In 1988, Nintendo released on the Family Computer Disk System the Famicom Tantei Club duology, a couple of detective games with connected stories. It was the very first work by Yoshio Sakamoto as a scenario and scriptwriter, who would eventually gain importance in the company and become the leader of the Metroid series after working on the first game as a designer. With these antecedents, the dual game already is a historical document in itself, and its Western release 33 years later for the very first time is big news for those interested in video games and their origins.
On Nintendo Switch the duology will launch on May 14 in the form of the remade, indivisible pack Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir And The Girl Who Stands Behind. In essence, it's the original visual novels, but now adding English localisation, Japanese voices, new music and naturally HD redrawn graphics.
Given that The Girl Who Stands Behind already got its own remake on the SNES, in the past few weeks I started playing The Missing Heir, which leaves a first impression of what murder mystery fans can look forward to.
The first thing about Famicom Detective Club that caught my attention were, logically, its graphics. Not only do they make the expected leap in terms of resolution coming from the 8-bit era, but they also show delicacy and finesse, even more so than other visual novels for current consoles. The drawings look like they're taken from an anime and the characters' soft moves brings life and naturalness to them.
The second aspect, on the contrary, is the archaic game system. The developers at Mages don't seem keen to tweak the original's mechanics, which makes the experience slightly tough to swallow during the first few hours. You progress by selecting exploration and dialogue options through different menus, and their structure isn't the most intuitive in the world, let alone in 2021 when the standards have improved so much. Thus, I've seen myself cycling around the different action words as we used to do in the 80's and 90's. Besides, you have to try some un-highlighted options once again in order to get new answers to make the systems progress.
It also struck me as shocking and outdated that I found no option to save the game at any time, as it's the norm in the majority of games of the genre, and that I had to rely on the eventual autosave (or on my Switch's battery). Well, it turns out there is an option to save, but under the term of "Quit Investigation", which may come across as quite confusing when you happen to be investigating somewhere. However, features such as "Plot review" (the story so far) and "Backlog" really are useful, the former being voiced and all.
That plot so far is full of the genre's clichés, but let's all remember here that Sakamoto-san was tasked with creating a detective game based on those very ingredients in late 80's, much as they seem overused nowadays in adventure games. All the staples we've seen in books, series, and most Japanese visual novels are there: amnesic protagonist, rich family with an inheritance to share, and potential murder to solve.
So instead of aunt Agatha we're talking about grandma and chairwoman Kiku Ayashiro, leader of the family of the same name, who dies in suspicious circumstances. I won't tell you more for now about the other relatives and the potential directions the plot will take, but we'll keep an eye on the script's quality and its dénouement, as they sustain the main appeal of this work.
The gameplay loop consists of collecting leads (the notepad keeps track of the character's profiles), talking to potentially-related people and, when the time comes, recovering parts of your lost memory with the "Remember" action. The scenery can also be examined with a somewhat sluggish scan feature, by the way.
In general, it looks like the story is set in the most rural Japan, and the characters themselves show some of the Japanese people's traits and personalities. To add to this setting, voices have been recorded in the original language, which is a nice touch for those interested in this culture.
However, those texts are English only and the fact that there are no additional European languages will prevent many fans from enjoying these stories, and even if it's unlike Nintendo, it's the same move we recently saw with Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light; they're considered collectors niche games, which first Western localisation is limited to one language only.
But before I keep whining about translations, I'll check how Famicom Detective Club unfolds itself, how it's played in the long run, and how good its story actually is. In the early hours, it's a somewhat rough and clumsy game, and almost seems as though as the NES original is running underneath the beautiful visual upgrade. So, even if it were broadly localised, it'd struggle to call back fans in the same way Hotel Dusk, Professor Layton, Phoenix Wright, Another Code and the likes did not so long ago.