Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Cyber Sleuth

すべてハイになっちゃて 爆発 バトって(イェイ!イェイ!イェイ!イェイ!)

Everything becomes high and explodes in a boom (Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!) 
"Great! Turnabout!" (Kamen Joshi)

Riajuu is a word in Japanese internet slang meaning "someone with a fulfilling live in the real world". This usually means having a significant other/good job/many friends/etc, and is obviously the opposite from people who stay cooped up in their home all day staring at a screen or a book on their own. Of course, only people who are not riajuu themselves actually use the word, usually with a tone of irritation/jealousy. An often heard phrase for example is riajuu, bakuhatsu shiro (riajuu, blow up!), often jokingly aimed at couples.

In the world of Net High (Vita, 2015), internet society has blended completely with "real" society: the persona you take on on the internet and SNS like Tweeter is the one people actually perceive. The society has also become a class society revolving around riajuu. Your riajuu level is determined by the amount of followers you have on Tweeter. High ranking riajuu get all kinds of privileges, while people in Rank G can't even use public transport. If you have no followers at all, your Tweeter account becomes a zombie account, and you're stripped of all civilian privileges. Recently, a mysterious entity has introduced the concept of ENJ Battles in this world: if you can prove your opponent isn't the fabulous riajuu they claim to be, you can steal their followers (and go up in ranking yourself). One day, the lowest-of-the-low ranking protagonist witnesses how "That Girl", a person he admired, was utterly destroyed by ENJ Battles, and with the help of a special AI sidekick, he decides to participate in ENJ Battles himself to defeat all the riajuu who only think of getting higher in rankings, and to break up this twisted society.

This blog is focused on mystery fiction, and usually it's not difficult to determine what fits within the scope of the blog, or not, but there are the occassional posers. Net High, a videogame released late 2015 for the PS Vita, is one of them. From the summary above, I think few would associate it with mystery fiction. The outlines was that of a science fiction story, with a background in Japanese internet culture, right? Well, yes, but the problem lies with this question: what is mystery fiction? Note that I don't say crime fiction, because there are plently of mystery stories that don't feature crime. In the essence, I think mystery fiction needs to be about a mystery, and the (logical) road to solving that mystery. And with logical, I mean the road to solving the mystery must make sense within the universe of the work. And if we follow this line, Net High definitely does belong on this blog.

Net High is all about exposing the opponents for the frauds they are. The game features mechanics very close to the Ace Attorney series. During an ENJ battle, the opponent brags about how much of a riajuu they are. The protagonist (named "Me") on the other hand has to point out contradictions in the opponent's statements with the help of gossip he gathered before the battle. Like in Columbo, you start out with pointing out little mistakes, which eventually add up to something big. You say you don't eat the food of 'the common people'? But why is there a photograph of gyuudon on your Tweeter account? The final goal of each ENJ Battle is to reveal the True Identity of your opponent. As said above, in Net High everyone appears to other people in the form of the persona they have taken on online. However, by slowly making cracks in this image, you can eventually reveal their true nature. As you progress on the riajuu ranking, you also find out more about how this society came to be.

Mystery games not about solving murders are actually quite rare, and that's where Net High really shines, as it manages to present the player with a true mystery game experience, without any real 'crime' element. Net High is very easy, even after the patch they had to release to make the game slightly more difficut. Finding evidence and locating the contradictions in your opponents' brag-fests isn't difficult at all. But I really enjoyed the game. As a mystery about uncovering the true persona of your opponents, Net High is a really entertaining, and satisfying game and can thus be considered a true mystery game with a very original setting.
Nowdays, much of people's life occurs online and there have of course been many instances where not-so-nice people have used online information to get to a person in "real life". In Net High, you're the one doing this internet-sleuthing and while it first it might feel a bit stalker-y, the tone of the game luckily keeps it from going into too serious territories (most of the time, you will uncover a big, but fairly amusing secret). And like in Ace Attorney, part of the fun is watching how your opponents break down as they're being exposed.

For those interested in Japanese pop culture: this game is filled with internet references. Example: the ENJ Battles' presentation is based on NicoNico Douga's video player (the largest Japanese video sharing website), with comments 'floating' across the screen. And for those who are interested, but aren't well-versed in net-lingo yet: don't worry, most of the terms are explained through a sort of dictionary function. So those studying Japanese might even find the game handy as a sort of introducion to Japanese internet slang (and other pop culture references).

On the whole, Net High is not a particularly pretty game, or a game with a very memorable soundtrack. It's also a fairly simple game. But when the story and the characters are good, and the easy gameplay is still satisfying, well then, that's all that matters, right? Net High is a mystery game I really enjoyed, because of its original setting. What more do I need to say?

Original Japanese title(s): 『ネットハイ』


  1. So this is Phoenix Wright made by Michael Bay

  2. why do you think it's not pretty ? I think the art is fun :p

    1. The artstyle is good, but graphically, it never becomes impressive; there is very little animation, and it's mostly still sprites that get moved around a bit.

  3. I heard this game flopped in Japan

    why is that ?

    1. I'm not sure whether it flopped. I very much doubt this was meant to be an AAA-release, and going by the price of Amazon of both new and used at this moment, it's quite good at retaining value (when something *really* flops, you'll see the price on Amazon taking a good dive). Most reviews I saw are also moderately positive about the game.

  4. I think you should add a light novel tag

    just a suggestion

    1. It would pretty useless though, because I basically haven't written any reviews on light novels on the blog yet, with the Zaregoto series being the one borderline case (and works like Ace Attorney - Turnabout Idol and the Detective Conan novels aren't really light novels as per the usual (Japanese) definition).

    2. isn't marumarumarumaru a light novel ?

      it's because I was searching for this review that I wished there was a tag for that

      oh and I remember another one with a teenage girl who wants to be a singer idol or something :/

    3. Neither Marumarumarumarumarumarumarumaru Satsujin Jiken nor Seiyuu Tantei Yurin no Jikenbo are light novels though. The former is a 'normal' mystery novel, while the latter is 'simply' a novel for a younger public.

      Not all novels aimed at a younger public are light novels (and not even all novels that feature illustrations). The closest review I have done on a light novel is for the film of All-Round Appraiser Q I think: the original series is a light novel series.

      But to be honest, I don't really think I'd use the tag even if I'd review more light novels, as I don't differentiate the reviews on audience anyway (age/original language); I only differentiate on medium. Also, the tag-system of Blogspot only allows for a limited number of characters and even now, I sometimes have to choose between choosing tags, because I'm going over the character limit, so I'm actually trying to keep the number of tags as low as possible.

    4. oh, okay then