I have mixed feelings when it comes to Japanese developer Goichi Suda: more popularly known as Suda51. Like many artists, Suda has a hard time focusing on the substance of his work and, more often than not, opts for style whenever he has the opportunity. This has led me to avoid his work more often than not with the only project I have from him being, and I’m not even kidding with this one, Lollipop Chainsaw; which is extremely fun if nothing else. That isn’t to say Suda isn’t talented, it is to say that time has given his mind over to his excesses when, in the beginning, he probably was a bit more restrained as he became comfortable with his craft.
Luckily for us, we’ll get to find out soon enough. It was recently announced that AGM Playism, the publisher of A Higher Octave and One Small Fire at A Time, would be bringing one of Suda’s early works, an adventure visual novel titled The Silver Case, to the West. The game was originally released in 1999 and was the debut title for Suda’s production company, Grasshopper Manufacture. The story itself is centered on a serial killer called Kamui (because very Japanese douchebag in the 90s was apparently named Kamui) who has escaped police custody after years in an asylum. The story is told between two protagonists, a detective and a journalist, however the demo jumps between several points-of-view, including a nameable character, to deal with the investigation into Kamui as well as his attempted capture.
The story, at least what I saw of the story, is going to be a mixed bag. Most visual novels are written likes books with both expository text to set up the location and atmosphere for a scene as well as dialogue. However, the majority of the demo is dialogue. That does have some benefits as far as building tension and promoting an unsettling atmosphere for the reader and it is milked for all its worth. This is especially true in the final act of the demo where a SWAT team is hunting through an office complex for Kamui. Between the dialogue and the presentation, it was handled well and made me feel like I was in the middle of a horror movie. I was fully enveloped and on the edge of my seat as I hunted for this douchebag and that’s an experience I don’t often get from visual novels.
Also the 90s aesthetic is strong with this one. I’m sure I don’t have to break down the stylistic differences between the anime of yesteryear and now, but the anime style of the late 80s and throughout the 90s fits the thriller and horror subgenres to a T: especially when you wash out the color palette like Silver Case does. The art has aged well and gives the characters a sense of weight that is hard to replicate some twenty years later. The soundtrack also is solid; pushing several scenes in the demo under your skin and selling the tension of the story, but that fits in with Suda’s skill. He is an atmosphere-oriented creator and, if nothing else, he knows how to create a world that someone can fall into.
The ultimate question is if the investment into the environment paid off before Suda was overcome by his aesthetic sensibilities. While the writing kept me tense and on edge, it was also confusing as Hell thanks to its overall structure and somewhat disjointed translation. There is also a serious threat of repetitive chapters here. The Silver Case has had two demos: one released a few months ago and one released over the past few days to sync with the announcement that Limited Run will be offering a few physical copies of this game. Both demos are nearly identical in structure: we get an exposition dump on the world and Kamui and we cut to the police hunting Kamui. The original demo was very limited and only had us moving through a creepy forest as Kamui tried to flip the tables on the police. This one, which takes place in an office complex, shows off a bit more of the gameplay but they end with the police in over their heads. This path of exposition, setup to hunting Kamui and Kamui getting the upper hand apparently takes up the opening chapters of the game. I REALLY hope that’s not the bulk of it; especially with an apparent lack of an investigation mode during dialogue. Otherwise this is going to get very stale very quickly.
Finally, there is the whole purpose of remastering a game: to update the graphics to meet current generation standards. Does Grasshopper Manufacture and their allies accomplish this? Not really? To be fair to them, the 3D graphics of over a decade ago may be unsalvageable. Beyond several scenes looking dated and clunky, especially if those scenes contain vehicles, there is an unfortunate connection between the gameplay and the 3D sections. The controls of the game are okay, however the demo had a segment where you are supposed to decipher codes to go through certain doors. In the original release of Silver Case, this is all laid out on a 3D graphic on the first floor. Guess what’s completely illegible thanks to dated graphics? Yup.
On top of that, this particular mini-game has been cut back on because it included both the alphabet and numbers to complete the code. This is just the alphabet, so you can try to remember the sequence in which to skip a bunch of letter and task yourself with completing the challenge, OR you can just take the easy way out and have the game solve the puzzle for you. My question is two-fold. First, if they were just going to make the mini-game irrelevant, why not just cut it out entirely and focus on the cut scenes? Second, are there any more mini-games here that are also irrelevant thanks to the degradation of time? If that is the case, just how much of the ‘adventure’ part of this ‘adventure’ VN irrelevant?
I look forward to seeing the answers to these questions. I am very curious to see how this game plays out, and to be fair to Suda and Grasshopper, I am always grateful to have a classic VN make its way to the West. But the apparent lack of hype has given me a moment of pause. And after playing through two demos, I have to see much more before putting together any definitive thought on this. But then, that just makes The Silver Case like any other project by Suda51, doesn’t it? If you want more information, check out the Steam page for The Silver Case right here. JP3: OUT.