Kyoto Shinsengumi Murder Case") broadcast earlier this year, part of last year's Kudou Shinichi e no Chousenjou drama starring Mizobata Junpei and Kutsuna Shiori. The first half was a fairly faithful adaption of Shinichi's First Case (though they still managed to mess up canon!) while the second half was an original story about a murder on a movie set of a jidaigeki. There was a sorta interesting locked room trick there, definitely better than most what we've seen of the current TV drama production team, but I still can't stand the cast of the TV drama series! Oh, and things get way out of hand when I think that this famous scene of Captain Tsubasa is less ridiculous than what Shinichi does in terms of kicking stuff in this special! 

But enough about that. In better news: Kamaitachi no Yoru is actually getting an English release! I absolutely love the Kamaitachi games (see my thoughts on the first and second game), so quite excited to see the reception of a game that blends so expertly a mystery novel with an actual working game system! Oh, and this brings me to the main topic of this post. Games!

Meitantei Conan - Akatsuki no Monument ("Detective Conan - Dawn's Monument") for the GameBoy Advance is a very flawed adventure game featuring our kid detective. Which is a bit of a shame, because the story is actually quite good. Mouri Kogorou is asked to investigate rumors of the 'suicide village', which say that a whole town commited suicide. A gigantic hotel-apartment is built on the place the village used to be, and the owner of the building, Fujii Hidemi, thinks she was deceived by the construction company by not being informed about those rumors before investing in the building. Mouri and the gang arrive at the hotel disguised as guests at the opening reception, when suddenly a man falls from the top of building down on the main stage of the reception hall. And this is just one of the many, many murders (including locked room ones!) that are commited that night.


Like I said, this game is very flawed. It starts with the game-system which ties all actions to a time-limit. Doing something wrong depletes your time limit meter and running out of time means having to restart the chapter. The problem here is that everything costs time. I have seen this time-limit system quite often in adventure games when you are asked a question (forcing you think fast when answering), but it really makes no sense to give time limits to all actions, including examining items and changing locations. Why would I run out of time by going to the window?! Why am I punished for re-examing something, just because I wanted to re-read the description?! It means that you basically have to know exactly what to each chapter, as one or two mistakes usually means that you have to start all over again.


Removing almost all of the player's freedom also means that this hardly feels like a game at times. If I can't choose my own path anyway, I might as well read a book! I mean, the music isn't that great either! And no review of this game would be complete without refering to the awful, horrible, terrible mid-section of the game, where you are forced to interrogate twenty four suspects. All of them. One after another. And they all have basically nothing to tell you. You are forced to ask every suspect for their alibis for every murder (like I said, there are multiple murders) and because it would make sense to make this into one question ("What's your alibi for the murders"), you have to ask every suspect their alibis for every single murder ("What's your alibi for the A murder?", "What's your alibi for the B murder?" etc.).Twenty four times. And some other questions too. This part easily ranks amongst the top 3 bad game sequences of all games I've ever played. And I've played quite some games.

The story of the game is quite interesting though, with locked room murders and even a great alibi trick I've never seen before (but sadly enough, this also translated to a very bad game experience). The murderer is quite easy to guess though and I have to admit, this story felt less like a Conan story, but more like a Kindaichi Shounen story. Which brings me to the next game...

I haven't actually played this game (heck, I don't even own a Sega Saturn), but I am definitely tempted to get a Saturn and Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo - Hoshimitou - Kanashimi no Fukushuuki ("The Case Files of Young Kindaichi - Stargazing Isle - The Sad Monsters of Revenge"), having seen several awesome playthroughs of this game. This is naturally an adventure game based on Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo, but the twist here is, and I think that this is a first, that you actually play as the murderer! Yes, none of that waiting until a murder happens and slowly gathering hints until you get to reveal the identity of the murderer: here you slowly plan your murder and try to get rid of all the evidence! Can you outsmart the grandson of the famous detective Kindaichi Kousuke?!

It is sort of an inverted mystery, in the sense that you see all the events leading up the murder and the consequent investigation, with the big difference here being that you are trying to avoid the final confrontation with the great detective where he points out the little mistake you made. The concept is really original and actually perfect for Kindaichi Shounen. Yes, nearly all of the murderers in the series commit their crimes because of some great tragedy they had to undergo because of their victims and this is getting a bit stale after 20 years, but to literally see it from the other side: it's really a great motive to commit all these murders. Making things personal always works for these kind of stories.


