Friday, September 29, 2017

A Frightened Hound Meets Demons Underground

Now Garm howls loud | before Gnipahellir, 
The fetters will burst, | and the wolf run free; 
Much do I know, | and more can see 
Of the fate of the gods, | the mighty in fight
Völuspá (Bellows translation)

It was in the year of 1987 that the world first got to know the ever-smoking private detective Jinguuji Saburou in the Famicom Disk System videogame Shinjuku Chuuou Kouen Satsujin Jiken ("The Shinjuku Central Park Murder Case"). It was a hardboiled detective adventure game that, for that period, was surprisingly aimed at an older audience, as the investigation into the mysterious murder of a woman found in the middle of Shinjuku Central Park would bring protagonist Jinguuji and the player to the seedier side of town. While a kindhearted, if somewhat silent man, Jinguuji would not stand for injustice and had the guts to face yakuza gang if the case demanded it. Three other games followed on the Famicom (some of them written by Nojima Kazushige, best known for various Final Fantasy titles), and while the series never scored a real hit, the Tantei Jinguuji Saburou ("Detective Jinguuji Saburou) series somehow managed to survive various game console generations, with releases on hardware like the PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable and the Nintendo 3DS.

The series not only managed to outlive several console generations, it even manage to outlive two companies. The series was originally conceived by Data East, but they went bankrupt in 2003, with the intellectual property moving to WorkJam. WorkJam then released new games in the series at a fairly steady pace of once every two, three years, but this came to a stop five years ago. Earlier this year, Ark System Works announced they had gotten possession of this series now from WorkJam, which was  just in time too for the thirtiest anniversary of the Tantei Jinguuji Saburou series.

Tantei Jinguuji Saburou series 
1: The Shinjuku Central Park Murder Case (1987) [Nintendo Famicom Disk System]
5: The Unfinished Reportage (1996) [Sony PlayStation / SEGA Saturn] 
6: At the End of the Dream (1998) [Sony PlayStation / SEGA Saturn] 
7: Before the Light Fades (1999) [Sony PlaySation] 
8: Innocent Black (2002) [Sony PlayStation 2]  
9: Kind of Blue (2004) [Sony PlayStation 2]  
10: The White Phantom Girl (2005) [Nintendo GameBoy Advance] 
14: Ashes and Diamonds (2009) [Sony PlayStation Portable] 
15: The Red Butterfly (2010) [Nintendo DS] 
16: Rondo of Revenge (2012) [Nintendo 3DS] 
17: Ghost of the Dusk (2017) [Nintendo 3DS]
18: Prism of Eyes (2018) [Nintendo Switch/Sony PlayStation 4]

The Ghost of Shinjuku (2006) 
A Bright Future (2007)

Tantei Jinguuji Saburou: Ghost of the Dusk ("Detective Jinguuji Saburou: Ghost of the Dusk", 2017) is the seventeenth main series entry in the adventure game series and meant to be a thirtieth anniversary game. The main scenario is the titular Ghost of the Dusk, which starts with our hardboiled detective hanging out in his usual bar when he overhears an agitated man saying he found a dead body inside an abandoned mansion in Shinjuku.  With his interests piqued, Jinguuji decides to check up on the story and indeed, he discovers a dead homeless man inside the decrepit mansion. While at first it appears it was just the man's health that did him in, Jinguuji soon discovers that there might be more behind the man's death. As he digs into the unfortunate death, he also becomes acquainted with the current owner of the abandonded mansion, who lives in a small shed on the mansion grounds. The owner, a former doctor, confides to Jinguuji the mansion is cursed, which is why he doesn't live there himself and the curse soon proves itself to be true as more people die on the premises. Jinguuji has faced the most dangerous gangsters and killers in his long career as a private detective in Shinjuku, but can he also win against a decades-old curse?

The sixteenth entry in the Tantei Jinguuji Saburou series was released five years ago, and while Fukushuu no Rondo ("Rondo of Revenge") was supposed to be a work to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the series, it turned out to be a very disappointing game, with a story that at times didn't even feel like it was part of the series, and also fairly clumsy attempts at introducing new gameplay elements. In fact, the game was so bad I feared it meant the end of the series. When Ghost of the Dusk  was announced earlier this year though, it was being toted as going back to basics, going back to the roots of the series. The various key persons in the development team had all worked on the series before (most prominently, the scenario writer for 2002's Innocent Black returned), and like the older games, the focus would be on the story and the music. In that respect, I have to say Ghost of the Dusk did its job very admirably.

With the series having last for thirty years, there are just some things you expect from the series. No Tantei Jinguuji Saburou story for example would be complete without an appearance of Jinguuji's capable assistant Youko, or police inspector Kumano of the Yodobashi Police Station in Shinjuku. Fantastic jazzy music is also a must-have in this series. But the setting is also important, as the games are always set in real-life locations, most prominently the city of Shinjuku (part of Tokyo), which houses not only the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Department, but also the center of the underworld of Tokyo, with its red-light district and various gangs housing there. It was here were Fukushuu no Rondo slipped up, but luckily, Ghost of the Dusk proved to be exactly what any long-time fan of the series would want in terms of story. It starts very familiar with the discovery of the body of a homeless person. Homeless persons are very often featured in this series, as many people with no way out eventually do end up in Shinjuku, and unfortunately, they often end up as the "disposible" victims of various schemes of gangs and other nefarious parties. The Jinguuji Saburou series has always paid much attention to the helpless in Shinjuku, from the homeless, to the people who get engulfed by the underworld operating there, and is thus a form of social school mystery fiction, as it addresses problems in society in conjunction with its mystery plot. Ghost of the Dusk starts off like this too, but eventually moves towards a much bigger plot that is very satisfying to uncover. While it is definitely not a grand puzzle plot mystery , it does a good job at mixing the hardboiled mode with some minor puzzle plot tropes.

While the series had some interesting experiments with gameplay (like mechanics where you zap between various protagonists and managing assistants), the Jinguuji Saburou series has always been more focused on presenting a hardboiled mystery story than diverse gameplay, and that holds true for Ghost of the Dusk too. You'll only be using the commands to move to the next location to speak with person X or Y, which will drive the story forward, allowing you to go a different location to speak with person Z, etcetera. Most of the story is "read", rather than "played", but the stories of Jinguuji Saburou are usually interesting enough to keep the player hooked. Occasionally, you'll be prompted to interrogate suspects or find evidence in a room, but these segments are always very simple and it is impossible to fail the game or hit upon a game over screen, or even really get stuck. The simple hint system that has been in place since the first game is also still here: Jinguuji can smoke at practically all times, which will give him an idea of what to do next.

