Saturday, November 26, 2022

Death Times Three

Time after time 
ひとり 花舞う街で
「Time after Time ~花舞う街で」(倉木麻衣)
Time after time 
Alone, in the city of dancing flowers
"Time after Time ~ In the City of Dancing Flowers" (Kuraki Mai)

By the way, is there like a honkaku Discord channel or something similar?

Still so many Nintendo DS mystery adventures to play.... A few months ago, I bought a bunch of DS adventures I still haven't gotten around to, but there are still so many I want to try out too...

Yamamura Misa and Nishimura Kyoutarou are two of Japan's mystery novelists who are often mentioned together, as there was a time where they were simply the best known detective writers in the country, at least in terms of name recognition. Both writers were extremely prolific, and their works were also often adapted for television, which of course eventually meant everyone had at least heard of their names, and likely they once caught one of the many television specials or series based on their works and characters. Nishimura was strongly associated with train-related mysteries, and by extension the travel mystery, a sub-genre that focuses on crimes occuring at touristic destinations and other places away from Tokyo that require travelling, whereas common themes in Yamamura's work were female protagonists, stories focusing on romance and romance-turned-to-hatred and most importantly: the city of Kyoto. Which is a very popular tourist destination in general, even for domestic tourism, which also makes her work feel part of the travel mystery genre. Another common point these both authors have, is that their work were also among the earliest in Japan to be adapted into the video game medium. The Famicom (the Japanese counterpart to the Nintendo Entertainment System) saw several mystery adventure games based on the works of Nishimura Kyoutarou and Yamamura Misa, and interestingly, these games weren't adaptations of existing works, but based on their works, often involving the original authors as supervisors. 

In 2018, I reviewed DS Nishimura Kyoutarou Suspense Shin Tantei Series: Kyoto - Atami - Zekkai no Kotou Satsui no Wana ("DS Nishimura Kyoutarou Suspense - A New Detective Series: Kyoto - Atami - The Lone Isle In The Deep Sea - A Murderous Trap"), a mystery adventure game released on the Nintendo DS in 2007 by developer Tecmo. As the title suggest, it was a game based on the work of Nishimura Kyoutarou and actually the first original game bearing his name in over a decade at the time. His "connection" with Yamamura however remained strong, and the following year, a second entry in this series was released, but based on Yamamura Misa's work: DS Yamamura Misa Suspense - Maiko Kogiku / Kisha Catharine / Sougiya Ishihara Akiko - Koto ni Mau Hana Sanrin - Kyouto Satsujin Jiken File ("DS Yamamura Misa Suspense - the Maiko Kogiku / Reporter Catharine / Funeral director Ishihara Akiko - The Three Petals Dancing In the Ancient Capital - Kyoto Murder Files" 2008) once again has a supercalifragilisticexpialidociously long title, so I'll just be referring to it as DS Yamamura Misa Suspense. As the title suggests, this game focuses on three of Yamamura Misa's famous female detectives who are all active in the former capital Kyoto: Kogiku is a maiko (geisha in training), Catharine Turner is the daughter of a former US vice-president, who now works in Japan as a journalist and Ishihara Akiko is a funeral director with a keen eye for crime. DS Yamamura Misa Suspense consists of three episodes, each starring a different detective, supported by their respective boyfriends, and also by Inspector Kariya of the Kyoto police force, who is in charge of the criminal investigation each time and knows all three detectives acting as the connecting thread between the three episodes. Yamamura Misa had already died by the time this game was made though, so the game was supervised by her agency. 

As a spiritual sequel to DS Nishimura Kyoutarou Suspense Shin Tantei Series 1, it's probably not a surprise when I tell you that technically and game design-wise, the two games are very similar. They use the same user interface, you have the same kind of (fairly well-animated) character sprites transposed on real-life-esque backgrounds. In my 2018 review, I pointed out that DS Nishimura Kyoutarou Suspense Shin Tantei Series 1 was very beginner-friendly though, and it was obviously designed for non-gamers. It is an adventure game at the core, so expect to talk with the suspects about a variety of topics, explore several locations and find clues, and ultimately, use the physical evidence and other clues or testimonies you acquired throughout the game to solve the crime by answering questions from foes or allies, and correct answers will further drive the plot. Nothing surprising here when it comes to game design. This game however does not punish you for wrong answers and also guides you to the next location you must visit, so you can't ever get lost in this game or not know what to do next. This game is actually even more streamlined and linear than the previous game: whereas DS Nishimura Kyoutarou at least occassionally did more than just ask you what happened three minutes ago, DS Yamamura Misa almost expects the player to be not familiar with either video games, nor with mystery fiction because the questions it fires at you are ridiculously simple.

