"But I could already see first daylight. No night lasts forever. Our chase, the whole case was heading towards its conclusion. And I knew. No night lasts forever. Never."
"Detective Jinguuji Saburou - Before the Light Fades"
Posting a review on a day that is related to the topic of the review always excites me slightly. Slightly (and I'll be the first to admit that I do sometimes shuffle with the order of my posts backlog to have certain posts appear on certain days. Just because).
Tantei Jinguuji Saburou series
The Shinjuku Central Park Murder Case (1987) [Nintendo Famicom Disk System]
The Unfinished Reportage (1996) [Sony PlayStation / SEGA Saturn]
At the End of the Dream (1998) [Sony PlayStation / SEGA Saturn]
Before the Light Fades (1999) [Sony PlaySation]
The White Phantom Girl (2005) [Nintendo GameBoy Advance]
Ashes and Diamonds (2009) [Sony PlayStation Portable]
The Red Butterfly (2010) [Nintendo DS]
Rondo of Revenge (2012) [Nintendo 3DS]
The 1999 PlayStation game Tantei Jinguuji Saburou - Tomoshibi ga Kienu Ma ni ("Detective Jinguuji Saburou - Before the Light Fades") starts on the night of April 27, and shows us a familiar sight: private detective Jinguuji Saburou sitting in his office in Shinjuku, Tokyo, accompanied by his assistant Youko and jazz music. Business has been slow lately, but the sudden arrival of the young man Masataka at his office (followed by a group of angry yakuza thugs) marks the start of a new adventure. Jinguuji is asked by both his old friend Inspector Kumano of the police force, and the Kantou Meijigumi yakuza family to investigate the smuggling of customized pistols in Shinjuku, a threat that could endanger the balance of power in both the 'light' world as well as the underworld of the city (because the Kantou Meijigumi isn't down with guns in their turf). Tasked with this heavy job, but also some other smaller investigations, Jinguuji makes his way once more through the human jungle of Shinjuku.
Tomoshibi ga Kienu Ma ni is the seventh game in the long running Tantei Jinguuji Saburou series, and the last in the series to be developed by the original creators of the series, the company Data East: Data East went bankrupt in 2003, and the Tantei Jinguuji Saburou series has since then been developed by WorkJam / Arc System Works. Tomoshibi ga Kienu Ma ni can therefore be considered the last of the 'original' series. And what a game it is! Data East had been developing the hardboiled detective adventure game series since 1987, and Tomoshibi ga Kienu Ma ni combines the best elements of all previous entries. This is overall my favorite Tantei Jinguuji Saburou game I've played until now, and I have played practically all of them, including the mobile phone spin-off series! (I still need to play PlayStation 2's Innocent Black and Kind of Blue though).
Storywise, it's what we'd had learned to expect from the series: a hardboiled detective story with here and there hints of social commentary, all set in Shinjuku. Mikan no Rupo dealt with immigrant workers and discrimination; Yume no Owari with drug dealing and this time, the investigation into the gun smuggling brings Jinguuji in close contact with the darker sides of urban migration and the underworld of Shinjuku (and even abroad!). Of course, it would be kinda heavy if it was only about these themes, so as always social commentary just serves as a background for the events that happen, which are as captivating and exciting as ever. Suffice to say that Tomoshibi ga Kienu Ma ni's story belongs among the best of the series.
The previous two games, Mikan no Rupo and Yume no Owari ni, featured a so-called zapping system, which allowed the player to 'zap' between protagonists, with each character providing a different view on the case. Jinguuji would for example shadow a suspect, while Youko would do research in the library; both storylines would come together at certain points, but they also would offer their own unique insights on the case, with the parallel stories complementing each other. Tomoshibi ga Kienu Ma ni surprisingly did away with the multi-layered narrative, instead opting for a fairly straightforward presentation. I say fairly, because it wouldn't really be Tantei Jinguuji Saburou if they didn't try something new with it.
Tomoshibi ga Kienu Ma ni features a time-element not seen since the original game (where sometimes you had to smoke to allow time to pass): in this game, movement between the various locations costs time, and sometimes you can only visit certain locations during the day or night. The day-and-night cycle is also connected to a date-system, and each chapter (or case) has a certain time-limit. For example, the first case involves the tracking of a daughter who has gone missing, and you have three days to complete the investigation. You have to visit the right locations at the right time, or else you'll run out of time for your investigation. Sometimes, you'll choose a wrong place or time for finding witnesses, forcing you to wait a day. This time-management system adds a sense of urgency to the game, as you obviously will want to solve each case before time's up, but also allows you to get more into the skin of a private detective, as a real investigation probably does feature a lot of useless questioning and just being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Though it's not all just stress. You can assign your assistant Youko to do certain tasks every morning, and sometimes she'll provide information needed to progress in the game, even if you happened to have missed it yourself. The chance of that happening does rely on the task you gave Youko though, so it does involve a bit of strategy. It's funny how they added this system in Tomoshibi ga Kienu Ma ni though: it's the first time in a detective game featuring an assistant where they actually make such a character part of the gameplay in a meaningful way. A later installment in the series, Shiroi Kage no Shoujo, actually did something similar, where you could 'nurture' your own assistant in an RPG-style by choosing right answers to questions: an assistant with better statistics was able to help you out better in case you got stuck. Kinda wondering why other detective games never did something meaningful with the assistant (looking hard at Frogwares' Sherlock Holmes games now: they really need fixing the narrative problems there with Watson and Holmes...).
And sidetracking here, but I really want to address the infamous issue of the assistant Misono Youko. She has been there ever since the very first game, but for some reason, they just can't stick to one character design for her. Look at this little graph I made of her appearances in the main game series: it's like she goes to the plastic surgeon between every game!
But Data East certainly did their best with the rest of the game. For a Tantei Jinguuji Saburou game, it's actually quite long, featuring thirty different endings (most of them bad endings if you didn't manage to finish a case on time). The music is, of course, fantastic, with amazing jazz lounge tracks that never bore (it's a game, so music tracks tend to loop often, but that's never a problem with the Tantei Jinguuji Saburou games). Art design is based on the previous game, Yume no Owari ni, which is definitely a great thing: I might not be a fan of the character design of Youko here, but the rest of the game looks amazing. And it's also nice they cleaned the user interface, so you can actually see much more of the screen compared to previous games!
Okay, this review has become waaaaay to long, but to conclude: Tantei Jinguuji Saburou: Tomoshibi ga Kienu Ma ni is a fantastic hardboiled detective adventure game, that can easily be considered the pinnacle of the series. Older Jinguuji games tended to be more fun as stories than games, but Tomoshibi ga Kienu Ma ni works as both a story and a game.
Original Japanese title(s): 『探偵神宮寺三郎 灯火が消えぬ間に』