The scenario writer (Kaneko Mitsue) commented that while Ghost of the Dusk's main goal was to go back to the roots of the series, but she also wanted to feature something refreshing and new, which eventually became the focus on the cursed mansion. While country houses and mansions with hidden passages are a staple of mystery fiction, they are hard to do in a hardboiled setting, especially one that is set in the metropolis that is Shinjuku. And indeed, the setting had not been used before in the series, but Kaneko did a commendable job at integrating this trope in this series without making it feel out of place.

As a standalone story, Ghost of the Dusk is a short, but captivating scenario, but this is not the only story included in the game. While this is the seventeenth game in the main series, there exists also a spin-off series of application games originally made for cell phones (not smart phones). If one would consider the main series the "novels", than these application games would be the "short stories". Twenty-four of them were released in the past for cell phones, and twenty of them had been ported to the Nintendo DS/PlayStation Portable in the past. The final four should've been included in Fukushuu no Rondo of five years ago, but were excluded for some reason. These final four application games are included with Ghost of the Dusk. Each of them lasts for about two hours, and are even more focused on telling a story than the main scenario, but are very entertaining too.

Onihime-Den ("The Legend of the Devil Princess") starts with Jinguuji being hired by the wife of an actor who will star in a film based on the popular book The Legend of the Devil Princess. She suspects her husband is cheating on her, and wants Jinguuji to investigate him. To his surprise though, it appears the actor is cheating on his wife with.... Jinguuji's assistant Youko. Eventually, Jinguuji gets involved in an investigation into the death of an actress who died during an earlier attempt at filming The Legend of the Devil Princess. In Ai ga Yue Ni  ("Because of Love...") Jinguuji is hired by a young boy to protect his mother, who has a small bar in the backstreets of Shinjuku. She is being harrassed by land sharks, as a new building project is planned right in the block where her bar is. The story is very talky and at times it seems like the writer just wanted to vent their own thoughts on what love is, but overall an okay story. The best of the four applicatoin games is Wasurenagusa no Omoi ("The Feelings of the Forget-Me-Not"), which has Jinguuji finally fulfilling a request he was hired to do eight years ago. The story jumps between the present and eight years earlier, when Jinguuji had just started in town as a private detective, and it's great to see how different he was back then. In Yurameku Hitotose ("Wavering Hitotose"), Jinguuji becomes friends with the two young owners of the antique store Hitotose, and just as the right time, as he is also hired to locate a Buddhist statue which was stolen from a monesetery in Thailand, which has found its way to Tokyo. The story is a bit predictable, but entertaining nonetheless. Also a note: various characters from this short story return in Fukushuu no Rondo (which makes it even more strange that Yurameku Hitotose wasn't included with Fukushuu no Rondo).

Ghost of the Dusk also includes one mini scenario where Jinguuji and Youko solve a murder at a school festival, as well as a download code for a special 3DS port of the second Famicom game, Yokohamakou Renzoku Satsujin Jiken ("The Yokohama Harbor Serial Murder Case"). While the port is more-or-less the same as the original, the sprite artwork of the characters has been very slightly adjusted.

It was reported Ghost of the Dusk would get an English localization by the way, which would make it the second Jinguuji Saburou game to come overseas. The first game on the Nintendo DS was released in the United States under the localized title Jake Hunter, but it is unclear whether this new release of Ghost of the Dusk will feature the same localized title (or even all the features included in the original Japanese release).

Tantei Jinguuji Saburou: Ghost of the Dusk was overall though a very entertaining entry in the long-running series. Yes, it is a very lineair experience, with little input asked from the player, but these games have always been more about enjoying the human drama stories, the atmosphere and the music and Ghost of the Dusk does a great job at showing why this series has its fans and why it has lasted for so long in a very volatile industry. Ghost of the Dusk's task was to bring the players a good old Jinguuji Saburou experience, and it did precisely that, but the developers have already hinted they might want introduce more engaging game mechanics in the future, and I do hope they eventually come closer to earlier games like Tomoshibi ga Kienu Ma ni, which I consider the pinnacle of the series.

Original Japanese title(s): 『探偵 神宮寺三郎 Ghost of the Dusk』

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Detective Chronicles

「忘れ咲き」(Garnet Crow)

Before I knew, I had come to this nostalgic riverside
Or imagined how my dream last night would continue
"Blooming Late" (Garnet Crow)

By the time this review will be posted, the horrible season of hay fever will be long, long gone: that's the only comfort I have while writing this text as the tears caused by those accursed pollen are blocking my sight.

Most of the novels I’ve reviewed by author Ashibe Taku have featured the lawyer Morie Shunsaku as the protagonist. He is a somewhat reserved character (some might even say nondescript), but he has certainly made a reputation for himself as not only a capable attorney, but also as gifted amateur detective. In fact, now I think about it, most of the stories I’ve read he’s not hired for his reputation in the court, but rather as a problem solver. Morie was not always an attorney however. In the short story collection Tantei Sengen - Morie Shunsaku no Jikenbo (“Declaration of Detection - The Case Files of Morie Shunsaku”, 1998), we follow Morie Shunsaku through various phases of his life. And while he might a student in one story and a reporter in the other, the tales all have one thing in common: Morie Shunsaku wil solve any impossible crime that crosses his path.

Tantei Sengen was originally published in 1998 (my pocket edition dates from 2005) as not only the first short story collection featuring Morie Shunsaku, but also Ashibe’s very first short story collection ever. The stories collected in this book therefore originate from the period between Ashibe’s debut as a professional writer until this publication, with the oldest story dating from 1991 and the most recent one included written especially for this collection. While the stories were originally written completely independently, Ashibe decided to edit and rewrite all the stories slightly, and added “Author’s Notes” after each tale, which gives the book a consistent feel, rather than feeling like a handful of random stories.

As I noted above, in the books I have read up until now, Morie was already an attorney, but this book delves more into his past, as we first meet him as a high school student en then follow him all the way through hiss life until he’s become an attorney. The stories are printed in chronological order for Morie (not of original publication date) and thus show an interesting look at the background of a character who is usually actually very nondescript in his own stories. I for one had never imagined him as a reporter, so it was quite funny to see him in different roles compared to how I’ve known him up until now. And speaking about funny, all the stories carry the title A Murder Comedy, and while the stories do have some light banter and funny scenes, it’s not slapstick comedy that’s awaiting the readers here. Each of the stories feature a murder, and most of them are also of the impossible kind (a genre Morie specializes in, but that makes sense if you consider he’s been working with them ever since he was in high school).

