『One and Only』 （鈴木結女）
Everyone is searching, everyone is walking
But there are still things they can't find
But they will keep on searching, they will keep on walking
Everyone is living their lives
"One And Only" (Suzuki Yume)
Last review of the year!
October 11. Shibuya. Home of the most famous scramble crossing. Home of Hachikou. Home of major department centers. Fashion center. Home of one of the liviest shopping and nightlife districts in Tokyo. City of hope, city of dreams. City of despair, city of misery. And home to the eight protagonists of Machi ~Unmei no Kousaten~ ("City ~Crossroad of Fates~"). Each of them have their own worries, their own dreams, their own story. Yoshiko needs to lose weight fast or else her boyfriend will break up with her. Umabe is working on a comeback as an actor. Masashi is being blackmailed into entering a blackmail organization. Youhei is told by one of his flings she is carrying his child. Keima is working hard to stop a terrorist attack on Shibuya. Ichikawa is struggling with his fame as a scriptwriter and the wish to write real literature. Takamine has deserted from the French Foreign Legion and has come back to his home town. Ushio is a ex-yakuza who accidently gets involved with a robbery. Eight persons, eight lives. They don't know each other. The one thing they have in common: they all live in Shibuya, and the following five days will be remembered forever by both them, and the players of the game.
Machi ~Unmei no Kousaten~ (available on Saturn, PlaySation and PSP) is not very famous outside of Japan, but it is considered a masterpiece there; in a 2009 poll of an All Time Top 100 by gaming magazine Famitsuu, Machi ended up ranking in at fifth place, beating many major titles like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Dragon Quest IV. Considering that Machi ~Unmei no Kousaten~ is a sound novel, that's quite impressive. A sound novel is a game where the story is told through prose (i.e. text appears on the screen like a novel, accompanied by music and background still pictures) and where you occcasionally have to make decisions that determine the outcome of the story, like an adventure-book.
In Machi ~Unmei no Kousaten, you'll have to guide each of the eight protagonists to the end of the day, making the right choices on the way (or else you arrive at a bad ending). For the scenario with Yoshiko for example, you might want to avoid going to places with a lot of restaurants if you want her diet to be succesful. But, even though the eight protagonists don't know each other, each and every action undertaken by any of them, might unknowingly have influence on someone other's fate! One early example is when Yoshiko is out jogging, when she is hit by a truck. Takamine however was having a row with the driver of that truck just a few minutes earlier, and while it has no impact on Takamine's story whether you get into a fight with the driver or not, if you choose to knock the driver out, he won't be able to hit Yoshiko with his truck later on, changing her fate. So by 'zapping' between all eight storylines, you as the player need to find the right combination of choices that will get every character safely to another day. Indeed, Machi ~Unmei no Kousaten~ was actually the first Chunsoft sound novel with the zapping system, a game mechanic I have also praised in my reviews of Detective Conan: Marionette Symphony and 428 ~ Fuusa Sareta Shibuya de.
428 ~ Fuusa Sareta Shibuya de and Machi ~Unmei no Kousaten~ are considered standalone games, but they are both set in Shibuya, they share the zapping system, and little notes and small references show that the two stories are in fact set in the same world (with 428 taking place ten years after the events in Machi). Amemiya Keima was originally scheduled to appear in the 428 as a guest character. I loved 428 ~ Fuusa Sareta Shibuya de, but I think I like Machi ~Unmei no Kousaten~ even better! The games are very much alike, zapping between protagonists to accomplish goals, but 428 was in the end about getting the five protagonists to work together to stop a terrorist virus attack on Shibuya. Machi ~Unmei no Kousaten~ however takes a slice-of-life approach: the eight protagonists do get connected at some level, but it is not like one big epic where everybody gathers to fight evil. The eight storylines are distinct from each other and fairly 'normal'. It's this sense of 'normality' that makes Machi ~Unmei no Kousaten~ an experience, as there are just few story-based videogames that have this slice-of-life atmosphere (as opposed to games like Animal Crossing or Boku no Natsuyasumi which aren't story-based per se).
I praised the way 428 made me realize how every little interaction with other people can have huge influences in the long term, but it is done much better in Machi ~Unmei no Kousaten~ because it's a set of slice-of-life stories. The way it conveys the feeling of anonymous people living in a big metropolis, all with their own lives and goals, yet having influence on each other lives through small actions is just wonderful. It's a bit It's a Wonderful Life-esque, actually, with you seeing how even the small action of closing a door can help out another person. The interconnections between the scenarios (even if small) really make Shibuya come to life as a background. And speaking of backgrounds, sometimes it's just fun to see some of the other protagonists just pop up in the background of another scenario. It really nails the feeling all these characters are living in the same space in the same time.