As you start the game, you get to choose between two scenarios, which are related and play out like alternate universe versions of each other. In both stories a party is held on Stargazing Island, with guests like the idols Hayami Reika and Nagisa Chiharu, as well as some people from the press and of course Hajime and Miyuki. But there are potential murderers amongst the guests too (depending on which scenario you choose): the 'disappeared' idol Nao, who had to leave the showbizz world after getting involved a made-up scandal by some scheming journalists and Takuya, the fiance of Nao's manager who commited suicide after the scandal. Having found out that those responsible for the fake scandal are present on the island you, as either of the persons bent on revenge, try to get in to the Hall of Fame of Kindaichi Shounen murderers.

The game develops as a normal adventure game, where you have to collect information and make the right choices to advance the story. For example, you can get information useful for coming up with an alibi trick by talking to another person, or you might find out some useful habits of your victim if you choose to interact with him or her. The only difference here with a normal detective adventure is that you're the murderer now, but that makes it that much more fun. The meaning and impact of Hajime's catchphrases like In the name of my grandpa! or the murderer is among us! really changes when you're on the other side of things and whereas it usually gives a feeling of relief in the original manga, hearing those words here makes you think only one thing: GAME OVER.

The game is actually full of bad endings, which are not just simple game over screens. You have a range of possible murder methods for the victims, but while there is only one 'good' murder method per victim, the storylines featuring 'false' methods are developed quite comprehensively, each having its own denouement scene with Hajime and it might take quite some time for the player to notice that the murder method itself is wrong, rather that he is doing something wrong while committing the murderer. It sure lengthens the playtime, but in a natural and amusing way, as seeing Hajime solving the case doesn't feel like a 'normal' game over. Such game over scenarios are technically nothing more than orthodox inverted mysteries and thus feel 'complete' and not really as a game over. Compare to when you would play the detective and then fail to solve the case!


And the concept is worked out in hilarious ways too. Whenever you get a game over screen, one of your 'murderer' seniors, i.e. murderers featured in the series, give you hints on how to progress, almost mimicking the senior-junior relation we see in the series between Hajime and Saki (1 and 2). And because of the way the game is set up, you win when you succeed in killing all your victims without being found out. Which leads to the problem of someone else being caught as the murderer. Which is both scary and hilarious at the same time.

This was the only Kindaichi Shounen game to utilize this concept, but I sure wish there would be more of these games! Yes, there are tons of games where you kill people, but it is seldom this private and personal. It might feel a bit strange to take up the role of a planning murderer, but it really works in the world of Kindaichi Shounen.

So, with all this Kindaichi's 20th anniversary stuff, a new drama special and a new anime special... can I ask for a new game too?

Original Japanese title(s): 『名探偵コナン 暁のモニュメント』, 『金田一少年の事件簿 星見島 悲しみの復讐鬼』

14 comments :

  1. Man, that Kindaichi game sounds amazing. Great story and gameplay ideas. Gameplay is always the most important in video games.

    Kamaitachi impressed me with its story and gameplay, at least when I saw it on Game Center CX. These two Kindaichi and Conan games also show the importance of gameplay in relation to story. Bad gameplay takes the player out of the experience and hinders an otherwise fantastic story. Good gameplay creates an experience of its own... even when there is no story.

    I'm a big fan of the first Dragon Quest. The story is almost non-existent, yet the design of the game drew me in. I couldn't stop playing. It's better than the sequel's excessive sailing ruining the fun combat (e.g. Wind Waker).

    I prefer games without a story, like Animal Crossing, where you just chill and forget you're playing a game. A great story is nice, but it needs good gameplay like Chrono Trigger. It becomes disappointing when a good story is tied to lackluster gameplay, like the Conan game you wrote about. The story can't shine the way it could in a book or anime. I'd rather a game have no story to live up to, relying on the gameplay to draw you in. The best games and mysteries immerse you: not always with the greatest of stories, but with the greatest of ease.

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    1. I usually prefer gameplay over the rest, but it's slightly different with text-heavy adventures like Kamaitachi no Yoru (or to take an example available in English at the moment: 999): these games basically force you read a lot (and go through a lot of game over screens). In these examples, I wouldn't have been tempted to go through all the storylines / possible endings / maybe even finish the game if the story wasn't good at all (even if the game system would be the same).

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  2. That's true for me sometimes. Still, I feel good stories are better off isolated. I played the first two Layton games and the stories and animation were really fun. Layton should have been a Conan-like mystery anime, or a visual novel with no gimmicks. The gameplay came up short—I wouldn't want to replay it. I wouldn't play it to begin with, if it weren't necessary to advance the plot.

    I'm a fiend for puzzles, like all us mystery fans... yet most of the ones in Layton aren't clever or unique, they're just randomly thrown in. A good story shouldn't be an excuse to be lazy with the gameplay. With something unique, you ought to put it in an ideal, undiluted form, to create the best experience. Animal Crossing is a better game than anime, though with Layton it's probably the other way around.

    This also relates to mysteries and their ideal length, like Mousoukyoku mentioned on his blog, it depends on the mystery.