The book opens with Satsujin Kigeki no Tokeitou (“The Clock Tower: A Murder Comedy”), which also carries the subtitle An Early Case of Morie Shunsaku. We are introduced to a Morie in his high school student days, when he was a (reserve) member of the school’s theater club. The club has gathered at school even though it is closed because of a public transport strike, as they need to prepare for an upcoming performance. While Morie’s busy with prop making in the court, he notices a notorious delinquent student from a different school loitering around, who has been rumored to have forced the star actress of their play into a relation. The club decides to wrap up things for today at dusk, but a scream brings them and other students and teachers present at school to the nearby grove, where the delinquent student is found dead, his head smashed in. It appears that someone had thrown a rock from the school clock tower at the victim’s head from above and then dragged him to the grove, but police investigation shows that everybody has a solid alibi. Morie’s solution to the conundrum is a reasonable one, but one that doesn’t feel as impressive as it could’ve been. A map for example would’ve done wonders for this story, as well as better pacing to help the hinting. I love the basic idea that makes the perfect alibi possible, but there’s almost no hinting available to show that that was possible, and there are also parts that feel much longer than necessary. Balance isn’t missing per se, but it’s not completely level.

We jump a few years in the future in Satsujin Kigeki no Fushigimachi (“The Curious Village: A Murder Comedy”), as it is subtitled A Case During Morie Shunsaku’s College Days. Morie is on a journey by train, but he misses his train and strands in a small village. A man is shot on the beach near the restaurant where Morie’s killing time. The murder weapon is a curious one: an old Spanish matchlock pistol that’s part of the victim’s collection. Morie tries not to get involved, but fate keeps preventing him from catching the next train and eventually decides to solve the murder. In this story we see Ashibe’s interest in history, especially that of Western culture in pre-modern Japan. I am not completely sure whether this is a really fairly-hinted story: Morie is already on to something right from the start (he’s only reluctant to get involved) and some of the mystery can only be solved by some random trivia that is admittedly introduced in the story, but not in a way that makes it actually possible (i.e. “it” is introduced, but not explained in enough detail for the reader to know that a certain action can be done). I did like how the matchlock pistol was used in the story: while the way it used is not brilliantly original, I think the setting and Ashibe’s interest in the topic made this prop a convincing one. This finale of this story connects directly to Morie Shunsaku’s very first novel adventure (and Ashibe Taku’s debut novel) by the way.

Morie Shunsaku had met a reporter in the previous story, and it was probably that influence that resulted in him becoming a reporter himself. Satsujin Kigeki no Choujin Densetsu (“The Legend of the Birdman: A Murder Comedy”), subtitled A Case During Morie Shunsaku’s Reporter Days I, has your local reporter Morie traveling with attorney Kuki to a hotel, but on their way up the hill they pass by a bus incident. When they do arrive at the hotel, the man Kuki was supposed to meet is gone, and after a bit of questioning, it appears something unbelievable has happened: apparently their man had been seen flying off into the sky from the hotel and he had then caused the bus accident, as the driver had been surprised by a man flying in front of the bus. What is the truth behind this flying birdman? This is one story where I think A Murder Comedy is an apt title, as the whole premise of the birdman and the truth behind it are quite farcical, but in a good way. The story reminds of Shimada Souji actually, in terms of the scale of what happened. Fictional murder doesn’t need to be realistic. Often, the most unbelievable, most fanciful approach can actually work for the best. I think that this story is a good example of having a great premise helping the whole story, as while the solution is a bit easy to guess, the absurdness of everything keeps it going.

Morie continues writing local news reports, though he’s apparently not very good at the job, so he’s sent to another location in Satsujin Kigeki no Mayoiga Densetsu (“The Legend Of the Mayoiga: A Murder Comedy"), with the subtitle A Case During Morie Shunsaku’s Reporter Days II. There he meets with an “old” acquaintance (they met in the previous story) and he’s instantly dragged into a new mystery. Morie’s friend swears she saw a big mansion standing at the side of the mountain, but it has disappeared without a trace. The two climb the mountain to find out what has happened to it, but it appears there never was a house there. Their adventure reminds them of the tale of the Mayoiga, the  “Lost House”, a house that appears and disappears at a whim, but which bestows fortune to its visitors. But Morie’s lost house has left something else: a dead body at the place where the house was supposed to be. Overall, I’d say this is a bit of a confusing story, with multiple plots intertwining in a rather unbelievable way to make the premise (disappearing house, appearing body) possible. It reminds slightly of Queen’s The Lamp of God, but that story was simpler, more to the point and less contrived than this one. 

Morie Shunsaku became acquaintances with the attorney Kuki in the adventure with the Birdman, and as the subtitle A Case When Morie Shunsaku Changed Occupation suggests, Satsujin Kigeki no XY (“XY: A Murder Comedy”) is set around the time when Morie Shunsaku made the jump from reporter to attorney. A murder occurs in the Grand Osaka First Building, a tenant building that also houses Kuki’s law offices, where Morie has been working lately. Witness accounts quickly point the finger to the business partner of the victim, but he has disappeared without a trace. But the tenants of the building aren’t given any time to rest, as the first murder is soon followed by a second murder in the same building, committed by the man on the run. Why is the man after all these people in the building and can the police stop him from committing more? This is both the most ambitious and most flawed story of the whole collection. The fundamental problem is that it tries to do too much for a short story. While this is the longest story of the collection, it moves at breakneck speed to include all the elements Ashibe tried to pack inside these pages and the result is something that just doesn’t feel right: things happen too fast, too chaotic, and the plot doesn’t feel consistent. For example, there is an interesting part involving a dying message and linguistics, but the presentation isn’t fair: a lot of necessary information to arrive at a certain deduction is definitely not common knowledge, and also not presented in advance to the reader. More build-up could’ve easily solved that. That said though, the linguistics part is extremely detailed and I think most readers will just give up on it, as it relies too much on specific knowledge. That is a problem that occasionally arises with Ashibe’s stories, as he obviously has a scholarly interest in a variety of topics (including, but not exclusively linguistics, pre-modern and early modern Japanese history, literature and books), but he has a tendency to dive really deep in that stuff, without giving the proper set-up for readers not versed in those topics. Usually he manages to stray just on the right side of the line, but I’d say this is an example of him going too deep, too fast. The other mystery elements of this story also feel a bit disjointed, and the result is a story that never becomes as good as it could’ve been as it tries too much in too little time.

