"Tell me the answer. Is fate unchangeable?"
My way of dealing with a slightly worrying backlog of half-written reviews is apparently writing reviews on other material and pretending there is not a pile waiting for me. I have a nagging feeling that this is not the right solution.
Shibuya. In front of the Hachikou statue, across of the famous Scramble Crossing, stands Osawa Hitomi with a big suitcase of money. Precisely as ordered by the kidnappers of her sister Maria. Plainsclothes are naturally all over the place, keeping an eye on Hitomi and the money. Everyone is on edge. Will the deal be succesful? Will Maria be released? Will the police catch the kidnappers? With Scramble Crossing being one of the busiest, if not the busiest crossing in the world, will the police be able to protect Hitomi from any possible harm from the kidnappers? But as the clock slowly nears the all-important 10:00 AM, nobody in the city even expects that this will become the most dangerous day in the history of Shibuya. The day a terrorist organisation threatened to set a deadly virus free in the city.
Nobody does. Not Minorikawa Minoru, a hotblooded reporter on the search for a new scoop in the streets of Shibuya. Not Kanou Shinya, a young and idealistic rookie detective who is also one of the plainsclothes watching Hitomi. Not Endou Achi, an ex-gang leader who has just spotted a particularly nice-looking girl in front of the Hachikou statue. Not Osawa Kenji, father of Hitomi and Maria and a renowned virus researcher, who is on hold in his home. And not Tama, a mysterious person running around in an animal suit, who seems to have lost his / her memory. These five persons are all gathered in Shibuya and little to do they expect that their destinies are intertwined and their actions will eventually save the city. Thus begins the amazing game experience that is 428 ~Fuusa Sareta Shibuya de~ ("428 ~In A Sealed Off Shibuya~").
428 gained quite some fame as one of the few games to have scored a perfect score in the Japanese game magazine Famitsu. Starting it as a Wii game, it got ported to the PSP, PS3 and even iOS recently. I will start off with saying that this is not a proper mystery game. Yes, it is developed by Chunsoft and it is a sound novel, which should naturally remind players of fantastic mystery games like Kamaitachi no Yoru and Trick X Logic. But this is not a mystery game. You are not solving a murder, you are not trying to find evidence that points to the criminal. No. None of that. And despite that, and despite my rule of keeping this a detective-fiction focused blog, I still make an expection for 428. Because it is definitely one of the best games I have ever played and more people should know it. And it has just enough ties with the mystery genre.
So what makes this game so special? It's just a sound novel adventure, some will say. You know, where you read a lot of text and you sometimes get to make a choice that influences the outcome of the story. Which is totally true. The same holds for 428. What makes this such a special game, is the way the story is told. There are five protagonists like I explained above. They all have their own goals, their own lives at the start of the game. You, as the player, can start with any scenario and see what happens. But, and this is a major but, do realize that every scenerio is connected to each other. Just like how time is a continuous flow of small actions, just as how a butterfly at one of the world can cause a storm at the other end, realize that anything you do in one scenario, has possible effects on some other's story. It is a bit like the famous The Simpsons episode, 22 Short Films About Springfield, with interlinking storylines that develop simultaneously.
The earliest example of this interesting way of telling the story is when you start with police detective Kanou's storyline and see a suspicious man heading for Hitomi. Thinking he might be the kidnapper, Kanou arrests this man. But it turns out that this man is in fact Endou Achi, who was only trying to hit on Hitomi! In this case, both scenarios end with a Game Over: Kanou having made the wrong arrest, while Achi ends up spending the whole day at the police station. This is the very first instance of this interconnectedness in the story, but now imagine that this holds for all five protagonists. All storylines happen simultaneously and hurrying in a taxi with one protagonist for example, might lead to a traffic accident with another protagonist on the run for a hitman! The smallest actions can have tremendous effects on another person's life and it is up to the player to make the correct choices, to influence the destinies of all five protagonists so they will save Shibuya.
It's a brilliant idea and worked out even better! There are about 100 different endings (most of them bad endings) and everytime you try to make just the right corrections, just the right choices to ensure that every persons' scenario can continue. But the bad endings never really feel that bad actually, with a lot of the early bad endings just being hilarious, while others always give you a fair hint to what choices you have to make to continue the story. To help you, the scenarios can be viewed as a handy flow-chart, where you can see every development in every storyline at every point in time (which is also handy to see which scenario is likely to have influence on another). In fact, I contend that it is actually better to get a lot of bad endings in this game. By coming across all the bad endings, you as the player realize how every little action, how every little word can have effects on others. Realizing that everything has meaning really makes this game a special experience.
And the story is just fantastic. The writing is witty, fun and if you think about the amount of endings and possible scenerios, it is just mindblowing! And while I said that 428 is not a proper mystery, there is a bit of a fairly hinted mystery as the story nears its ending, with the terrorist attack under its way and the five major protagonists (and great supporting cast) moving to save the city. There is a spin-off sequel anime series, CANAAN, but I strongly you not to see it before playing 428, as it will spoil some of the best parts of the game.
Would this system work as a proper mystery game? Not sure. Chunsoft already played with the concept of multiple characters in Kamaitachi no Yoru X3, but the storylines were not intertwined as heavily as the ones in 428. The amount of detail (in time) in every scenario also makes a narrator=criminal trick a bit difficult, though one might possibly conceive something with a closed circle situation and multiple protagonists, changing their destinies in ways so they don't panik and start killing off each other. Or something like that. I am definitely not a creative writer.
While Kamaitachi no Yoru portrayed its characters with blue silhouettes, 428 makes use of real actors and still photos. Which really bring the city of Shibuya alive. The actors actually acted for these photos by the way, saying their lines, moving as if they were shooting a movie, all to ensure that every emotion would come across. And I would say that they succeeded. It is kinda strange if you realize that they filmed every scene, meaning they could also have made 428 in an actual movie. Yet not one actor's voice is heard throughout the game.
The funny thing is though, I bought the PSP version about two years ago and I loved it then. In fact, it is the first sound novel I ever played, before Trick X Logic and Kamaitachi no Yoru. A quick search on this blog actually showed that I already mentioned playing this game in December 2009 (which means it's almost three years ago!) 428 is what got me hooked on the genre. Or at least, on Chunsoft's sound novels. And I had played it on-and-off between then and now, but for some reason I never got around to actually finishing it. Maybe I just didn't want it to end. Maybe I wasn't borrowing a TV where I could play it on a bigger screen. Of course, if I hadn't met a friend who borrowed me her TV, I might not have finished this game this week, which in turn would mean that I wouldn't have written this post, which...
I can only conclude this post by repeating that 428 really is a very special game. The sense of satisfaction you get from succesfully changing everyone's destinies so they help each other in accomplishing a greater goal is undescribable. Realizing that anything you do might have the greatest positive effects on someone else's life is a very mysterious feeling, a feeling a normal novel could never conveyed this good. This is a prime example of having writers and developers knowing exactly what they want to accomplish with their story, what they want to tell the reader/player and coming up with the perfect medium to convey that message.
Original Japanese title(s): 『４２８ ~封鎖された渋谷で~』