Sunday, May 6, 2018

She Died a Lady

Dance into the fire
That fatal kiss is all we need
"A View to a Kill" (Duran Duran)

Mystery fiction has always thrived on the re-use of concepts. When you read a mystery novel, chances are that the underlying core tricks or ideas behind the mystery plot are not completely original, but a variation of an idea that has been used somewhere before, often by a different author even. This is not a bad thing per se, as a good writer should, and will bring their own originality even if the core concept is old. For example, many classic mystery authors will, ultimately, use some concept used in the Father Brown stories, but a good author will manage to add enough of their own to transform it into something not easily recognized as 'oh, that's from Father Brown, and perhaps even improve on the original idea. Reuse of ideas is also prevalent within the canon of one single author. Agatha Christie is infamous for re-using her own ideas across several works, but she was always careful to change enough of the characters and scenery so you probably wouldn't notice it the first time around. This redressing of older ideas still requires originality though, as you can't just copy-paste chapters or paragraphs of an older book to write a new mystery, right?

Reuse of assets is however quite normal in other mediums, especially in videogames. Graphical assets like characters and backgrounds are very often re-used within series (and even if they're not the same series), as are musical tracks and game engines (the series of back-end programs that actually run the game). A mystery novel isn't likely to use the same written passages from earlier novels in the series, but mystery game series will often reuse these assets from earlier entries in the series. The Tantei Junguuji Saburou series re-uses many background scenes for example, and many of background music tracks are also (remixes of tracks) borrowed from earlier games. The Gyakuten Saiban/Ace Attorney as well as the Danganronpa series do similar things, with recurring characters retaining their graphical and audio assets from earlier appearances for example.

The game Keiji J.B. Harold no Jikenbo - Kiss of Murder, also known as J.B. Harold - Kiss of Murder however has a form of asset re-use I had never seen in mystery fiction before though. This hardboiled mystery adventure game was originally released in 1987 for the PC in Japan, and has seen re-releases on hardware like MSX, Nintendo DS and Switch. It is the third game released in Riverhillsoft's J.B. Harold mystery game series, though it is not considered the third entry in the series. The subtitle of the game is Another Story of Manhattan Requiem, and that is precisely what Kiss of Murder is: an alternative version  of the second game in the series, Manhattan Requiem. Both games start similarly, with the mysterious death of Sara Shields in Manhattan and Liberty Town police detective J.B. Harold being asked by his old friend and insurance investigator Judd to investigate her death, as J.B. became acquaintances with her during an earlier investigation. This is where the similarities in the stories stop though, as Sara's death is clearly a murder in Kiss of Murder, and this time a sapphire called Blue Sorrow which Sara had been keeping for her brother-in-law has disappeared. It doesn't take long for J.B. to discover that quite a few people had some beef with the woman, so it'll take a lot of good old-fashioned footwork to uncover who killed Sara and where the sapphire went.

What makes Kiss of Murder so strange is that it's a parallel world to Manhattan Requiem. Not only are both games about the death of Sara Shields, Kiss of Murder actually re-uses a great number of assets from Manhattan Requiem, most notably its graphical assets. While the stories of both games are completely different, with different characters, both games share character art. This means that the art of many characters in Manhattan Requiem is also used in Kiss of Murder, but for different characters. So while these characters might look exactly the same (as they are the exact same assets) in these two games, they represent different characters, with other names and backgrounds. So some people who supposed to be dead in Manhattan Requiem are alive here, and vice-versa. It's a bit like having the same actor playing different roles, but it's something very seldom seen in games and mystery fiction. It's perhaps similar to how the Nero Wolfe TV series used an ensemble cast that played different roles in different episodes, though at least the actors weren't wearing the exact same hairdo and outfits like in Manhattan Requiem and Kiss of Murder. In the original PC release, Kiss of Murder was a bit cheaper than a regular PC game, but you needed the disc of Manhattan Requiem to play the game (as it literally uses assets from that game).

In terms of gameplay mechanics and story, Kiss of Murder is also very similar to its two predecessors. Once again, the story starts out in a non-linear manner,  allowing you visit most of the suspects in any order you want, asking them about all kinds of manners. Right after the short prologue for example, you could choose to go to Sara's apartment to look for clues there, but also go to her work to ask about her last few da, or visit the library to look up some old files that might have to do with her death. A chat with one of Sara's acquaintances might raise your suspicions about them, making them a suspect, but they might also point the way to another suspect, or tell you something about another person whom you first thought to be completely innocent. There are nearly thirty suspects, and at first you learn all kinds of random pieces of information of them which can be A LOT to process, but as you progress, you'll slowly connect the dots. For example, at first person A might say they have an alibi, but interviews with person B and suspect C might prove that A wasn't where they said they were, making them a suspect too. The game isn't really helpful here though: it will say whenever you have collected enough testimony to consider a person a suspect, but it doesn't repeat what those clues were, so you really need a good memory, or write things down, or else you'll go "Okay, the game now tells me this person is a suspect, but I can't remember why." Eventually, you'll gather enough testimony and evidence to confrot suspects with their lies, uncover their relation to the death of Sara and in the end, solve the murder. As the game progresses, it loses its non-linearity, as you cross off all the possibilities. What sets Kiss of Murder apart from the previous two games in the J.B. Harold series is the chapter structure: Kiss of Murder is slightly less linear as it's actually divided in several chapters, with some characters and events only happening after certain chapters, whereas the previous games had less structure. Knowledge of previous games is not required per se, though Kiss of Murder does adress a plot point raised in the first game, Murder Club.

As a mystery story, there's nothing fancy here: no locked room murders or impossible alibis or anything like that. Kiss of Murder's emphasis lies on unraveling the complex ties between all the characters. At first, you'll only have a face and a name, but as you progress, you'll slowly uncover how each of these characters are connected, and most of them will turn out to be quite different from your first impression. As a game it's certainly not a very engaging or thrilling experience, as you're basically only going through dialogue, with everyone snitching on each other, The fun lies in going through this story in a non-linear fashion and making the connections yourself in your mind, as the game itself doesn't explain (for example, the game might tell you need to confront suspect A with their lies now, but you yourself have to remember that a while ago, suspect B and C both provided proof that suspect A had lied in completely different testimonies). At the best times, it does really feel like you yourself are solving this case, but at the worst of times, Kiss of Murder feels like a chore, as you run around asking everyone about everything in the hopes of coming across a clue. The division in chapters in Kiss of Murder doesn't help much to help this problem the previous games also had.

If you have played any other J.B. Harold game, you know what to expect from this game. Kiss of Murder does not only borrow its graphical assets from Manhattan Requiem, but the gameplay is also exactly the same. It is a very sober and small adventure game that focuses solely on conversations, with no puzzle-solving demanded from the player themselves, but slowly discovering how everyone is connected can be fun, but only if you pay attention all the time, because the game doesn't want to explain a lot to you. As a game written by Suzuki Rika (known for the Another Code and Hotel Dusk games of the late CiNG), you can expect a lot of focus on the human characters, but Kiss of Murder offers very, very little besides that.

『刑事J.B.ハロルドの事件簿 キスオブマーダー』


  1. Hello

    I'd like to buy your novel 8 mansion murders but it's not in ebook/kindle

    can you please tell me when will it be available ?

    1. Thank you! The official release month is June, and while LRI sometimes releases its books a month earlier, it seems it really will be June this time. Your best bet is to check the website of the publisher for updates (