Satsujin Kigeki no C6H5NO2 (“C6H5NO2: A Murder Comedy”), subtitled A Case During Morie Shunsaku’s Spare Time, is a short intermezzo with a parody undertone. Morie Shunsaku is asked to provide an extra solution to a certain case involving poisoned chocolates. It appears a club of amateur detectives had already come up with six solutions, with another female mystery writer posing a seventh solution, but Morie is challenge to come up with an eight solution. Some other people present in the restaurant invite themselves into the conversation however, and that explains the other subtitle of this tale: Denouement 8~13 to The Poisoned Chocolates Case. Yes, this is a parody of Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case, the infamous meta-mystery novel that plays with the notion of “one truth” in a detective plot. Christianna Brand added a seventh solution to the tale in her A New Denouement, but Ashibe decides to go even further by adding solutions 8 to 13! The story is fairly short, so the premise, the original six solutions and Brand’s seven solution are all summarized very shortly, and Ashibe’s own solutions are also explained very briefly. Like the original six solutions, they’re more “interpretations” than full-fledged solutions, but as a way to strengthen Berkeley’s idea of dismissing the one truth, they do their work. This tale also includes guest appearances by several of Ashibe’s other fictional detectives (who all propose a solution), so it’s a very tongue-in-cheek story.

The final story Satsujin Kigeki no Morie Shunsaku (“Morie Shunsaku: A Murder Comedy”) carries the subtitle A Recent Case of Morie Shunsaku and was especially written for this collection to wrap things together. A new client of Morie Shunsaku is stabbed in his back in the hallway on his way to the bathroom. A closer look at his client reveals that the man was wearing a fake beard, and when removed Morie is shocked to learn his client was an old high school classmate of his. The surprises don’t stop here, because he also learns that only a block away from his office, another man had been stabbed in his back in a restaurant. The curious thing is that the knife in the back of the other man had the fingerprints of his classmate, while the knife in the back of his classmate carried the fingerprints of the other dead man. But how could they have stabbed each other in the back if they were in two completely different places? The solution to the impossible situation is not very hard to guess, I think, or at least, most will have a vague idea of what might’ve happened. The real surprise is how this story ties in all the previous stories together though, as it is admittedly a neat way to bring a connection to this set of stories, which were originally just separate, independent stories. It’s certainly a thing Ashibe likes to do and it works mostly in this story. The idea of how he connected these stories is really good and had fooled me completely. The actual execution (as in: how he implemented that idea in this last tale) is a bit weird, as the tone of this story suddenly turns into a cliché thriller with basically no build-up, as we’re suddenly given a Morie Shunsaku Must Die! plot that I have actually never ever seen in any of Ashibe’s stories. It feels horribly out of place. A weird way to end a moderately good collection.

My thoughts on Tantei Sengen - Morie Shunsaku no Jikenbo are not very different from how I usually feel about stories featuring Morie Shunsaku, or Ashibe Taku’s story in general. The basic premise behind the mystery plots is usually good and entertaining, but the execution can be a bit chaotic, or too complex at times. Too many subplots here, too much delving into background topics there. His stories always have a distinct feel of slight unbalance, with a great base, but going just too far in this regard or that regard. Depending on the specific work, and the reader, this can be either a good or a negative point. I for example love Ashibe’s experiments with literary references and meta-fiction, like his The Poisoned Chocolates Case parody in this collection, but some might think it feels too much like an inside joke. The stories in this collection all have great ideas within them, and the way Ashibe manages to connect the stories together is also surprising, but each of these stories also has something that makes you go “Good, but…”. Overall, I’d say this collection is a good book, that also offers a good diverse look at the character Morie Shunsaku, but it’s also a book that’ll have you say a couple of times “If only that had been different.”

Original Japanese title(s): 芦辺拓 『探偵宣言 森江春策の事件簿』 / 「殺人喜劇の時計塔―森江春策、初期の事件」 / 「殺人喜劇の不思議町―森江春策、大学時代の事件」 / 「殺人喜劇の鳥人伝説―森江春策、記者時代の事件I」 / 「殺人喜劇の迷い家伝説―森江春策、記者時代の事件II」 / 「殺人喜劇のXY―森江春策、転身前後の事件」 / 「殺人喜劇のC6H5NO2―森江春策、余暇の事件」 / 「殺人喜劇の森江春策―森江春策、最近の事件」

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Mystery of the Blue Train

“Yes, yes, I know. Life is like a train, Mademoiselle. It goes on. And it is a good thing that that is so.” 
"The Mystery of the Blue Train"

It's always weird reading books with complex and intricate alibi tricks that involve the railway, when you're actually waiting on the platform for a train that's ten minutes late already...

The discovery of the body of an attractive woman in the Tama River in Tokyo appeared to be nothing more than usual business for inspector Totsugawa and his team at first, until they find a reporter who swears the victim was with him on the Hayabusa last night. The Hayabusa is a Limited Express with sleeping carriages, departing from Tokyo and arriving at Kumamoto on the other side of the country the following day. Until both trains stopped their services in 2009, the Hayabusa and its sister train Fuji were both colloquially referred to as the Blue Trains, as a reference to their characteristic blue carriages, as well as one to the famous Le Train Blue. The travel reporter had been on the Hayabusa to write an article about the trip to Kumamoto and he is sure one of his fellow passengers in the private compartment carriage had been the victim. But if she had indeed been on the Blue Train to Kumamoto as the reporter says, she could never have made it back to Tokyo to be fished out of the river as a corpse the following morning. Inspector Totsugawa however has to move carefully in this case, as the discovery of the private business card of the current Minister of Transport in the victim's purse links her to a daring caper that happened several years ago, a case in which the culprits used that very business card to scam a bank out of funds. A long and puzzling case awaits Totsugawa in Nishimura Kyoutarou's Blue Train Satsujin Jiken ("The Blue Train Murder Case"、1978).

Nishimura Kyoutarou is an immensely pro-active mystery writer who since his 1970 debut has written nearly 600 novels, most of them in the so-called "travel mystery" subgenre, which focuses on traveling, tourism and means of transport. The subgenre has elements of the Croftian school, as it often involves alibi tricks using trains, airplanes and other means of transport, but also celebrates "the country": stories are often set across various areas in Japan, and so they also include a touristic element, as each book allows the reader to travel to a place faraway. Nishimura's most famous creation is Inspector Totsugawa, who made his debut in 1973. Nowadays everybody associates Nishimura with Inspector Totsugawa and his railway mysteries, but it was actually's 1978's Blue Train Satsujin Jiken that started it all, as it is seen as the very first of Nishimura's travel mysteries.

