"A true gentleman never refuses the request of a beautiful lady"
"Professor Layton and the Curious Village"
Hmm, the last time I reviewed a detective adventure game on the DreamCast, it didn't end well...
Tantei Shinshi DASH! was originally released in 2000 for the DreamCast and a port from the PC game Fukakutei Sekai no Tantei Shinshi ("A Gentleman Detective In An Uncertain World"), released in the same year. The PC game was actually aimed at a mature (18+) audience and included some erotic scenes: these were changed for the home console DreamCast release (though the script still includes quite a dash of innuendo). The game is also one of the few detective games on the DreamCast, which was my reason of purchase, and it appears Tantei Shinshi DASH! is doing alright for the developers: it's by no means a famous game, but it has been ported to a number of platforms and several sequels have been made.
As a detective adventure game on a home console, Tantei Shinshi DASH! plays pretty much like you'd expect it to. You advance in the story by moving between various locations, talking with characters and gathering information. The story of Tantei Shinshi DASH! has its ups and downs. It tries a bit too hard to be hardboiled, edgy and cool, which just didn't work for me. But the cases themselves are also a mixed lot: there is a lot of variety in the sort of cases Souma has to solve in the course of the game, but they are not all as good as another. Early in the game you investigate a ghost sighting, as well as a curious case of a wife who has lost her husband (and everybody says there was no husband in the first place!), but as you progress, you pick up more cases, all somehow connected with a main storyline involving the criminal organization Outfit. None of the cases invite the player to really think though: there are some murder cases, but the game basically tells you what happened if you can just manage to perform the right actions/be at the right place at the right time, without any mental activity asked of the player. The emphasis is laid on following the adventures of Souma.
The "uncertain world" from the original title is also a problem: at first it appears it's a 'normal' world like where we live in, but it doesn't take long for a humanoid android (a cute girl called Mint) to appear, together with enemies that seem to come straight out of the post-apocalyptic world of 20XX. The worldview needs a little polishing. The android plays a very big part in the story by the way, and Tantei Shinshi DASH! also includes elements of dating simulation games and even Tamagotchi pet raising elements. With slightly erotic undertones. As I said, this was originally a game with a mature rating and even though the developers have rewritten/redrawn the scenes that gave it its original rating, it still has a lot of risque shots and innuendo-filled dialogue.
The biggest issue I have with Tantei Shinshi DASH! however is also the most unique feature of the game: there is a time-system that is locked to your movements. Moving from one location to another close by takes half an hour. From one side of the city to the other takes about four hours. After twenty-four hours, it's the next day. You have a certain amount of time to solve each case and you only make advancements in the story by being at the right location at the right time (for example, to talk to character X). So the idea is that you need to always keep the time in mind if you need to be somewhere and you should not walk around too much unneccesary. You can also work on multiple cases at the same time, but this could also result in you being too busy with one case, and not being able to solve another case on time. This is an interesting idea, that is something novels can never do: give you the freedom to experience the story in your own manner/order (within certain boundaries).
The problem is that the game seldom tells you where you need to be at what time. Important characters you need to meet with to advance in the story appear at the most random places and times, without any hint to why they are there at that time. There is often no way you could've known that important character X would be at Y at time Z. It's like the game at one hands tries to limit your freedom by giving you hard deadlines and a time system, while also urging you to go explore because stuff can happen practically anywhere, anytime. Tantei Jinguuji Saburou - Tomoshibi ga Kienu Ma ni (PSX) is also a detective adventure game that also included a time system and deadlines for cases, but that game was much better than Tantei Shinshi Dash!. It was always fair, with no random encounters and more hints to where you needed to go to advance the story. Tantei Shinshi DASH! shows how it can be done in a very bad way.
All in all, I can't really recommend Tantei Shinshi DASH!. The story is not particularly exciting or amusing (and tries too hard to be cool). But what really hurts the game, is how it works as a game. The way the game should be played (as dictated by its gameplay) and the way the game must be played (because of randomness) contradict each other and result in a game that is just frustrating to play. Games can do a lot books can't do, but at least I still have to come across an example of a book where the system of a book (turn pages around) doesn't mesh with how I'm supposed to read the book.
Original Japanese title(s): 『探偵紳士DASH!』