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  3. It really depends on the genre or format. I generally like visual novels even though any sort of gameplay is non-existent, because it's just perfect for narrating multiple routes/endings and just a very complicated, intriguing plot you can't easily fit into a book or even a series of books.

    But when it comes to RPGs, while still appreciating a good story, what draws me in apart from the characters, the world, the music etc. is the gameplay, especially the combat system. That's why I've always been a fan of the Tales of series. The battles are just plain fun and incomparable to any other game.

    Concerning mystery/detective games, I have to admit I only played Sigma Harmonics, which actually was a rather neat combination of puzzle solving and RPG that few talk about. Since I'll be taking my PSP with me anyway, I guess I'll play/read Trick X Logic sometime in Japan instead of here, even though it's been among the stuff in my room for what... 2 years? Other than that not much experience except Umineko which isn't orthodox and being a visual novel lacking any gameplay. I'll also be sure to get the Kamaitachi titles for the PSP.

    But in any case, I can't play something which actually has a game system and a certain grade of difficulty when there's no plot at all. I need something that enthralls me and urges me to continue with that game instead of switching to something different. Usually gameplay alone won't excite me sufficiently.

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  4. I concur that Layton works better as a story than an integrated game: gameplay-wise, the story segments feel very disjointed from the puzzles themselves. Yet the variety of the puzzles (the kind of puzzles), the raising difficulty and the presentation of them are an example of good gameplay, I think. C.f. Telltale's Puzzle Agent, which follows the Layton formula. I've only played the first installment and while it was entertaining, the game suffered from too few puzzles (which were occasionally repeated too!). If we were to see the puzzles as Layton's gameplay, I would still think that is a well designed game, which is made better through the terrific effort poured into the complete presentation (incl. story). For example, I thought the movie was entertaining enough, even including a hand-full of solvable puzzles, but I did think it felt less Layton because of the little amount of puzzles and the way of presentation (thus I thought the gameplay was important to the franchise).

    Though Layton is a pretty extreme example. Games like Monkey Island and Grim Fandango show how well games can be blended with story. Most of the time. Sometimes, they jump the shark. By stretching a chicken with a rubber pulley over a manhole and using it as a spring or something like that.

    With RPG's, I usually focus less on gameplay and game design, I think. Sure, awesome fighting systems like those in the Tales series (pure action!) or Grandia (that feeling when you time everything perfectly!), but I can still enjoy games like Dragon Quest or Suikoden, even though those games are quite 'traditional' in game design (and certainly have their flaws, like item management systems clearly not meant to be easy to use). Those games, I personally enjoy more for their stories.

    And to go back to the basics of gameplay: I'll ignore Super Mario Bros. as I am not that big a fan of it, but a games like Ghost 'n Goblins has pretty much the same 'story'. Pretty much non-existent. And heck, the gameplay might be considered a bit flawed because of the enourmous disadvantages you get (two-hit system, weird jumping system, the movement speed of the enemies), but I did really enjoy the game in the end. After being killed hundreds of times. There is something in the gameplay design there that really pulled me in. As if I was given very crude tools to accomplish something and that while I had to struggle a lot, I was able to show a little bit of progress every time.

    Until you lose your concentration and fall in the same hole 20 times or something like that.

    Aaaaand to finish this rather unorganized post on games, Trick X Logic is very weird as a game. It's probably system-wise the game the most close to actually reading a story, as it doesn't give you the freedom to change the story like Chunsoft's sound novels. I would be quite interested in hearing comments about the game (system) from (non-Japanese) detective fiction readers, as it is quite unique.

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    1. One day, we will have discussions on food here too.

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    2. I like Layton, though I feel Conan has more complex and engaging mysteries. In the manga you can feel love put into every line, spoken or drawn.

      The Layton control system is good but the core puzzles are brain-teasers you can find in books and the internet. They don't need to be in a visual novel. Layton has a lot of charm in the hand-drawn animation clips, and the puzzles are also placed in a nice package... yet a package doesn't increase the weight and substance of the content. Some Layton puzzles are clever but they don't have substance. Many who enjoyed the Layton games—myself included—admit they don't feel like coming back to these puzzles. If you pick up a new game in the series, you're forced to do just that.

      Then again, Layton is not the only series guilty of not having much innovation. The GCN Animal Crossing is one of my favorite games but AC is not one of my favorite series since it keeps recycling gameplay, and removing things I like about the first game. And Dragon Quest has recycled the same 1980's battle system at least nine times, but I agree with you that the fun stories keep us coming back to DQ.

      Other plot-based games, I like the concept of alternate endings, like with the Saturn Kindaichi, the sort of game I feel I could replay indefinitely. Maybe Western publishers are afraid of releasing games that are easily replayable. Gamers may not be in a hurry to get new games, satisfied with the ones they have. Yet when something sticks with you more, that for me is a sign of a better game.