That said though, you wouldn't have guessed from the writing, as Blue Train Satsujin Jiken starts off really captivating, as it manages to paint an interesting portrait of the titular Blue Train Hayabusa and its image in the public's eye. There is a certain romantic image to trains, especially sleeper expresses, and descriptions of the children going out to take pictures of the Blue Train are certainly not a creation of Nishimura's imagination, but something that is grabbed from real life and it's parts like these that really help give the Blue Train a firm place in this tale. The opening chapters also do a great job at inviting the reader to the mystery of a woman who may or may not have disappeared from a sleeper coach only to re-appear on the other side of the country and an enigmatic assault on the reporter on the train.

Like the novels by Crofts and Ayukawa, we follow Inspector Totsugawa as he leads his team during the investigation. And indeed, like in the novels of those two writers, it's not just Totsugawa who has his moments throughout the story. Totsugawa's whole team is of importance, and he'll often remain in headquarters, while his men and women do all the footwork and follow up on their clues. It's here where we really feel the "travel mystery" element of the book. Totsugawa himself for example travels all the way to Fukuoka (Hakata) to investigate the Blue Train early in the book, while later in the book one of his subordinates actually travels on the Blue Train, seeing all the different sights, while another subordinate is investigating in a different part of the country alongside the route. We follow the team as they travel across Japan, giving you an amusing look at the country. Domestic tourism was of course already present in Japan, and with travel standards slowly raising in the post-war period, this focus on travel was well-received, as affordability, comfort and speed were all improving.

It is in the latter half of the book things start to fall apart though. Well, 'fall apart' might be worded too harsh, but the plot definitely looses steam, as it appears Nishimura appears to have problems giving a good explanation to the otherwise promising premise. Reasons he gives for why things happened the way they happened appear sound at first sight, but even a slightly closer look quickly reveals that doing those things doesn't really make sense. As it is now, the plot feels very artificial, as the actions of the characters only served to create the initial disappearance, rather than that characters were taking logical actions in regards to their own agendas. The thing becomes too complex, with the only reason being that those events need to happen so the initial mystery premise can become true. There is actually some really clever clewing going on, but a lot of that is overshadowed by the arbitrary manner in which the mystery is revolved.

The puzzle-plot driven mystery story is of course always a fairly artificial construct, but it's up to the writer to at least give a logical reason for the actors in the story to do the things they do. In this novel, it's not utterly unbelievable, but it sure looks like there were tons of ways to do things in a simpler and less conspicuous manner.

What I did really like about this novel, and a lot of railway mysteries in general actually, is that it's all based on real timetables. There's just something magical about mysteries that make use of the actual schedules of trains, and the land they traverse through. The Blue Trains as described in this novel don't exist in their original form anymore, sadly enough, so train aficionados might find some comfort in reading about those trains of the past in novels like these.

Blue Train Satsujin Jiken in general is an okay novel on average, with a great first half, but a less impressive second half. It's certainly entertaining on the whole and one can easily imagine how Nishimura found his groove and his audience with this first travel mystery novel, despite its shortcomings. A lot of Nishimura's later works feel very similar and not very inspiring actually, with trainy train plots with simple mystery plots barely worth writing about, but Blue Train Satsujin Jiken, as one of his (relatively) early works is a moderately amusing classically constructed puzzle plot mysteries of some quality, like many of Nishimura other early works.

Original Japanse title(s): 西村京太郎 『寝台特急(ブルートレイン)殺人事件』

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Witch's Ghost

I'm a Hex Girl
And I'm gonna put a spell on you
"Hex Girl" (The Hex Girls)

My reading skills improved a lot after I went to study in Japan the first time, and it can feel a bit strange going through the books I had read before my time in Japan again now. It probably took me quite some time (together with a dictionary) to read today's topic the first time, but now I can blaze through the same book within an evening....

Japan had closed itself off from most foreign relations between the early seventeenth century and latter half of the nineteenth century (Sakoku), with China and the Netherlands being some of the exceptions. Ejinbara was one of the first harbors that allowed access to foreign ships in the nineteenth century, and thus grew out to be a home away from home for foreigners, and one could sense this 'foreignness' throughout Ejinbara, because not only was the town filled with Western-style buildings and paved streets, it was actually also one of the first places in Japan to have 'modern' facilities like underground waterworks and electricity. The classic look of the town is kept well-preserved, making it a popular tourist destination. The famous Sleeping Detective Mouri Kogorou takes Ran, Conan, Doctor Agasa and the Detective Boys out for a trip to Ejinbara (as thanks for their help in an earlier case). The group has only just arrived in Ejinbara when Conan and Kogorou save a lawyer from being stabbed to death by a mysterious, robed figure. The laywer explains he received a threatening letter signed by The Witch of Ejinbara. The Witch of Ejinbara was also the nickname of a woman who sold medicinal herbs in Ejinbara for almost a century, but who recently died. It appears the author of the letter is after the people named in her will. Kogorou waves it away as a bad prank at first, but when one of people who is to inherit is found drowned to death inside a room with no waterworks, nor any other openings save for the door which was locked from the inside, the people of Ejinbara itself start to fear something supernatural might be behind all this in Taira Takahisa's Meitantei Conan - Ejinbara no Witch ("The Witch of Ejinbara", 2008).

The Detective Conan franchise is quite extensive, ranging from the original comics to an animated TV series, annual theatrical releases, videogames and much more, so the fact that there are also novels based on the series shouldn't surprise anyone. Especially not as I already reviewed one of them in the past. There are three original Detective Conan novels: two of them were written between 2005 and 2006 by Tani Yutaka, an assistant of Detective Conan creator Aoyama Goushou. Ejinbara no Witch followed in 2008 and was written by Taira Takahisa, who is mostly known as a scenario writer for the Detective Conan Special spin-off comic series (a series of short stories mostly written and drawn by Aoyama's assistants), as well as other series as Golgo 13. There is also a further series of Detective Conan novels, but these are not original stories, but novelizations of episodes and specials of the various Detective Conan live action series (Taira wrote those novels too by the way). Enjinbara no Witch thus remains the last original Detective Conan novel for the moment.

