Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Stand and Deliver

"Foaf is a word I invented to stand for 'friend of a friend,' the person to whom so many of these dreadful things I am about to recount happens." 
"It's True, It Happened to a Friend" (Dale, R. 1984)

Huh, few game reviews this year. And you could even say I'm cheating now, as I played a version that bundled two games as one, but I still review them as two seperate releases.

Two years after the horrifying incident involving the serial killer Blindman from urban myths in the village of C in S Prefecture, police detective Houjou Maki is promoted and transferred to the police headquarters of G Prefecture in return for her silence on the case. She is teamed up with a new partner Sena, a former biker delinquent, self-proclaimed 'fastest guy in the world' and lover of urban legends. The new duo is put on a curious series of murders and assaults committed by a woman dressed in a trenchcoat: a kid was killed and dragged across the street, a couple was suddenly attacked by a woman hiding beneath a park bench, a high school student had her ear bitten off and another woman had her leg chopped off on the street. Sena believes there is a pattern: all these attacks remind of famous urban legends involving female assailants, like that of Hikiko (who dragged her victims across the road) and that of the murderer hiding beneath the bed. As they investigate the case further, Saki has to decide whether there's a scientific, rational explanation to these events or that she should accept that there are occult powers at play here in the game Shin Hayarigami 2 (2016), released on PS Vita, PS4 and Switch.

Some weeks ago, I reviewed the game Shin Hayarigami (as part of the Shin Hayarigami 1&2 Pack on the Nintendo Switch), noting it departed far from the formula of the original Hayarigami series to focus more on (gorey) horror, rather than striking a balance between scientific and occult mysteries like the first three games. I am happy to say that Shin Hayarigami 2 is muuuuch better in that regard as it goes back to the formula which made the original games so unique, providing an interesting horror mystery adventure game that delves deep in the theme of urban legends. The story is presented in omnibus (short story) format, with Saki and Sena working on a different case each episode, themed after different urban legends. The stories can be pretty gory: the second story for example starts with the discovery of the body of a middle-aged woman who has been halved. As in, she was cut in half across her length. Sena is a geek on urban legends, so each time, he'll basically lecture Saki/the player on all kinds of urban legends that have to do with the case at hand, and like with most urban legends, many of them will sound kinda familiar to you, almost as if you ever heard it from a friend of a friend of a friend...

As you investigate each case, you are presented with "Self-Question" segments, where you ponder on the direction of your investigation. Eventually, each episode will split in two distinctly different routes: the scientific route or the occult route. This was the defining system of the original games, as having two routes allowed the game to present both a "normal" mystery story, as well as a more supernatural horror story based on the same premise, but the truth was always somewhere in the middle: while both routes usually play out drastically differently, both sides usually answer questions not answered in the other route. In the first chapter for example, you eventually have to decide whether you believe the woman in the trenchcoat is a supernatural being or not. If you choose not, you'll go hunt for 'normal' clues like a motive and the missing link between all the victims, while in the occult route, you try to figure out how the woman in the trenchcoat came into existence. While both routes have very different conclusions to the same basic premise, both sides are worth playing through, as for example the motive becomes a bit clearer in the scientific route, while the occult route helps explain how the woman in the trenchcoat managed to be at the same place at the same time. Shin Hayarigami didn't feature this specific mechanic, but it's luckily revived for Shin Hayarigami 2, and it makes this game really a lot more enjoyable and unique, as you get to enjoy the same base story twice! The somewhat mediocre Liar's Art mechanic where you try get answers from someone by lying to them returns from the first Shin Hayarigami game, and it's still quite mediocre in this game.

