Thursday, January 16, 2014

Turnabout Corner

華やかな夢なんて 持ちたくはない
 断ち切った過去になど 縛られたくない 
飾らない人生を生きて行く 明日がある限り 
「明日を解く鍵」 (樋口琴路)

I don't want to hold on brilliant dreams
I don't want to be tied up by the severed past
I want to live a careless life, as long as there's a tomorrow

"The Key to Solve Tomorrow" (Higuchi Kotoji)

At this rate, this month might end without any reviews on books, only on other media!

Shinjuku. One of the most crowded districts in Tokyo. Famous for the gigantic underground maze that is Shinjuku Station. The big TV screen mounted on the Studio Alta building in front of the west exit of the station is one of the more recognizable meeting locations in the whole of Japan. And walk a bit deeper into the district from that exit and you'll get to Kabukichou, center of night-time entertainment and yakuza territory. Shinjuku is full of dreams and despair, of life and death and also the home of the private detective Jinguuji Saburou and his assistent Youko. Three cases manage to find their way to the Jinguuji Detective Agency in Tantei Jinguuji Saburou: Mikan no Rupo ("Detective Jinguuji Saburou: The Unfinished Report"). Jinguuji is sent a key by a journalist friend, asking him to hang on to it for a while, but Jinguuji has no time to find out more about it, because the police has (unofficially) asked his help in a serial murder case with foreigner victims. Youko is meanwhile busy with a case of a disappeared husband who had been working in Shinjuku. But it seems like that these three cases aren't completely unrelated after all...

Tantei Jinguuji Saburou is a long-running hardboiled detective adventure game series and basically the only thing I'm still using the hardboiled tag for. The series started out on the Famicom (NES) and did quite well, as it saw no less than four different games on that system. But the series never appeared on the Super Famicom (SNES) for some sinister reason, so when the fifth game in the series, Mikan no Rupo, finally appeared on the Saturn and PlaySation, it had skipped a whole generation of gaming. But it was still our beloved Jinguuji. Mostly. The art design has made a weird jump to City Hunter-esque designs (thankfully revised in Yume no Owari ni), but the jazz music (now in actual CD quality, instead of the Famicom synthesizer!) is fantastic.

And yes, Tantei Jinguuji Saburou music will appear in Music to be Murdered by.

As for the story of Mikan no Rupo, it's pretty good, though quite short. The Tantei Jinguuji Saburou games are often shakai-ha type stories, detective stories with some social commentary. It fits the hardboiled detective theme, with Jinguuji moving around in both the 'open world' and the underworld and witnessing quite a lot of social problems. Mikan no Rupo in particular deals with the social circumstances of immigrant workers and discrimination, themes that would reappear in later games (for example in one of the titles included in Tantei Jinguuji Saburou: Akai Chou). There is no puzzle-solving (neither mentally nor in a gameplay-sense) in the game, so as a player you're more along for the ride. It's an entertaining story, presented in a (mostly) attractive way.

Mostly, I say, because it does has a bit of problems. The flags you have to activate in progress in a story are sometimes really strange (oh, so I have to smoke three times instead of twice? I have to talk to those people in a particular order?). It's not as bad as in the first game (where smoking too much can result in a game over), but still, it's something they should smoothed out a bit (though I have to admit, the fantastic sequel Yume no Owari ni had the same problems). There are also strange sections where you control Jinguuji directly (something that was only done in the first game), but you're dropped in these action scenes with little explanation, and they are more frustrating then fun (like the section where you just have to check every bookcase...).

Something interesting pops up in the final part of the game though. Here we have a fairly straightforward hardboiled detective story, dealing with immigrants and yakuza gangs and such... and then we're suddenly confronted with what appears to be a kind of locked room murder. Sure, the murder is solved quite quickly, and the trick behind needs a bit of work, because it's a bit silly as it is now, but still, we're given a classic problem! The Tantei Jinguuji Saburou series has always been a bit strange like that, actually. Audiovisually, the series breathes hardboiled, from the art by Terada Katsuya to the jazzy tunes of the soundtrack. But even the first game, Shinjuku Chuuou Kouen Satsujin Jiken basically consisted of an impossible crime in the park, and while later games usually feature less incredible crimes, there's often enough space in their plots to present a proper, interesting orthodox whodunnit or howdunnit with very little rewriting. For some reason the plots are always presented a lot easier than they need to be though. Tantei Jinguuji Saburou always moves between several modes of storytelling and it never seems to settle on one final choice. Not a problem per se, but it does mean that the atmosphere of the games can differ quite a bit depending on the title.

I would say that Yume no Owari ni is a much better Tantei Jinguuji Saburou game, if we compare it to another title of the same console generation, but it's not bad. You can get it for practically nothing second hand (the games have been removed from the PlayStation archives, sadly enough) and you won't be disappointed if you liked other titles in the series.

Original Japanese title(s): 『探偵神宮寺三郎 未完のルポ』

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