This was a re-read for me, but I have to admit I was quite surprised how good it still was! Granted, the main reading audience for this novel is children/YA, so the novel is quite short, but like Gyakuten Idol (an original children's novel based on an existing game series), Ejinbara no Witch presents an original novel that feels like it could've been part of the main series. Sure, this is also true for the first Detective Conan novel, but that one belonged in the group of "Oh man, another of the Detective Boys treasure hunt stories?". With Ejinbara no Witch on the other hand, it is easy to imagine how this could've worked out as one of the better six chapter story in the comics.

The setting is definitely what sells this story. The fictional Ejinbara, which kinda sounds like Edinburgh, is a great location, reminiscent of some of the real Japanese locations that feature Western and other foreign architectural designs from over a century ago, like Nagasaki (full of Western/Dutch buildings) or the Chinatown in Yokohama (argubly the best known Chinatown in Japan). If you're somewhat familiar with these popular tourist destinations in Japan, I think you have a pretty good idea of how Ejinbara looks like. It's a type of setting you sometimes see in Detective Conan, like in Detective Conan: Phantom of Baker Street or Detective Conan: Phantom Rhapsody.

The setting is also put to good use for the mystery plot itself. The first impossible murder is pretty normal, but it's also followed by an impossible bombing inside a room of an old, authentically preserved hotel (the room was of course locked from the inside) and even one inside an old-fashioned phone box. The same basic trick is used for all three murders, which might be slightly disappointing as once you solve one of them, you'll have solved all of them, but in terms of how the plot is structured and how the clues are laid out, this is more than an okay story. The story also makes use of the witch backstory. Witches also exist in Japanese folklore, but the witch from this novel is obviously a "Western" witch, and with references to ladies familiar with herbs being branded as witches in witch trials, you can probably guess how the people of Ejinbara will react as the murders continue.

The book also includes a couple of illustrations by Abe Yutaka: he is a mangaka who has also worked on the Detective Conan Special spin-off series as an artist and who apparently has been friends with Aoyama for a long time (both Aoyama and Abe have drawn manga with characters named after the other). Abe Yutaka's name for example might sound familar to the most fanatic of Conan readers: Aoyama used that exact name for a character in one of his earliest stories. The art is quite good actually; you can tell it's not Aoyama's own art, but it definitely has a good vibe to it.

So Ejinbara no Witch is a more than decent original novel based on the Detective Conan franchise, and also easily the best of the three original novels. The novel is obviously aimed at a younger reading audience, so it's not a long, nor difficult book, but it reads as a good Conan story and that's all I want from it.

Original Japanese title(s): 青山剛昌(原)、平良隆久(小説)、阿部ゆたか(絵) 『名探偵コナン 江神原の魔女(ウィッチ)』

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Identity Crisis


"The name of this cocktail is XYZ... In other words, the end of the line."
"City Hunter"

I adore the covers for Yokomizo Seishi's novels for publisher Kadokawa. They were all done by Sugimoto Ichibun, and really capture the creepy atmosphere often found in Yokomizo's novels. Though to be honest, today's book wasn't that creepy.

Mikoshiba Susumu might still be young, but he has already made a name for himself as the "Detective Kid", for his help in solving various crimes. When he's not out solving crimes though, our Detective Kid also has earn a living (as he lives alone with his older sister), which he does at a local newspaper as an assistant. However, he often finds himself on the trail of crime while doing his odd jobs for the newspaper, and many of these cases involve Phantom Thief X・Y・Z, a notorious gentleman-thief and expert in disguise whose only virtue is that he has never taken a life during the execution of his crimes. See how the Detective Kid fares against X・Y・Z in the three stories collected in Yokomizo Seishi's Kaitou X・Y・Z ("Phantom Thief X・Y・Z", 1984).

Yokomizo Seishi is of course best known for his Kindaichi Kousuke series, arguably the quintessential fictional Japanese detective, as Kindaichi, who is always dressed in a hakama, goes around solving crimes especially in rural postwar Japan, within small communities where old traditions still reign. Yokomizo started out as an editor for no-one less as Edogawa Rampo before World War II, and he had also written some mystery stories himself, but he really made it big right after the war with the phenomenal Honjin Satsujin Jiken, the first novel starring Kindaichi Kousuke, and he'd mostly stick with writing Kindaichi afterwards, which feature bloody murders and horrifying scenes.

Kaitou X・Y・Z however is interestingly a juvenile mystery. The three stories collected in this volume were originally published in 1960~1961 and are only a small selection from the Mikoshiba Susumu/Detective Kid stories. The comparison with Edogawa Rampo's Shounen Tantei Dan is one which presents itself immediately of course. Rampo's iconic series was also a juvenile mystery novel series, starring a young detective solving cases involving a phantom thief obviously inspired by Arsène Lupin. In reality though, the comparison stops here, as Rampo and Yokomizo do very different things with this premise.

The most important difference is that in Rampo's series, the Fiend with Twenty Faces is really an evil person. Sure, he doesn't like to kill, but he's still a rather dastardly thief who is clearly the nemesis of both young detective Kobayashi and his mentor the great detective Akechi Kogorou. He has to be evil, because we know from other novels that Akechi and Kobayashi are good. Yokomizo's Phantom Thief X・Y・Z on the other hand is very much modeled after Arsène Lupin, the gentleman-thief. In his appearances in the stories featured in this book, X・Y・Z actually does very little crime. The stories are told from the point of view of Mikoshiba Susumu/Detective Kid, so he always looks at X・Y・Z as his enemy, but X・Y・Z actually helps the Detective Kid a lot during his investigations, as X・Y・Z is never the true culprit behind the story. The result is actually very odd. X・Y・Z acts like Arsène Lupin, as a true hero character helping others while doing some light crimes, but as the story is told from the Detective Kid's point, the narrative is always saying what an evil thief he is, even though he just totally saved Detective Kid's life and all. X・Y・Z is a very sympathetic character, but for some reason he's not made the protagonist. And by the way, the Detective Kid is okay, but certainly not a brilliant detective. The true hero of these tales is definitely X・Y・Z. In Rampo's stories, Akechi served as the 'safety net' and responsible adult who would take care of Kobayashi if things got too dangerous, but in these stories, it's actually X・Y・Z himself who plays the same role in regards to the Detective Kid, as they (unknowingly to the Detective Kid) work together to find the real culprits.

