Going over the crime scene hundred times. (Japanese saying)
I talk more often about my reading backlog, but I'm even worse with games. I think I bought my copy of this game back in 2010 already...
J.B. Harold - Murder Club was originally a 1986 PC adventure game developed by Riverhillsoft and written by Suzuki Rika. It did quite good on the market, and was ported to several other systems, from MS-DOS, to Windows, TurboGrafx-CD, Nintendo DS and iOS. It would also spawn many sequels. Riverhillsoft would eventually go bankrupt in 2000, but by that time Suzuki had already left the company to set up developer CiNG, which would be responsible for some of the Nintendo DS and Wii's more innovatieve mystery adventure titles, until CiNG's own bankruptcy in 2010.
It's this design choice which makes this a unique game, but depending on the player, it can also be a very boring game. J.B. Harold - Murder Club's story has no real development throughout the course of the whole game. You're just interviewing suspects and then checking up on everything. There's no structure to the game because of non-linearity. Right at the start of the game you're given access to a lot of data, and the rest of the game consists of you sorting everything out. Games like Ace Attorney are designed to keep you on your feet, by feeding the player new information and new story developments every once in a while. This is not the case with this game. In fact, one could simply finish this game by asking every suspect every question and using every available command in the game: eventually you will reach the end. In that aspect, this game can feel very lacking.
If you do really keep up with all the various leads the game feeds you though, you're given a very unique experience. Most mystery games put emphasis on story developments, and the sense of wonder of solving a mystery. J.B. Harold - Murder Club is more 'realistic', in the sense that it puts emphasis on a policeman's legwork: you solve the Bill Robbins murder by good old fashioned questioning of each and every suspect, and checking on their alibis and motives. It's a very minimalistic adventure game, but it works strangely enough. This sober approach is also seen in later in the game: you need to collect enough evidence before you're able to get search warrants from the prosecutor or bring suspects in to the police station for questioning. The overall mystery plot is nothing particularly fancy, but it works in the context of the game, and I found it entertaining.
It's interesting the series is titled J.B Harold though, because J.B. is pretty much non-existent in the game. The character rarely appears on the screen himself, and you never see his dialogue lines, only those of his conversation partners. Bland isn't the right word, it's simply that he appears so very little on screen there's little to say about him.
Overall though, J.B. Harold - Murder Club is an interesting and original mystery adventure, but it can easily turn into a just-click-on-every-command game, so the player does need to make some effort to keep themselves interested in the story. If you manage to, the game turns into a distinctive mystery game, which really makes you feel like you're slowly uncovering a complex murder case. Some older versions of this game have been released in English, though the version I played, the Nintendo DS port, is not available in English. The sequel was also ported to the DS, so I might pick that game up too some time.
Original Japanese title(s): 『刑事J.B.ハロルドの事件簿 殺人倶楽部』