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    3. I actually enjoy Layton's disjointed presentation of core gameplay (brain teasers) and the presentation of said gameplay. Sure, they could have tried to reduce the amount of puzzles and to organically translate those brain-teasers into proper context-relative puzzles, but this would have made it no different from a normal point & click adventure. Not that this would result in a bad game (not at all!), but I do think that Level 5's decision on the current the Layton grammar was a very good one. It's a very unique presentation that sets its apart from other adventures (heck, Layton-esque adventures are now often considered its own subgenre).

      Like I said in the previous comment: the Layton movie was OK, but I did miss the brain teasers. On the other hand, I doubt I would have enjoyed a game that would only consist of brain teasers without any binding framework. I think that Layton is a very unique and well accomplished fusion of story and gameplay, that while actually very disjointed, is way more fun than just the sum of the parts.

      I like games with alternate endings, though I have to admit: I have trouble gathering the energy to proceed in 428 because of the insane amount of endings (with a great number of them almost inevitable)!

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    4. It's just not the best game I think it could be. It's more an attempt to reach mass appeal, and it's successful due to the slick design, but it doesn't stick me with me personally.

      I want other visual novels and RPG's released in the West (i.e. more options to choose from). The games published here are mostly aimed at the non-gamer. Unique games like Case Closed or Kindaichi are pushed aside in favor of a Layton clone. Layton itself is a good game but it's had a bad effect. Games like Layton are not made with dedicated gamers in mind. It has a good story and yet no replay value: marketed to people who play games one week and throw them away the next. Because they're satisfied with quick experiences that don't last.

      I finished the two Layton games in a few days. They were extremely fun, but afterwards I thought of all the time wasted on those puzzles and cop-out endings. Other people feel the same way, and the series probably isn't for me or them. Life is too short to spend time on something you don't enjoy. I like reading books with more complex stories and puzzles.

      This is speaking as someone disappointed with the video game industry for a long time, who never wanted any next-gen console. The game I was most excited for was 7th Dragon and it never got translated. There's lots of stuff that should see a worldwide audience. Niche audiences have been overlooked in the West, despite loyal fans creating the initial success.

      Instead I just replay my old games; for me they're irreplaceable and never let me down. As far as new games, I'm interested in Black/White 2, because I think Pokemon is timeless, and it's for a console I have.

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  5. When I'm really excited about the story, any awful gameplay can be overcome with a bit endurance. The opposite is less likely to happen in my case and I'll drop that title as my main aim when playing such games is wanting to get to the finale and see how the story ends. So yeah plot is more important in RPGs after all. And don't mention Grandia, man... I'm really getting old.


    Who knows, maybe I'll add a food tag to my blog once I'm eating Japanese food on a daily basis ;) Good food is the most important thing anyway... But RPGs might also find their way to my blog again once I get my hands on those I've been fancying.

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    1. I agree with what you said about RPG's. Though I haven't played many action-RPG's like Tales (unless you count Zelda: Link to the Past). However, I have played a lot of turn-based RPG's, and in that sub-genre the gameplay is often too similar, everything basically derived from DQ or FF. That's when I really appreciate games that change things up, sometimes in their battle system, but mostly in their stories. Just pure gameplay is not too exciting; sometimes the story is what stands out or inspires.

      I like to lay back and chill, which is why I prefer turn-based systems, but I still want to see the story to the end. It's sort of a paradox that I want to relax and be stagnant in one place leveling up, and yet want to see the ending right away. I could go countless turns in turn-based combat, if I like the music and battle system; but in the end, it only takes a few twists and turns in the plot to make the whole journey feel worthwhile. The plot must be surprising, when the gameplay's the most familiar type of combat.

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    2. This is why I like the Devil Survivor games. They have a turn-based strategy battle system and don't feature any traditional exploration of the setting (actually feels like playing a visual novel with combat gameplay), but the plot always moves forward steadily and the setting comes to life nonetheless. As I basically play RPGs for the battles and the plot, this works perfectly for me.

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    3. Never played Devil Survivor (or any SMT games actually), but I actually enjoy exploring settings! When done right, the locations themselves feel just as important a part of the plot as the characters themselves and while this can be accomplished with text alone, I do have t admit that seeing locations modeled in 3D and exploring them myself really feels much more exciting than just reading about them. Great examples would be Shenmue and Ryu ga Gotoku, I think.

      Of course, Shenmue is a great example for a lot of things. *sigh* Shenmue 3~

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    4. I agree with you about locations. Etrian Odyssey is exciting as a dungeon-crawler because of the 3D-modelled environments. I do miss the party following me around, though, and that's why I prefer the concept of 7th Dragon.

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