I'm not going to discuss the three stories in this volume in detail, as they are quite simple in set-up and execution.  All three stories, Kieta Kaitou ("The Disappearing Phantom Thief"), Nazo no Juuendama ("The Mysterious 10 Yen Coin") and Daikinkai ("Gold Bullions") basically follow the same structure: The Detective Kid is sent on some assignment by his newspaper, he comes across some murder, finds a clue that proves X・Y・Z is involved, X・Y・Z helps the Detective Kid a couple of times on the way with or withous his knowledge, and finally the murderer is caught. I guess some of the premises are interesting, like Nazo no Juuendama starting with a scene with somebody trying very hard to obtain a ten yen coin in the possession of the Detective Kid (something like an everyday life mystery), but even as juvenile mysteries, I'd say these stories are rather simple.

Interesting is the world of the Detective Kid though. The Detective Kid is working at the same newspaper as Mitsugi Shunsuke, a journalist whom I first met as the assistant of Yuri Rintarou, another detective created by Yokomizo Seishi. Mitsugi is featured in all the three stories, helping the Detective Kid in his investigations (and also acts his boss, as the Detective Kid is supposed to be his assistant). Another familiar face who appears in all three stories is Inspector Todoroki, who often cooperates with Kindaichi Kousuke in his investigations. So it's here where we see that there is actually a kind of Yokomizo World, where characters like Kindaichi Kousuke, Yuri Rintarou, Mitsugi Shunsuke, the Detective Kid and X・Y・Z all live together. I hope someday, there'll be a drama not only of Kindaichi Kousuke, but of this whole extended Yokomizo World.

Anyway, as a juvenile mystery, Kaitou X・Y・Z is nothing special, to be honest. The three stories are very simple, and also a bit confusing as the true hero of the stories is portrayed (clumsily) as an antagonist. As a note in Yokomizo Seishi's bibliograpy though, I do find this an interesting read, both as the notion of a juvenile mystery written by someone I really do not associate with the genre, as well as a work that connects the worlds of different series by Yokomizo together. Try it if you're very interested in Yokomizo's work.

Original Japanese title(s): 横溝正史 『怪盗X・Y・Z』: 「消えた怪盗」 / 「なぞの十円玉」 / 「大金塊 」

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Moonlight Madness

「お お か み が く る ぞ  !!」

"The wolves are coming!"

It's been a good year in terms of gaming for me, I noticed. I seldom play the newest releases right away, so I do have the luxury to carefully pick the games I want to play in any given year, which could be a new game but also one from twenty years earlier, but this year has been surprisingly good, with basically no real duds.

Fusaishi Haruaki finds himself riding around aimlessly on his motorcycle after a break-up with his girlfriend, until he realizes he has absolutely no idea where he is even though it's very late at night, in the middle of rural, mountainous Japan. He tries to make his way to the nearest town, but crashes on one of those small mountain paths. He is found by the girl Chiemi near a river, and she decides to bring the new visitor to her home: Yasumizu Village, hidden deep within the forests of the mountain. Yasumizu is a tiny and incredibly poor farming/hunting community with barely ten inhabitants, ruled by the belief in the mountain deity Shinnai. Yasumizu is controlled by the more prosperous Fujiyoshi Town on the other side of the mountain, which occasionally uses Yasumizu as a 'trash can', as sometimes 'unneccesary' people from Fujiyoshi find themselves banned to Yasumizu. The people of Yasumizu therefore stick with each other and dislike outsiders, so Fusaishi's plans are to fix his motorcycle and leave again, but it seems the mountain has other plans for him, as a sudden thick mist consumes the whole of Yasumizu, and it is only then that he learns about an ancient legend passed down here in Yasumizu, and the horrifying ceremony related to that. Here in the mountains, the people believe that whenever Yasumizu is enveloped by mist, a number of werewolves from the underworld are revived who will disguise themselves as one of the villagers of Yasumizu. Each night they will kill one villager, until they have wiped out the whole of Yasumizu in revenge for what the villagers did to them many centuries ago. In order to fight these werewolves, the mountain deity allows the villagers to execute one villager (a person whom they suspect is a werewolf) every day. The werewolves will win when they have killed all the humans, while the humans win if they manage to execute all the werewolves.

At first, Fusaishi thinks it's all just religious nonsense, and can't believe people will just starting killing each other because of the mist, but already after the first night he finds that someone has been eliminated in a seemingly supernatural manner for violating the mountain rules, and he is witness to how the whole village slowly starts to take the deadly werewolf game seriously, with both the humans and werewolves killing persons every day and night. But Fusaishi has one big advantage over the others: he mysteriously gained the powers to 'rewind' to the beginning of all this with all of his memories intact whenever he dies. This allows him to learn from each experience and make new choices to change his own future. Making use of these time-loops Fusaishi needs to survive the lunatic werewolf game and find out why this supernatural ceremony exists in the first place in the videogame Rei-Jin-G-Lu-P (2015).

Rei-Jin-G-Lu-P is a horror-mystery videogame developed by Kemco and Dwango, and originally released on iOS and Android in 2015, and later ported to other devices like PS4, Vita and Switch. I hadn't heard about this game until a few months ago, when it ranked into Japanese game magazine's Famitsu's fan-voted popularity poll for adventure games. Rei-Jin-G-Lu-P was standing very bravely next to giants in the mystery adventure genre like the Kamaitachi no Yoru series, Gyakuten Saiban/Ace Attorney series and the Danganronpa series, so you can guess why my interests were piqued. The theme was also quite alluring: While I myself have never played the Werewolves game myself, I am quite aware of the popularity of the role-playing party game (which is also known as Mafia) and its ties with the mystery genre, so a mystery game which would use the Werewolves game as a motif was basically an instant-buy for me. From what I know, Rei-Jin-G-Lu-P has most of common ideas from the party game: a number of werewolves have infiltrated among the participants of the game, with the werewolves killing one of the human participants each night, while the humans (among them also the undercover werewolves) voting on persons whom they suspect are werewolves in order to execute them during the day. In most Werewolves games, there are also special human characters with powers to help the humans (like being able to check the true identity of one person each night), and this is also replicated in Rei-Jin-G-Lu-P..

