Saturday, May 19, 2018

Go Your Own Way

「 運命のルーレット廻して」(Zard)

Turn the roulette of destiny
It's a mystery why I think so deeply about everything
"Turn the Roulette of Destiny" (Zard)

In my review of the very amusing 3DS mystery game Detective Pikachu, I talked about the trend of episodic videogames: a videogame that is like a single episode of a longer series. An episodic game is considerably shorter than the usual videogame (and also cheaper, of course), but also a part of a larger, contineous series. These games are therefore released in a more frequent schedule than conventional videogames. This format is somewhat similar to the serialization of novels as an ongoing service with a limited schedule, but with key differences: episodic videogames can stand on their own for the most part, while installments in serializations are usually not standalone and simply excerpts from a longer story. An episodic videogame is ideally both vital part to the whole series, but should also feature its own storyline that is mostly resolved within that particular episode.

Buddy Collection is an episodic mystery videogame developed by Narutrick At the time of writing this review, the first two episodes of five have been released on PC, iOS and Android (for free!), but last month, an enhanced version of the first episode was also released on the Nintendo Switch (not free!), with the new extended title Buddy Collection if - Shukumei no Akai Ito- ("Buddy Collection If -The Red String of Fate-", 2018). The game starts with the female protagonist awakening in the hospital, suffering from amnesia. The girl, Nagisa, is told she's a student at a special high school for detectives, with the curriculum not only including theory classes on various topics of use for detectives, but also practice classes where the students get to work on real cases (you need to earn credits to be able to take on real cases). Nagisa lost her memory while investigating a case, but that was not the only thing she lost, as she also lost her "buddy": the school works with a buddy system, where two students have to work together on cases, but her buddy has disappeared now. While Nagisa belongs in the Special A Class, she is now moved to the E Class so she can recover from her ordeal. Her first school assignment is a three-day "camp" to practice on closed circle murders: she and three other E Class students are locked up in a special underground complex made for these classes, and they are to role-play a closed circle murder situation, with their teacher playing the victim in what appears to be an impossible murder. The students are assigned roles and have to deduce who the murderer is and how it was done, while the teacher plays the game master when not playing dead. However, the next morning the students find their teacher has really been murdered, hanging high up in the sky from red threads from the ceiling of the underground complex, precisely like the scenario in their role-playing game. With the doors to the surface being locked, the player has to take up the role of Nagisa, wisely pick out a new buddy and find out who the murderer is.

Buddy Collection if - Shukumei no Akai Ito- is marketed as a lite-otome & mystery novel game, which probably needs some explaining for some readers here. First of all: a novel game (also known as sound novel or visual novel) is basically a digital Choose-Your-Own-Adventure: you are mostly reading a linear story, but once in a while, you'll be presented with choices, which lead to branching storylines. In order to reach the end of the game, you need to find the correct route (combination of choices), as a wrong choice/branch storyline usually leads to a game over screen. The novel game genre has a long history with mystery games and I have reviewed a few of them here on the blog (for example Kamaitachi no Yoru, 428, Machi and Rei-Jin-G-Lu-P). In Buddy Collection if - Shukumei no Akai Ito-, you'll be solving the case through these CYOA-esque choices, with some choices/branching storylines leading to vital clues or evidence (or you missing them by making the wrong choice) and sometimes you have to decide on your next step. While it sometimes can feel a bit like random guessing, as you never really know where a certain choice will lead you until you actually select one, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Buddy Collection if - Shukumei no Akai Ito- actually does a good job of giving the player a good chance of making it through the game alive in one go if they pay attention. The correct choices are quite logical, and it never feels like you need to make a random choice that surprisingly turns out to be the good one.

