Monday, January 7, 2013

『きえないこころ』

Take my revolution 生きて行こう
現実はがむしゃらに来るし
自分の居場所存在価値を見つけたい
今日までの自分を  
『輪舞-Revolution- 』

Take my revolution, let's live on
Reality is closing in frantically
I want to find my place to be, my worth
The person I've been up until now

Maybe it is a bit ambitious to write my very first mystery short story in a language in that is not my mother tongue. Maybe. Not sure why I said I would write something. Ah well, at least I have an idea of what to write now after days of torturing my mind...

Note: I think the hardboiled tag on this blog doesn't differ much in meaning from the Tantei Jinguuji Saburou tag.

Twenty-twelve was the year many game series celebrated their 25th anniversary. Megaman, Final Fantasy, Street Figher and... Tantei Jinguuji Saburou. OK, so the detective adventure games starring hardboiled private detective Jinguuji Saburou and his assistant Youko are hardly known outside Japan (despite, or also thanks to a somewhat failed localisation trip on the DS), but heck, it means something if you manage to still be an active game-series after twenty-five years, especially considering it is an detective adventure, which is certainly not one of the best selling genres in the gaming world. I for one am a big fan of the series and it was just a matter of time (and me getting a 3DS) before I would get to Tantei Jinguuji Saburou: Fukushuu no Rondo ("Detective Jinguuji Saburou: Rondo of Revenge"), the game released in celebration of its 25th anniversary.

The story starts with Jinguuji waking up, only to find himself bound and being used as a punching bag by some gangsters. They seem to want information about a certain something from Jinguuji (and they also seem to have a personal grudge against him), though he honestly has no idea what they're talking about. Jinguuji manages to escape, only to discover that the police found the dead body of an ex-client of him in the trunk of his car, making him the prime suspect in the murder case. Chased by both the gangsters and the police now, the Shinjuku detective has to clear his name and find out what happened.

Maybe I should have figured out something was wrong with this game when after my escape from the gangster, I discovered that Jinguuji lost his cigarettes and couldn't smoke. A Jinguuji who can't smoke (and he stays like that until late in the story!). Heck, the Jinguuji games are probably the only games featuring a dedicated smoke button!


I had heard some complaints before I started with the game, but this is probably the worst Jinguuji I ever played. Definitely not how you celebrate a great history of 25 years of hardboiled detective stories set in Shinjuku, Kabukichou with a jazzy soundtrack. First of all, the game is short. I mean, around 6 hours of gameplay is not what you'd expect from something promoted as an anniversary product. The main scenarios in other DS entries in the series were also relatively short, but those also featured ports of the mobile phone entries in the series and other extras!

Another problem is the story itself. The story doesn't seem to know what it should do: it tries to invoke the anniversary spirit by loosely tying it up to previous games and characters, but for some reason the writer(s?) decided to tie it up to plot points and characters nobody cares about. The new characters on the other hand aren't interesting at all, and the scale of the story feels no different from the stories we usually see in the mobile phone entries in the game. And you'd expect a 25th anniversary game developed for the 3DS to be at least a bit more compelling than a mobile phone game. There is not a lot of detecting going on here and most plot developments happen whenever you finally manage to find a gangster alone to beat information out of him.The plot being about Jinguuji on the run, also means that Jinguuji can't go about his business in his usual manner, resulting in a very different kind of story-telling compared to the previous games.


And it's not like they didn't try new things at all, but none of that really works. There is no need for 3D models instead of sprites if they hardly move and don't blend in with the background. Creating the investigation segments in 3D is a great idea (reminiscent of the 'escape the room' genre), but why connect it to a very strict penalty system for every 'useless' action? How am I going to figure things out if I get penalties for every action I try?! The idea of escape sequences, where you have to run away from your assailants in Shinjuku by selecting the correct choices (mingle with crowd / pretend to buy cigarettes / etc) is interesting, but there has to be some logic between the choices and outcome: how am I going to guess that hiding between the trees will result in me getting discovered, but hiding behind a car not?! (And it was done better and with better music in Ashes and Diamonds anyway...)

The good thing of this game? The music is absolutely fantastic, but most of it is reused from older games. And with most, I mean that I can remember only one or two genuine new tracks.

No, Fukushuu no Rondo was very different from Tantei Jinguuji Saburou - Yume no Owari ni ("Detective Jinguuji Saburou - At The End of the Dream"), an older game released for both Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation in 1998. Yume no Owari ni is commonly seen as one of the best, if not the best entry in the long-running series. I beat the game somewhere in September and was not sure whether I was going to write a review, but when you get confronted with a bad game... Like in any good Jinguuji game, the story starts with a new job for the private detective: this time from Nagata Yuka, a high-school friend of Jinguuji's assistent Youko, who is a master student at Fuminaga university. She thinks someone has been stalking her and wants Jinguuji to find out who it is. Jinguuji quickly solves this stalker case apparently, but Yuka disappears the day after that, leaving her teenage sister Mika alone. Jinguuji, Youko and Mika all start their investigation surrounding the disappearance of Yuka.

And I definitely get why it's seen as one of the better Jinguuji games. The story is fun, with the stalker case being the perfect build-up to Yuka's kidnapping, but that isn't all. This isn't the first Jinguuji game to to feature multiple protagonists and parallel story-telling, but it's done quite well here with four characters (Jinguuji, Youko, Mika and police detective Kumano). There is some obsolete overlapping, but most of time it's genuinely adding something to the story, filling in the gaps that pop up if you stick with one character all the time. The story is also a lot darker than you'd expect at first and for fans of the series, it's also interesting that this game actually tells of how Jinguuji and Youko actually met. Sure, it's not an orthodox detective story, but that is not what I expect of Jinguuji games: I want a slightly hardboiled story set at the borders of the 'normal' world and the underworld of Shinjuku featuring great characters with great music.


Yes, great music. Jazz is what makes Jinguuji tick (Jazz and cigarettes. Copious amounts of nicotine) and Yume no Owari ni has some great tracks. At times, you just let go of the controller to listen to classic tunes like Emotion or Silent Shadow II. I understand why the series isn't that known outside Japan (and even there, it's far from mainsteam), but I wish at least the music was better known! And from the audio to the visuals: Yume no Owari ni is also the game with an art direction closest to the designs made by Terada Katsuya and definitely my personal favorite.


In the end, what makes Tantei Jinguuji Saburou work as a series, and it is very similar to series like City Hunter and Angel Heart in that aspect, is that we have a detective protagonist who can move freely in both the 'light and dark' world of Shinjuku who isn't the main focus of the story: instead the clients he meets and the cases he uncovers are what make his adventures memorable (or not). In these 25 years, the Jinguuji series has hardly changed, but that is because it is definitely an example of a game whose focus lies in its story. Jinguuji is a medium through which you present a heartwarming story. Putting Jinguuji in the center of things, or trying to get him away from his normal working conditions / environment results in a shift in story-focus that just doesn't work. If Jinguuji had an overall story like City Hunter or Angel Heart, you could get away with such changes ocassionally, but it's not likely they are going to introduce something like that 25 years in the series...

Short story: don't play Fukushuu no Rondo. Play Yume no Owari ni. Listen to jazz. Smoke.

Original Japanese title(s): 『探偵神宮時三郎 夢の終わりに』 / 『探偵神宮寺三郎 復讐の輪舞(ロンド)』

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