Saturday, June 13, 2015

Deep Blue Bloom

Blue,over the Blue
それは やさしさへと 
「Blue, Over the Blue」 (『探偵神宮寺三郎 Kind of Blue』より)

Blue, over the blue
Everything changes
That's why it's okay to cry out
Towards gentleness 
"Blue, Over the Blue" (From: Detective Jinguuji Saburou: Kind of Blue)

Oh, wow, I just realized I've now gone through all main entries of the Detective Jinguuji Saburou series!  I still remember when I first discovered the series: I happened to be in Japan in the summer of 2007, just when the 11th game was released and I picked it up in a whim. Have been a big fan of the series since. I have reviewed a lot, but not all of the games on the blog, so I might write a big master post about the series and all the games in the future.

Tantei Jinguuji Saburou series
The Shinjuku Central Park Murder Case (1987) [Nintendo Famicom Disk System]
The Unfinished Reportage (1996) [Sony PlayStation / SEGA Saturn]
At the End of the Dream (1998) [Sony PlayStation / SEGA Saturn]
Before the Light Fades (1999) [Sony PlaySation]
Innocent Black (2002) [Sony PlayStation 2] 
Kind of Blue (2004) [Sony PlayStation 2]
The White Phantom Girl (2005) [Nintendo GameBoy Advance]
Ashes and Diamonds (2009) [Sony PlayStation Portable]
The Red Butterfly (2010) [Nintendo DS]
Rondo of Revenge (2012) [Nintendo 3DS]

Business has not been well for the Jinguuji Detective Agency in the four months after the events of Innocent Black, which separated private detective Jinguuji Saburou from his assistant Youko. One day, Jinguuji is hired by Imaizumi, a young captain of the Kantou Meijigumi crime syndicate and long-time personal friend of Jinguuji. Imaizumi hopes to get some dirt on Gamou, a veteran gangster who recently returned to the crime syndicate after serving seven years in prison for murder. Gamou was expecting an instant-prison-promotion, but because things are not going as fast as he had hoped, Gamou's been making a lot of trouble lately, under the name of the Kantou Meijigumi. Jinguuji is to find out what Gamou's been up to and get Imaizumi some leverage to get Gamou out of the way. Meanwhile, Jinguuji is also hired by the elderly members of a jazz band: their leader Eddy is in the hospital and he has been mumbling a certain song in his coma. The members want to find that song and let Eddy hear it one last time. The search for the legendary song "Blue, Over the Blue" in the 2004 PlayStation 2 videogame Tantei Jinguuji Saburou: Kind of Blue ("Detective Jinguuji Saburou: Kind of Blue") is a lot more difficult than expected though and full with encounters with new enemies and old friends.

Kind of Blue is the ninth game in the Detective Jinguuji Saburou series, and the direct sequel to Innocent Black (2002). In fact, these two are the only games in the whole series that were designed right from the start to form a set and some plotpoints from Innocent Black are not resolved until Kind of Blue, which is unique in the series (the games usually features standalone stories). The story of Kind of Blue however is not as tightly planned as that of Innocent Black, I think. Like most Detective Jinguuji Saburou games, the plot starts out fairly innocently: the investigation into Gamou's side-business and looking for the song "Blue, Over the Blue". But then the plot suddenly tries to tackle a very big problem (probably the biggest in the history of the series), only to back out at the last moment. I'm almost certain that because of Developer Circumstances and Budgets, a large portion of the original plot was cut, because it was rather obvious they were working towards something really big, only to finish it with a very short "oh, by the way, remember that one thing? It's solved". The rest of the game revolves mainly around the search for "Blue, Over the Blue", which is definitely a great tune, but this investigation is rather slow (even if it does involve murder later on). The overall mystery plot is captivating though (even with the slow pacing) and despite the rather bleak, hopeless tone at the start of the story, Kind of Blue manages to leave the player with a good feeling at the end of the game.

Innocent Black (2002) was very controversial because the plot writers somehow thought that sending Jinguuji's assistant Youko away would be fun. Youko, who is just the second-most important character in the series and had been around since the very first game in 1987. Her return in Kind of Blue was thus not very surprising. But now that I know what happens in both Innocent Black and Kind of Blue, I think it's obvious the writers sent Youko away in Innocent Black, in order to tell the story of Kind of Blue, which really has a blue and sad atmosphere. But sadly, this also involved writing Youko as a character not at all like she was portrayed in earlier games and the end result is not nearly as neat as the writers had hoped for, I think. I'm just glad she's back for the rest of the series.

Innocent Black was the first game in the series developed by WorkJam and I mentioned in the review I thought the game a bit too linear. Kind of Blue is an improvement in that respect. The money system is not even worth mentioning (it's basically an unneccesary system), but Kind of Blue was the first game in the series to introduce the Talk Profile System: an interrogating mechanic where you need to coax people in giving you information, for example by sweet-talking them, threatening them, or pointing out contradictions in their tales. Every opppenent requires a different approach, and it is actually really fun finding out how to get everyone to spill the beans. It really makes you feel like you're one of those hardboiled detectives who outwit their opponenets with fast talking and thinking, coupled with a slight hint of Holmes' observational powers. Since its first appearance in Kind of Blue, the Talk Profile System has appeared on-and-off in following Detective Jinguuji Saburou games.
The soundtrack of Kind of Blue deserves a special mention. While jazz has always been a big influence on the Detective Jinguuji Saburou games, this is the first time the story also involves jazz and the title song "Blue, Over the Blue" is truly a great number. You'll hear it a number of times in the course of the story, as you slowly find more bits and pieces of the composition, but the song never bores. The game does feature a lot of tracks taken from Innocent Black though, strenghtening the idea that these two games form one set together.

Overall though, I think Innocent Black is better than Kind of Blue though. While Innocent Black was less 'gamey' (as in: fewer game mechanics), I thought the overall story and pacing was better than those of Kind of Blue. The one thing that Innocent Black really has against it is the fact the plot is incomplete, as it was obviously produced with the sequel in mind to resolve some plotpoints. Kind of Blue is better than Innocent Black as a videogame (more interesting game mechanics) and manages to restore the faults of Innocent Black's plot, but the main story feels incomplete, and the elements that did make it have very slow pacing.
Tantei Jinguuji Saburou: Kind of Blue definitely managed to improve at some points compared to the previous game, but story-wise, it was not as tightly plotted as Innocent Black and also less coherent. Taken together, Innocent Black and Kind of Blue form an interesting set within the long-running series, as I will agree that the developers did had the guts to try something new with the status-quo of the protagonists in these two games, though I can't say it was done successfully. I think that in my mind, Innocent Black and Kind of Blue will forever remain games that will be labeled "interesting stories, that sadly enough were heading for the wrong direction".

Original Japanese title(s): 『探偵神宮寺三郎 Kind of Blue』


  1. Thank you for your blog posts about the Jinguuji Saburou games! I'm still sad that "Memories of the Past" got the treatment it did and was the only game released in English. But, I'm thankful I can at least read about the series' history and listen to its treasure trove of music!

    1. Indeed, Jake Hunter' rather rough release history certainly didn't help. I enjoyed the first DS game (Memories of the Past) a lot, but it was also the weakest of the DS games and I think a second English release would have shown a lot more of the potential of the series.

      At least the fantastic music is something that needs no translation/localization!