I also said this game is a lite-otome game: otome games are story-driven videogames targeted towards women, that usually focus on a protagonist developing a romantic relationship with one of the eligible characters (within the context of the story). These games usually take hints from various game genres, like simulation games (gotta level up those parameters to impress the guy you want!) or novel games (making certain choices to develop the relationship). Buddy Collection if - Shukumei no Akai Ito- is very lite-otome, as early on in the story, Nagisa has to choose a new buddy from one of the three other E Class students. This leads to three Buddy Routes, where you mostly interact with your chosen buddy and where you learn a bit more about their personalities and background stories. These three buddies also each have their own working styles, so the mystery plot also changes slightly depending on which buddy you choose, though all three routes will eventually bring you to the same conclusion. Basically think of it of having to choose between Watson, Hastings or Goodwin at the start of the story, with the ending being the same, but the way towards the conclusion being slightly different because of the different personalities. It bring some replayability to the game, as once you have chosen a particular Buddy Route, you won't learn much about the others, inviting you to try the other routes too.

As a mystery game, Buddy Collection if - Shukumei no Akai Ito- is a short, but ultimately fairly satisfying experience. The mystery plot is a bit simple perhaps, especially as some of the choices you have to make to proceed in the story are bit obvious (Choice 1: Expected. Choice 2: Not Surprising. Choice 3: OBVIOUSLY SIGNIFICANT CHOICE), but the story is adequately clewed and due to some of the characters' personalities, things become far more exciting that you'd first expect. But as this is an episodic game, there are also quite some issues that aren't resolved within this episode, as they'll be addressed in subsequent episodes (for example, the mystery of how Nagisa lost her memories in the first place is left unanswered, and even the motive for the culprit in this first episode is still rather ambiguous, suggesting it will be explained later).

This enhanced version on the Switch added the word If to the title, indicating it was more than a simple port from the original (free) version on PC/iOS/Android. Buddy Collection if - Shukumei no Akai Ito- adds a new short storyline, with two new buddies. This storyline titled Detectives VS Culprits is a parallel world to the main storyline (it happens instead of the main storyline) and has the students participate in a variation of the Werewolf/Mafia party game, with two students playing the "Culprits" who have to kill a detective each night, and each day, the Detectives, including the Culprits who pretend to be Detectives too, have to execute someone they suspect is a Culprit. The Culprits win when they outnumber the Detectives, and the Detectives win if they execute all the Culprits. It's a short and entertaining story that shows some of the characters from the main storyline in new ways, but it's also a really mean storyline, in the sense that unlike the main storyline, it is intentionally designed to trip the player up at every corner. The game actually warns you before you begin, but it's basically throwing many, many choices at you that almost all lead to a game over screen, so it's quite difficult to find the correct route here (especially as I encountered a recurring game bug that either froze the game or booted me back to the title screen at a certain point in the story).

While those bugs late in the game were quite annoying, I did have fun Buddy Collection if - Shukumei no Akai Ito- though, even if it was a very short-lived experience (two, three hours?). The mystery plot, while simple, betrays the love of the creators for the mystery fiction genre, and this first episode hits just the right notes of both providing a story that can stand on its own, but that also invites you to play the other episodes to find out more about the overall storyline. I for one hope the other episodes will be released soon too.

Original Japanese titles(s): 『Buddy Collection if -宿命の赤い糸-』


  1. Gosh, that premise and gameplay sounds pretty exciting!

    If more games like these come to the Switch AND get localized in the West, it might just become the deciding factor for me to grab a Switch. The likes of DanganRonpa and Zero Escape games were what made me buy a PS Vita in the first place (too bad Sony's mishandling of the system pretty much killed PS Vita in the western countries).

    1. At the moment there's not very much available. The J.B. Harold games I reviewed the last few months are notable mystery releases (Manhattan Requiem is available in English), as was Rei-Jin-G-Lu-P, but not really much besides that, and these were all available on other systems before.

      So it'll take a long time before the Switch will be even close to the Vita or original DS in terms of mystery adventure games, but there are some interesting releases scheduled (even if not all localized). The newest Jinguuji Saburou/Jake Hunter will be released on Switch in August, I've set my eye on World End Syndrome (which should also release in the summer), and franchises like Ace Attorney are also slated to appear in one form or another on the Switch. And some other horror-mystery titles like Okuriinu and Closed Nightmare might be interesting.