Rei-Jin-G-Lu-P is a novel adventure game, which is basically a digital Choose-Your-Own-Adventure: most of the game is a lineair experience like a old-fashioned novel, but once every while the player themselves need to make a choice about what to do, and these choices influence the further outcome of the story. You might for example be given the choice to ask a certain question to someone, which could give you new information, or perhaps agitate someone enough for them to kill you. In ye olde days of actual paper Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books, making choices also meant flipping through the pages a lot, as each choice would bring you to another page, but all of this hassle is of course streamlined in videogames, allowing for complex branching storylines but with a simple interface (usually, like in this case, in the form of a flowchart that shows exactly the result of each single choice). Rei-Jin-Gu-Lu-P however adds something interesting to the formula. Fusaishi gains the ability to be 'rewound' to the start of his ordeal every time he dies, with the preservation of all of his memories, which allows him to make choices at times he couldn't at first. For example, according to the rules of the mountain deity Shinnai, each and every night all villagers must cleanse their bodies, remain in their own dwellings locked from the inside, and go to bed early while the mist lasts. The first time Fusaishi dies is when he goes wandering outside during the night, where he is killed by a werewolf-like being. Thanks to his powers of rewinding though, he 'learns' the lesson of obeying the rules he thought nonsense, this time giving him the choice to go outside at night again, and the new option of remaining inside. In Rei-Jin-G-Lu-P it's thus often necessary to die on purpose, in order to learn new information that you can take back with you in time to avoid the same death a second time. Exploring all the choices and their outcomes, even if you know you might die, is a cornerstone of this game, as even death can be helpful for later rewinds.

Most of the story however is presented in a lineair fashion, and what you get is a very suspenseful mystery tale. Early on in the story, Fusaishi remarks that the werewolves ceremony is basically a strategic communication game, and that's precisely what it is. The villagers are randomly assigned their roles as humans/humans with special abilities/werewolves, and during the day, all the villagers must discuss together who they think is the most likely to be a werewolf. Some people might be suspected of being a werewolf because they appear to be acting differently from usual for example, while the way one person is trying to cast suspicion on someone else might be suspect on its own, as the werewolves among them are obviously trying to steer the discussion in a way as to kill of a human and not one of their own. And of course, there's the majority who at first doesnt' believe in werewolves, but are slowly but surely pushed in a position where they finally have accept they'll have to kill themselves or be killed. Add in the creepy background of the mountain forests and misty Yasumizu Village and you have an excellent closed circle mystery tale, with a good dash of supernatural elements for flavor. The supernatural elements are mostly about providing a background to keep the game fair for both the werewolves and the humans. They are what we'd call "rules" in the party game version of Werewolves and the supernatural only interferes with the pure logical/realistic side of the game if someone violates the rules.(i.e. the werewolves are only allowed to kill one person in the night, and are punished for that if they don't obey the rules). So at the core, the werewolves game is a purely fair whodunnit game, of humans trying to figure out who the werewolves are based on both psychological and physical clues. What is interesting is that Fusaishi, due to his rewinding powers, actually manages to change the game drastically several times. The roles of humans/werewolves are distributed randomly once the mist hits Yasumizu Village, but thanks to Fusaishi's rewinding shenanigans, the identity of the werewolves and humans are changed a couple of times. A person who is revealed to be a werewolf in Fusaishi's first loop might turn out to be a human in the second loop, and vice-versa. It's through these various 'versions' of the story that the player learns more about the various characters, as they all show different sides to the player through subsequent loops. But no matter who's who in the current loop, Fusaishi's goal remains the same: surviving the game and figuring out why this game exists in the first place.

While the background story of the revived werewolves and the mountain deity Shinnai are obviously fiction, I have to commend how fleshed out the religious side to the tale is. It borrows a lot from actual indigeneous Japanese nature religions and mythology, but also includes the anthropological side to religion. For example, a lot of attention is paid to the system of "adapting" older gods and deities into newer religions, which is a practice that has happened often in the history of Japanese religion. In a faraway past, I took several semesters on Japanese religion, and especially on how for example religions like Buddhism or state-led Shinto 'absorbed' other religions to gain legitimacy, and that's exactly one of the bigger topics mentioned in Rei-Jin-G-Lu-P. I think readers of writers like Kyougoku Natsuhiko and Mori Hiroshi will have a blast with the background story of this game, as it is fleshed out really well, with many ties to how religions actually developed in Japan.

It is therefore such a shame the last loop/scenario, which explains everything about the werewolf ceremony and the reason why Fusaishi is able to rewind in time is rather disappointing. Up until the last loop, the game did an excellent job at both using the above mentioned supernatural/religious elements in conjunction with the more realistic, anthropological explanation to underlying religious elements, but in the last loop, they are used in basically the least interesting manner possible.The ending basically tries to be both supernatural and realistic/logical, which can certainly be done, but the way it's done in Rei-Jin-G-Lu-P feels rather like an easy way out, resulting in something that never feels as satisfying an experience like earlier loops. What I do have to admit is how smart the clewing was in regards to the identity of the true mastermind behind everything. The hinting was really clever and subtle, but oh-so-obvious in hindsight.

Rei-Jin-G-Lu-P does add a very innovative feature after you beat the game, and it's something I have never ever seen done in mystery fiction before. In the Exposed Mode, you can replay the game from the start, but new lines of dialogues and inner monologue are added for all characters, not only protagonist Fusaishi. This means you can see what happened at a certain location while Fusashi wasn't around, but also what other characters (including the werewolves!) were thinking at certain points in the story. It gives a lot of insight in all the characters, showing things from their POV. In mystery fiction, you sometimes see something similar when the culprit has revealed their true colors, explaining what they were doing and/or thinking in earlier scenes, but in Rei-Jin-G-Lu-P's Exposed Mode, you get to see additions to practially every single scene, as well as for almost all characters. It's also a great way to explain some of the smaller questions about character motivation and events that happened throughout Rei-Jin-G-Lu-P, without slowing down the main story. I wish more story-based games had a mode like this! The whole game has voice acting for all the dialogue and inner monologue lines by the way, and that includes the Exposed Mode. I didn't like the voice actor of protagonist Fusaishi at all though, and his character (personality) was also far from my favorite, but the story itself, as well as the other characters were enough to get me hooked.

So all in all I did really enjoy Rei-Jin-G-Lu-P despite a somewhat disappointing ending. While it does not allow much room for the player to deduce much themselves (unlike for example Kamaitachi no Yoru, which was also a novel game), the story presented is a fantastic gripping tale that smartly utilized the rules of the Werewolves party game with a very richly thought-out background story revolving around the mountain deity Shinnai and other supernatural elements. It is a story where one can get really immersed in thanks to the gripping atmosphere and dramatic developments and it's certainly become one of the more interesting adventure games I've played this year. Rei-Jin-G-Lu-P apparently also has some links to another adventure by the same developers titled DMLC: Death Match Love Comedy, which I might try out in the future (as far as I know it's not a mystery game though, so it won't be discussed here probably).

Original Japanese title(s): 『レイジングループ』