Monday, February 25, 2013

Haunted House Hang-Up

 「恋人同士だったわけであるまいし、いい加減、ふっきらなければ。いつでも学生時代の思い出を引きずるなて、女々しすぎる ―われながら、そう思う」
『真かまいたちの夜 11人目の訪問者(サスペクト)』

"It wasn't like we were dating. I have to stop thinking about my student days and get over it like a man, I thought"
"True Night of the Kamaitachi - The Eleventh Suspect"

March will probably be a bit light on review posts, because I'll be moving back to the Netherlands in a few weeks, meaning my reading schedule will suffer a bit. Then again, I haven't been posting in a regular schedule since... quite some time anyway. It wouldn't be much different from previous months, if I were to post four or five reviews in the last week of March, I guess..

Readers of this blog might remember that I absolutely love the Kamaitachi no Yoru ("Night of the Kamaitachi") games. The first game introduced us to the duo of Tooru and Mari, who find themselves trapped with a brutal murderer in a pension cut off from the outside world because of a snowstorm. Tooru and Mari returned also for the second and third game, but with the story of this duo (and the accompanying cast) finished in the third entry, Chunsoft was free to create a new cast and setting for the latest Kamaitachi no Yoru.

Shin Kamaitachi no Yoru 11 Ninme no Suspect ("True Night of the Kamaitachi - The Eleventh Suspect") starts with aspiring young writer Sakamaki Kaito traveling to the prefecture of Iwate to gather information for his newest book. He's booked for a stay at the pension Brownie, which lies somewhere far away in the snowy mountains (of course). At Brownie, Kaito is reunited with Tachibana Kyouka, the girl whom he has been in love with since college and who (secretly) serves as his writing muse (in fact, Kaito only came to Iwate, because Kyouka's parental home is here). Kyouko in return is here in her function as the editor (and aspiring reporter) for a travel magazine. Kaito sees this as a chance to rekindle his friendship with Kyouka, but this wouldn't be a Kamaitachi no Yoru game if something didn't prevent the couple from getting closer: a dead body is found in the bathing area. And disappears. Only to reappear again. With the roads blocked because of the snow and the strange phenomenon of Brownie having eleven guests, even though only ten guests made reservations, a night of fright starts for Kaito and Kyouka.

Kamaitachi no Yoru X3 introduced a complex storyline zapping system, but Shin Kamaitachi no Yoru is in many ways back to the basics. We're back to the simple sound-novel system of having text on the screen (accompanied by backgrounds and silhouettes as the only visuals) and the player is presented with choices at several points, which determine how the story develops. Make the right choices and you unravel the mystery, make the bad choices and you end up dead. Probably. This was done expertly in the first Kamaitachi no Yoru, where it starts out as a 'normal' detective game, but make the wrong deductions and the wrong choices, and everyone starts suspecting each other, usually resulting in splatter-horror. Yet these bad endings don't come out of nowhere and they usually contain small hints that lead you to the real ending.

Which is maybe why I didn't really like Shin Kamaitachi no Yoru. It is the only sound-novel I've played until now where I actually got the real ending in one go. Without seeing one bad end. Normally, you'd be happy with such results, but seeing bad endings is one of the more amusing points of the Kamaitachi no Yoru games. You could make an argument then for me to purposely aiming for bad endings, but that isn't fun either. I want to get fooled, to be tricked into a bad ending. Not trying to die on purpose. This point is also related to how easy this time the story was: I had actually already solved the case before we even found the body (can you call it solving then?), because of the all-too obvious hint that pointed at the murderer. I kept hoping that it wouldn't end up the way I suspected it would, but no such luck.
It's of course somewhat of a contradiction, like Takumi Shuu noted: with mysteries, you want to solve the case yourself at one hand, but you want to get baffled by the case too. You want to be able solve it, and also not. It is hard to really solve this conundrum: Takumi Shuu tried to solve it by constantly presenting the player with new, contradicting situations, allowing you to solve, get baffled and solve again. Novels usually only have one solution, giving them only one chance to baffle the reader, which is also the one chance of giving the reader the pleasure of solving case (if they managed it). And I think that Kamaitachi no Yoru coped well with the conundrum by constantly trying to lead you to bad endings (thus baffling / surprising the reader several times), but you do get that triumphant feeling readers also seek when you finally reach that good ending. With Shin Kamaitachi no Yoru, I feel like I missed out on a big part of what makes the series so good.

The things I did like? The original Kamaitachi no Yoru had a slight supernatural tone to it, with people suggesting that 'sickle weasles',  youkai, might have commited the murder. The second game also had this supernatural tone to the story, but the third game got rid of that. This time, we're presented with the legends surrounding good and evil zashiki warashi, which is a really fun theme and actually weaven quite good in the story. Also, I liked the new heroine Kyouka a lot more than old protagonist Mari. Kaito on the other hand is even worse with interacting with his love-interest than old protagonist Tooru, which can be a bit tiring.

Shin Kamaitachi no Yoru is released on both the PlayStation 3 and the PlayStation Vita (I borrowed a Vita), which actually shouldn't really matter for a game that is mostly text. But however Chunsoft felt a need to modernize things. In a bad way. First up is the 3D search mode, that forces players out of the text and has them looking for suspicious spots in a location. This is a first in the series and implemented in quite a bad way (let's ignore the fact that the Vita version is set default at a 3D search mode that uses the gyroscope!): you have no idea what you're supposed to look for and you only get one chance to investigate something. You're just out of luck if you chose to look at the table instead of the chair, even though there is absolutely nothing that would indicate why one item would be more worthy of some attention than the other.

Second problem is the use of voice actors to voice some lines of the characters. The text in Kamaitachi no Yoru is divided in dialogue lines spoken by the characters and the narration, and dialogue lines are often voiced, but not always. Which is really distracting. I'd rather they'd not use voice actors, as I've always felt Kamaitachi no Yoru was closer to a book than to any voiced medium, but if you do choose to use voice actors, voice all lines instead of 70%.

And to make it a real product of its time, Chunsoft also decided that you can download extra content for some extra money. The term DLC (downloadable contents) might not be as familiar to mystery readers as to gamers, but it is ridiculous I'd have to pay extra for scenarios which in previous entries were simply part of the whole package!

Overall a disappointing Kamaitachi no Yoru. This is not the way the series should go, and I hope Chunsoft takes a good look at what they want to do with this series.

Original Japanese title(s): 『真かまいたちの夜 11人目の訪問者(サスペクト)』

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