Famicom Detective Club (2021)
Nintendo | Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
The Game is Afoot!
The original Famicom Detective Club – The Missing Heir and The Girl Who Stands Behind – came out far before my time, in 1988 and 1989 respectively. Though the visual novel genre isn’t one I normally play a lot of, I can’t resist a good ol’ detective game. I’m a huge fan of mystery plots, and these two releases intrigued me (though I was less ecstatic about the price…). The basic premise of each title sees you take control of the young male lead, who you can name yourself (I’m a dork, so I went with Shoyo Hinata) who works for the Utsugi Detective Agency, you know, like a normal everyday teenager does. Each of the two titles has its own mystery, usually involving murder, hints of the supernatural, and buried secrets, which you’ll spend the game unravelling. I’ll be talking about both titles interchangeably (since the gameplay is identical), though I will discuss the stories of each individually (I won’t stray too deep into spoiler territory). Alright, let’s get into it!
Sleuthing on the Switch
If you’re like me, and not well-versed in the visual novel genre, it felt a lot like an Ace Attorney title – you’re able to travel to various locales, and look around the scene to scrutinize items for potential clues. Your protagonist can also use the “Think” option to evaluate important information, or push you toward certain dialogue choices by giving a valuable hint. The real crux of this game, however, comes from the “Talk” function: you’re able to interview witnesses, police, forensic investigators, and anyone else you happen to come across. This is where most of your crucial information will come from – in order to progress the story, you’ll have to initiate key points of dialogue from different characters.
Though I enjoyed gathering this information, (as this is where the bulk of the story unfolds) I did find it occasionally frustrating. It’s not always clear which topic you’ll need to select to progress a certain NPC’s dialogue – more specifically, sometimes it’s convoluted as fuck. I didn’t expect it to be easy-breezy, but I got stalled out more than once across multiple characters when I was absolutely stumped. I’d gone over every topic, looked around, thought to myself, and nothing seemed to work. Sometimes you’ll have to do something unexpected, and sometimes you might have to select the same option multiple times (i.e. pester the heck out of said NPC). Though it didn’t happen often, I found myself getting annoyed at certain parts. For those who have played The Girl Who Stands Behind, I was stuck in Bar Sambora for a HOT minute.
Tell me how I’m supposed to breathe with no heir
The Missing Heir is the first of the two I played – and it certainly opens on an interesting (if cliched) note. Your male protagonist has lost his memory after an unfortunate tumble off of a cliff – a slow introduction of characters and plot elements to the audience ensues, as our hero attempts to regain his memory. This particular title is focused on the wealthy Ayashiro family, whose mansion stands in Myoujin Village. Like most aristocratic families, the Ayashiro’s have a cutthroat reputation, and a storied history of stepping on others to achieve success. Surprise! They’re not very popular. The investigation begins with the death of the matriarch, Kiku Ayashiro, of a supposed heart attack. As you investigate, the other members of the Ayashiro family start dropping like flies – and it’s your job to figure out why.
The story of this title in particular was my favourite – I love me a good “rich people getting murdered” story. Really warms my sad, plebeian heart. Anyway, the pacing of this title was perfect – as you start to delve into the mystery, the stakes continue to rise as the chapters progress. This steady march toward the climax of the narrative (and of course, the lead-up to the reveal of the murderer) absolutely hooked me, and I stayed up late more than once to push through to the end of certain chapters – most of which ended on an even bigger cliff hanger. In doing so, the structure of this title keeps you engaged and wanting to push forward with the story. I also loved the inclusion of the subtle supernatural elements – like the villagers claiming that they’ve seen Kiku’s ghost wandering the village at night. None of these ghostly encounters are ever proven, and I think that was a smart writing decision; I liked the open-ended mysteries, and questions left unanswered as the credits rolled.
I ain’t afraid of no ghost
The Girl Who Stands Behind is a prequel to the story of The Missing Heir – we get to see the young male protagonist recruited by the head of the Utsugi Detective Agency, and how he eventually meets his partner, Ayumi. When a young high school student, Yoko Kojima, is found dead, our hero is officially flying solo on his first case. The core of this investigation takes place at Ushimitsu High School – and seems to have a connection to the rumors of a ghost known as “The Girl Who Stands Behind.” Whether the ghost exists or not – and how she’s connected to the recent murder – remains to be seen.
The pacing of this title was rough compared to The Missing Heir – the combination of a slow opening, and lack of satisfying payoffs made it a lot harder for me to get fully invested in the narrative. The Girl Who Stands Behind is very similar to The Missing Heir in the way it handles its hints of the supernatural (i.e. nothing is ever officially shown) but in this title, its disappointing rather than intriguing. Because so much of this title surrounds the mystery of the ghostly apparition, to have very little payoff felt like a letdown. This investigation is also hampered by the pacing – while The Missing Heir felt like it accelerated as the narrative unfolded, its sequel was significantly less dramatic. I mean, I’m not trying to sound like a psychopath, but when no one else was murdered in the first half of the game, it felt a little bland.
The Girl Who Stands Behind also had a few more frustrating sections than its predecessor; there are several NPC’s you’re forced to interview (normally a person passing you on the road, or a random high school student) who serve no purpose. They don’t advance the story by giving you any new information, nor do they assist with character development or add anything compelling to the plot. It felt like pointless filler in an already meandering narrative. There were also several segments where I got VERY stumped by the dialogue. The eventual solution left me feeling irritated, rather than giving me that “Aha!” satisfaction.
As I mentioned before, I’m not well-versed in the visual novel genre, though I do tend to associate it with passivity on the part of the player – though this may be an outdated, and incorrect assumption. And just to clarify – there’s nothing wrong with playing a game that doesn’t demand much of the audience. I love relaxing games, where I can engage with a story that doesn’t ask me to time complex button presses, or force me through challenging bouts of combat. When I happen to be playing through a mystery plot, part of the thrill (for me personally) is trying to sus out the murderer before the game tells me who it is. Both Famicom Detective Club games did a good job of giving its players enough information to figure out the culprit on their own. In fact, I knew who the murderer in The Missing Heir was very quickly on, though I still enjoyed learning the why/how aspects. Even better, I was caught off guard when the game actually asked for my input – there are several instances in both titles where the game will ask you to type in a keyword, or select a suspect in order to advance.
I was pleasantly surprised by getting to participate in an otherwise very passive game. If you’re not paying attention to the story and its characters, you may find yourself in a bit of a pickle when suddenly asked to come up with an answer. Though I’m sure the game would give you a hint if you were stuck. Or, you could just Google it, I guess. But that’s no fun, is it?
Though I wouldn’t say either of the Famicom Detective Club titles exceeded my expectations, or blew my mind, they were both fun to play through. They’ve got great visuals (with an anime-esque feel), compelling narratives, and interesting mysteries to solve. Both titles also contained a surprising amount of absurd humor, which I really enjoyed. The gameplay isn’t entirely passive, with each game occasionally asking for some input by the player; in doing so, these games require you to be fully immersed in the story and its characters. Though I felt The Missing Heir was the stronger of the two titles in its storytelling and pacing (and the one I would recommend if you were only picking up one of the games) The Girl Who Stands Behind was engaging nonetheless, and had an interesting twist at the end. I enjoyed my playthroughs of each, and it felt like a bit of a novelty to play something that I may never have gotten to experience otherwise – both Famicom Detective titles were originally Japan-only releases in the 80’s. If you’re a fan of the visual novel genre, or like me, and simply enjoy a good mystery, I think these are great choices, and I’d happily play another title of the same style in the future.