Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Case of the Perfect Maid

アレコレ深く考えるのは mystery 

Turn the roulette of fate
It's a mystery thinking deeply about this or that
"Turn the Roulette of Fate" (Zard)

When I reviewed Return of the Obra Dinn last year, I mentioned the hardware obstacle when playing mystery videogames: obviously, you need to have access to a piece of gaming hardware that can actually play the game, and depending on where the game was produced and when, it may be very difficult to play certain mystery videogames, whereas with books, it's usually only a question of getting the book in question, even if it's rare/expensive. But sometimes, it's not just about whether you have compatible hardware or not. Sometimes, you simply prefer to play a certain title on hardware X rather than on hardware Y, even if the game's not actually released on X.

That was the case for me with Gothic Murder - Unmei wo Kaeru Adventure ("Gothic Murder - A Fate-Changing Adventure"), a game which was originally released in 2019 for iOS and Android. The title caught my attention because it was developed by Orange, a small developer specializing in adventure games and strongly involved with my beloved Tantei Jinguuji Saburou series: Orange had been responsible for the more recent entries like Ghost of the Dusk, Prism of Eyes and New Order: Giwaku no Ace (on a sidenote: Orange's also the developer behind the Detective Conan match 3 game Detective Conan: Banjou no Crosschain). Given that Gothic Murder was an original IP of Orange itself (not the case with the Jinguuji games), I was really interested to see what kind of mystery adventure game it would be, but I am also not a very big fan of playing story-based videogames on my phone, so I had been wavering about whether I should get it or not for some while now. And then last week they announced they'd release the game on Switch in March 2020, and everything was solved for me. I love it when a plan comes together.

Gothic Murder is set in Great Britain in the year of 1920. Elly, who lost her father in the war and soon after her mother too, has been hired as the new maid to serve in Count Lokiford's household. The previous head of the family has recently passed away, and now his son Irwing, the new count, is set to inherit the estate and the family fortune. Oddly enough, Irwing's father didn't leave a will, but had arranged for a spirit medium to come. Other family members and guests have been invited too to the seance, where the spirit medium is to ask the spirit of Irwing's father directly about who will inherit how much. It's a busy first day for Elly, but when Elly first meets her new master, she's shocked to learn that Irwing looks exactly like the dead man she saw in her dreams last night. Elly had similar dreams before her parents died, so now she fears that Irwing is going to die very soon too. And the problem is that Irwing didn't die a natural death in her dreams. Being on her guard, she indeed manages to foil one attempt on her master's life, but the following day she has another dream of Irwing being killed. Who is the lurking murderer who keeps making attempts on Elly's master?

Huh. I'm still not exactly sure how I feel about this game, even as I'm writing this. In a way, it's exactly what I had expected from Orange based on their other games. Gothic Murder is very small in scale, rather easy and practically never truly surprising. Yet, I have to admit I had fun playing the game, even if it was very short. Gameplay-wise, Gothic Murder is hardly epoch-making, being a mix of traditional adventure games (with segments where you solve inventory puzzles and have to confront people with evidence) and novel videogames (with story-changing choices that either proceed the story or lead to a Bad Ending). The whole experience is very streamlined and never difficult, but I did enjoy playing Elly while solving minor puzzles here and unmasking murderers there. But in terms of gameplay, expect a very sober experience with few challenges. By the time you have gathered all the information and evidence needed, you should know exactly what was planned and how to prove it. So challenging, this game is not. I guess this is what would be called a funiki gee (lit: "atmospheric game"), which I described in another videogame review as:

In Japan, the term funiki gee (lit: "atmospheric game") is used to describe games that may not be impressive from a gameplay point of view per se, but which present the player with a unique, enjoyable atmosphere that manages to pull in the player. Usually, it's a mixture of the art, the music and the underlying world that helps create this ambiance, providing a whole package that is at least enjoyable due to how the game feels despite minor or more major flaws regarding how the game actually plays.

The game is divided in several chapters, and each chapter starts with Elly dreaming of Irwing's death. From there she starts poking around, gathering evidence and talking with the guests and other servants in the house, until she manages to prevent Irwing's death that day, and then you proceed to the next day. Obviously, the repeated attempts on Irwing's life do raise suspicions even with him and as the story progresses, so you not only 'solve' the daily murder, but also learn more about the background of the Lokiford family as the story progresses, slowly building to the finale. And yes, I think there's a pretty interesting story to be found here with fun characters. I was actually surprised the cast was so large for a game that seemed so limited in scale and with a story revolving around old family secrets, spirit mediums, people plotting to steal the inheritance and more, you know there's potential for a good mystery story. The "daily murder attempts" on Irving are pretty easy to solve, but it's interesting to see how the scenario writer Kaneko Mitsue did manage to write a story that is cleverly set in the specific time period and place, with murder plots that fit in the setting of a British manor in the 1920s. It's not mind-blowing original or anything like that, but all the props she uses for the mystery plots feel completely natural given the setting, using very normal objects and customs to create simple, but convincing murder plots.

I do have to admit the whole experience did feel a bit... shallow? I guess this is because Gothic Murder was developed as a game for smartphones, so scenes and dialogues are kept relatively short. I think it still reads well as it is now, but I do think fleshing out the story and the characters just a little bit more, say with more flavor dialogues and just more set-up for the story and plot developments would've made Gothic Murder even better.

I liked the music by the way, especially the fantastic investigation theme. So I looked the composer up, and I have to admit I was really surprised it was Hamada Seiichi (AKA Haseda "ACE" Daichi), the composer of the Tantei Jinguuji Saburou series. I only knew of him of his brilliant jazz and blues tracks he did for that series, so I was surprised to hear a very different kind of soundtrack for Gothic Murder, but this one has some nice tracks too.

Gothic Murder - Unmei wo Kaeru Adventure is on the whole not a game that is particularly remarkable. It's both short and very simple, but I enjoyed both the story it told, as well as the whole atmosphere of the game. I think the core mystery story is entertaining with even a few surprising twists, even if it could've been fleshed out a bit more. And you know, not everything has to be a epoch-making epic that turns the whole discourse around. Ultimately, I will gladly admit I had fun with Gothic Murder as a short, but entertaining piece of mystery fiction. Another adventure game by Orange will release soon on Switch too, so expect more games here in the near future.

At least, that's assuming Animal Crossing: New Horizons next week won't consume my whole life. Which is also a very likely probability.

Original Japanese title(s):『ゴシックマーダー-運命を変えるアドベンチャー』

No comments :

Post a Comment