Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Player on the Other Side

「え~皆さんの前に登場してはや5年、これまでさまざまな犯人と出会ってきました。え~、発作的にしろ計画的にしろ彼らには犯罪 を犯すだけの理由がありました。今回登場する犯人はそう言った意味ではもっとも危険なタイプな犯人と言えるかもしれません。ん~、すなわち、犯罪をゲーム としてしか考えていない人物・・・・・手強そうです。」
『古畑任三郎: 最も危険なゲーム・前編』

"Ehm, in the five years I have stood before you all, I have come across all sorts of criminals. Eehm, whether it was done impulsively or planned, they all had some reason to commit their crime. And that's why this episode's criminal could be considered the most dangerous type of criminal. Hmmm, what I mean is, a person who sees crime as nothing more than a game... It's going be tough.",
"Furuhata Ninzaburou: The Most Dangerous Game - Part One"

(Yes, I'm really grasping now with these introducing quotes.)

If you don't want to read the book, you watch the movie. And in Japan, you apparently play the game. As I was having problems getting into Yokomizo Seishi's Yatsu Haka Mura ("The Village of Eight Gravestones"), one of the books in the Kindaichi Kousuke series, I actually bought the Nintendo DS game based on the book to cheat my way out of the book. Of course, this sort of backfired, because it was the most boring game I've played in ages. I love playing adventure games and I really don't mind the lack of interactivity in game series like Phoenix Wright, but at least I have to think there. It makes you wonder why in heaven's sake the developers of Yatsu Haka Mura added a scratch-scratch system (hint system that involves scratching your head till... dandruff falls. Yes. It's a Kindaichi thing), because no hints were needed. Ever. The game also abridged the story slightly, making me want to read the book anyway. So Yatsu Haka Mura failed as a game and as a book. But it did have cool graphics. Of course, anything that resembles Okami in art is just awesome.

The story though, is one of the defining Japanese mysteries and really enjoyable, involving a curse laid down by a party of 8 slain samurai on a small rural mountain village (with Cave Labyrinth(TM)), strange happenings surrounding the heir of the rich Tajimi family and It Was Based On A True Story. The True Story of a massacre in the village of Tsuyama. Be it in a movie or a TV-special, the 32 killings murder spree in the book has brought us one of the spookiest scenes ever involving a man running around with flashlights tied to his head. One phrase from the '77 movie, "Tatari jaa!" ("'Tis the curse!"), apparently ended up being one of the defining words of that year (just like how this year Japan has been defined by konkatsu, 'marriage hunting'). I honestly can't even begin to imagine how a sentence like 'Tis the curse!", a line from a detective, actually made it to being such an important word, but that's Japan for ya.

A much more enjoyable game was Tantei Jinguuji Saburou: Shiroi Kage no Shoujo ("Detective Jinguuji Saburou: The White Phantom Girl"), the GameBoy Advance entry of a long-running, but outside of Japan hardly known detective game series. It's actually a hardboiled detective story, but like I said before: for me, if hardboiled detectives are presented with some music to listen to and not just as plain texts, but with something more to look at, I suddenly love it.

I don't think the detective novel is a very good medium to address social problems, but it happens.
Of course, the hardboiled detective can be an excellent vehicle to come across such problems because of his natural habitat (The Less Fortuned Part of Society). Chandler has been known to address social problems in his novels and from the 1950's on, starting with Matsumoto's work, the most important subgenre in Japanese mysteries has actually been the social detective. As such, I was not very surprised to see such problems as bullying, child abuse, homeless people and coin locker babies back in the Jinguuji games. And I really don't mind.

But of course, the Jinguuji games also offer great jazzy tunes and great stories which actually give me the chance to think at times and are at times plotted more like traditional puzzle detectives than a hardboiled detective, so Jinguuji's a bit more of like the best of all worlds. Oh, and no story about Jinguuji Saburou should ever be made without the mention that every game in the series features a button solely, solely for smoking. Yes. You can smoke in Jinguuji. And you will. Just because it's hardboiled.

And yes, even the games I buy to play when I'm not reading books are detectives.

Addendum: Discworld Noir is a great game! I have a bad habit of never finishing games and this was one of those games of which I hadn't seen the ending. I actually started it yeaaaaars ago, but I never got around to actually finishing it, till now that is. Anyway, very witty film noir hardboiled writing and some great sleuthing moments (the use of a notepad instead of a normal inventory system is genious as well as that other system halfway through the game) makes this one very good detective game, firmly set in the world of the City Watch Discworld books.

And yes, the only reason I started with the Discworld books is because of this game. And it's also why I only enjoy the City Watch novels. 

Original Japanese title(s): 『八墓 村』、『探偵神宮寺三郎 白い影の少女』


  1. Speaking of Okami, I assume you've heard that a sequel is in the makes? I still wonder what on earth made them choose the DS though.

    But hopefully it will spawn a limited edition DSi, so that I have a reason to buy one.

  2. Well, the DS isn't that strange a platform for Okamiden, considering the stylus ≈ brush, right? And judging from the screenshots,it seems like a must-play.

    Don't know 'bout the DSi though. I don't really want one, but two new "Tantei Jinguuji Saburou" games are to be released as DSi Ware, and there is a "Gyakuten Kenji" (Taiho-kun branded) DSi available, so... yeah, contemplating.

  3. The stylus = brush is a very logical choice, I just wonder about Okami's art like graphics on a DS screen.

    And Taiho-kun is evil. You know that.

  4. You should pick up "Gyakuten Kenji", which features a themepark with Taiho-kun, Taiho-chan and Waruho-kun!