Story-wise, the first half of Shin Hayarigami 2 is a lot stronger than the second half though. The first half is basically classic Hayarigami, with the focus on well-known urban myths like the slasher beneath the bed and the ghost of a deceased idol artist appearing during a live broadcast. The split between the scientific and occult routes is also done well, with both sides answering questions from their point of view (scientifically or with a supernatural explanation), but always including an element of the opposite side to help explain some parts (i.e. even the scientific route will feature some element of the occult, and vice-versa). The second half on however, the stories tend to lean a bit too much towards the, well, not supernatural perhaps, but the over-the-top unrealistic and sometimes outright weird aspecs of urban legends. I find Hayarigami at its best when it's slightly supernatural, when most of it can be explained except for that one thing, but the second half of Shin Hayarigami 2 goes much further than that. In a way though, the final two chapters feel even a bit more like the first Shin Hayarigami title, which could sometimes diverge veeeery far from the basic setting. I personally who'd have preferred if they had kept to the style of the first three chapters (and up to an agree, the extra bonus chapter).

Speaking of that, they kinda try to forget the first Shin game ever happened. The first chapter has Saki still dealing with the traumatic experience of the Blindman incident, but nothing specific is mentioned and basically all the characters/setting of the first game are ignored and forgotten in this second game. That said, I'd say Shin Hayarigami 2 is pretty good in terms of going back to the series' roots overall: it is muuuuuuch closer to the original series, with more room for lightheartier moments (the banter between Saki and Sena) and outright weird characters (Kisaragi, the head director of the Forensic Reserch Institute who also happens to be a shrine maiden) and a bit more indepth discussion about urban legends. And while Shin Hayarigami was devoid of any references to the original series, we actually have a few meaningful references to familiar names, like the name of a certain reporter on the occult in the magazine Mu and ooooh boy, I totally saw that other character coming as he spoke more and more, but that was a great way to reintroduce a familiar face.

Overall though, I had a great time with Shin Hayarigami 2. It's a good return to the series' roots in terms of atmosphere and gameplay. For lovers of urban myths, this series is still gold, as it's really fun investigating cases that may have to do with famous urban legends. It's obviously not fair play mystery as each story will involve some element of the occult and supernatural that comes out of nowhere, but I kinda like how this series plays with providing both a scientific and occult conclusion to each story, and especially the first half of Shin Hayarigami 2 does a good job at that. The ending seems to suggest Saki and her team will return in the future, though it's been nearly four years now since this game was originally released, so it is kinda overdue. Anyway, Shin Hayarigami has always been seen as the black sheep of the franchise (as it was more 'just' a horrorgame), which may have kept people away from this second game, but I think that fans of the original games will actually find quite a lot to like in Shin Hayarigami 2.

Original Japanese title(s): 『真流行り神2』


  1. Thanks for reviewing this. I'm glad to know that the overall series is much better than Blindman; although I'm not sure why they chose that story for English translation and release rather than the older games or even part 2 of Shin Hayarigami.

    On the topic of games, are you looking forward to Danganronpa's creator's new game Death Come True which will feature FMV? After Shibuya Scramble, looking forward to another Japanese mystery FMV game.

    1. It'd be interesting if they had released more of Shin 1, but it was really weird they only did the Blindman scenario :/ I'm kinda hoping they'll also release a 3-pack with the original Hayarigamis, as I only played the first + seen parts of 2 and 3.

      I'm definitely interested in Kodaka's new game, though I have to admit I'm really hoping it's not just a slightly altered Danganronpa in terms of themes. And I find FMV games interesting in general actually! The Chunsoft ones like 428, Machi and Imabikiso all have fantastic atmosphere. Love watching Lets Plays of FMV mystery games from the PS/Saturn era too ^_~

    2. Never really heard of Imabikiso, but from brief search on Google, looks like it's a straight up horror game? Or does that one can also be considered to be a mystery game?

    3. Nah, it's horror. While there's no real connection, one could consider it a spiritual successor to Otogirisou, the first sound novel. Which was also horror. Imabikisou is pretty interesting in terms of sound design, with all the direct quotes spoken by voice actors, but that text not projected on the screen, while the rest of the prose is.