Another mechanic that deepens the experience is the so-called TIPS system. It's basically the option to hightlight specific keywords for more information (i.e footnotes). Some TIPS give explanations of complex words, while others are just hilarious observations. Even more important are the TIPS that describe a side of Shibuya you'll only see a glimpse of in the 'main' game; only by reading the TIPS you'll discover why that policeman is always talking with another dialect every time another person meets him, or why that convenience store is run by the same guy for five days, day and night. I am not a fan of footnotes per se (thank you, Van Dine), but when it's done like in Machi, to expand the world, I can only say yes, more please.
But even if I say Machi ~Unmei no Kousaten~ is slice-of-life, you can expect a lot of craziness in the scenarios here. I mean, getting mistaken for a gangster or getting to hear an old fling is carrying your baby, while an even older fling has already given birth to your child (note: Youhei is a high school student) is probably not something that happens every day. But it's not mystery per se. 428 ~ Fuusa Sareta Shibuya de can be called a detective game because of its goals, but Machi ~Unmei no Kousaten~ can't be called that in general. So why do I discuss the game here on the blog? Well, it's a masterpiece, and it's not a detective game in general, but there are two scenarios that actually can be considered as such and that's why I discuss those two in detail.
Run, Otaku Detective! is the 'main' scenario of the game. Police detective and full-time gamer Amemiya Keiba witnesses the screening of a mysterious message on the big TV screen mounted on a building. Decoding the message reveals a bomb threat, but his senior officer thinks it's just a hoax. The five days of Machi has Amemiya running around solving devious codes sent by the terrorist, who has hidden small bombs in videogame arcades all around Shibuya. Think Detective Conan: The Time-Bombed Skyscraper.
This is one of the more 'game-like' scenarios (see the similarities with 428's story) and while the first day is a bit easy, you'll have to solve the codes yourself in later days, which make it more exciting. And, something really surprising, like Chunsoft's own Kamaitachi no Yoru, you'll actually have to input the name of the culprit yourself at the end of the game (which caught me off-guard...). As a detective game it's a bit different from Kamaitachi no Yoru, because it's mostly solving codes (instead of a murder), but not less entertaining (and some of the bad endings are fantastic).
"You'll be Friday". The Seven Days Club starts with the student Shinoda Masashi being blackmailed by a mysterious beauty with the codename Sunday. He gets a discount (he only needs to pay 10.000 yen), but in return must enter the Seven Days Club. As its newest member Friday, Masashi will need to blackmail seven people himself, before he's free. Masashi has no idea what's going on at first, but he quickly develops a knack for blackmailing, making use of his fast brain and ability to adapt quickly. But he also has a soft spot for his victims, and he soon turns into a model, nice blackmailer. But what is the goal of the Seven Days Club? Why is their slogan chinchicole? That is a question Masashi asks himself (as will the player), and that is what makes this scenario the best of the game.
The whole idea of being blackmailed into a blackmailing organization that only asks for 10.000 yen is just ridiculuous, but the crazy people in the Seven Days Club (which include a high school student, a tranvestite and a hippy), as well as the people Masashi blackmails make this the funniest scenario. But the way Masashi slowly learns how to play his victims, reminds of Liar Game, whereas the latter part of the scenario, where Masashi slowly deduces the true goal of the Seven Days Club, is pure detective magic (and I will admit that I was actually surprised at the amount of foreshadowing/hinting that was done across the game).
The other scenarios are not mysteries, but again, in the end all these stories are interconnected, and Machi ~Unmei no Kousaten~ is definitely something that should be experienced. In fact, I consider Machi ~Unmei no Kousaten~ as one of the best games I've played this year. Heck, one of the best games I've played ever. I'll admit that 428 is better as a consistent game, because the boring parts of Machi ~Unmei no Kousaten~ are worse than those of 428, but at its best, I prefer the more free, less concentrated and more 'realistic' slice-of-life approach of Machi ~Unmei no Kousaten~. It's a masterpiece in narrative and characterization in videogames and you should really try it out if you have the opportunity.
Original Japanese title(s): 『街 運命の交差点 特別篇』