So you'll be mostly playing this game to just experience the three stories with the three detectives, as challenge is definitely not to be found here. I'd say that overall, none of the three episodes are truly memorable, though most of them have one or two ideas that are pretty interesting. You can play the episodes in any order, though the game has the episode with Kogiku lined up first. She's booked with a fellow maiko to act as a companion at a party, but on her way to the party, Kogiku stumbles upon the body of a fellow maiko who was supposed to appear at the party. The mystery plot is more about figuring out who had a motive for wanting the maiko dead and as the player, you don't really get to do much, though I liked an early part of the story where a maiko's alibi depends on how long it would take to put her clothes on! Traditional Japanese arts do play a big role in Yamamura's work, so this felt quite natural. The last story features the funeral director Akiko, who meets up with a friend who's been worried about another friend she can't reach. When they visit this person, they find she has passed away in her apartment, having cut her wrists. Akiko soon realizes something is off about her death, but the victim's father refuses to call in the police and wants her funeral service to be handled as quickly as possible. Akiko offers her services to the father, hoping to buy herself some time to find out what really happened. Again a story that is mostly about learning who had a motive to want her dead, but this time there's not even some small moment that stuck with me.

The episode with Catherine is definitely the most memorable: Cathy is writing an article on Noh theater, and she and her boyfriend visit a Noh hall sponsored by a tea maker. A young talent is rehearsing the piece Doujouji with his mentor in the hall and will have time to be interviewed by Cathy afterwards. Only the master and his apprentice are inside the theater while they are rehearsing, but as they finish and the mentor comes out the hall first, the young actor is poisoned with arsenic, even though nobody was inside the hall anymore once his mentor stepped out to speak with Cathy. The story once again focuses on finding out who hated the actor enough to want to poison him, but there is also an impossible crime angle to this story that makes this the best episode of the game, as the mystery just has more volume to it. The way the real play Doujouji is integrated into the mystery plot is actually really clever and even leads to one of the few moments in the game where the player has to think and figure the connection out themselves. I can actually imagine a full novel being based on this episode alone, as there are more than enough parts and segments that could easily be expanded a bit for a mystery with more body. 


DS Nishimura Kyoutarou Suspense Shin Tantei Series 1 had a fun extra mode titled West Village, featuring 50 short mystery quizzes and riddles, reminiscent of Professor Layton puzzles. This game sadly enough does not have such a feature, instead featuring a mode with quizzes on Kyoto and traditional Japanese culture, starring Yamamura Misa's daughter Momiji. West Village was a great way to present more interactive mysteries for the player to solve, so it's really a shame this game doesn't have those mystery quizzes anymore.

But as the game is now, I would not really recommend anyone to play DS Yamamura Misa Suspense - Maiko Kogiku / Kisha Catharine / Sougiya Ishihara Akiko - Koto ni Mau Hana Sanrin - Kyouto Satsujin Jiken File, at least, not if you're looking for an engaging mystery adventure. The game is too clearly aimed at non-gamers, so you're just led down a linear path with basically no mental input from the player. I do think it serves as an okay introduction to these three detectives by Yamamura, and while I have already read a few Catherine novels, I think I might try those with Kogiku and Akiko too in the future. I went in this game with pretty low expectations and I am also trying to play most of the Japanese mystery adventures released on the Nintendo DS, so I don't feel too disappointed with the game, but it's far from memorable. Its big brother DS Nishimura Kyoutarou Suspense Shin Tantei Series is more amusing in comparison, and even that is a title that hardly stands out.

Original Japanese title(s): 『DS山村美紗サスペンス 舞妓小菊・記者キャサリン・葬儀屋石原明子 古都に舞う花三輪 京都殺人事件ファイル』


  1. To answer your question about the possibility of a honkaku discord server, I guess that the Irregular Scans discord is the closest to anything that I can find, but that isn't exactly honkaku centric.

  2. I'm also part of the Irregular Scans discord. They discuss detective stories whether they're novels or games or anime or manga. They do have a section dedicated to novels. It's nice to share reading experiences with people who like the same stuff