I refuse to let a month go without a post, so I decided to go type that review I’ve been meaning to type as soon as I finished the game. A while back I wrote about a game called Time Travelers, which was kind of neat in its use of five different protagonists to advance the story, but ultimately fell short on plot and writing. Preceding it is 428, a sound novel from Spike Chunsoft that also uses the 5-protagonist system, but does it more skillfully. The emphasis on the “novel” part also means more in-depth character writing and a longer and more detailed story overall, as compared to Time Travelers’ movie-like approach.
The game takes place in Shibuya, and begins with Kanou Shinya, one of the detectives assigned to a peculiar kidnapping case involving twin sisters and a ransom. A day prior to the day of the story (04/28), Osawa Maria was kidnapped from a college party, and the kidnapper has demanded a large ransom to be delivered in a suitcase by the victim’s twin sister, Osawa Hitomi. Hitomi is to stand under the statue of Hachiko with the suitcase, with members of the police force masquerading as normal people to keep watch on her and the surrounding area. What starts off as a seemingly normal kidnapping for ransom takes a sinister turn as it involves multiple armed parties, incomprehensible actions from the kidnapper’s side, and constant danger surrounding Hitomi.
The story is told through the eyes of five protagonists, whose choices of actions affect each other in a well-crafted system that brilliantly shows how insignificant actions from one side can determine a life-or-death situation for another. Each protagonist begins off at a different proximity to the primary plot, but they all approach the truth in their own way. The game uses a time chart that allows the player to easily jump between characters and points in time, which is highly convenient since there are loads and loads of immediate bad ends.
Endo Achi is an unemployed ex-street gang member who loves Shibuya and can never leave a troubled person alone. He gets wound up in the kidnapping by saving Hitomi from a man with a gun, and spends the rest of his day trying to protect her, despite being unrelated to the incident at hand.
Minorikawa Minoru is a cocky freelance journalist tasked with saving his former boss’ magazine in a day after the latter goofed in the last issue’s bonus scratch lottery card and is now threatening to commit suicide due to his pursuing debt. Trying to get interviews with various groups in Shibuya, Minorikawa inches closer to a dangerous truth, but not before spending his time trying to get info on a shady diet drink from a press conference full of housewives.
Tama is a mysterious girl who took up a part-time job as a cat mascot for promotion of said shady diet drink in order to acquire money for a necklace she wants.
Finally, the last protagonist is Osawa Kenji, the father of the kidnapping victim, and also the lab director of a large drug company that is developing the antibiotic for a dangerous virus.
428 does a good job of making each protagonist distinct, right down to the narration. Shinya has the “default” narration of a green detective, Achi feels like a protagonist of a shounen manga, and Minorikawa is full of himself and brings along a highly entertaining view of the world. While Tama is seemingly unrelated to the serious plot on hand and bringing along a cheery, dramatic teenage girl-like narration that doesn’t seem to fit with everyone else’s, anyone savvy enough would realize that Tama is, in fact, central to the truth. And, befitting of his antisocial character and fragile mental health, Osawa Kenji’s narration is much heavier than the other protagonists, and he also has an unreliably twisted view of his surroundings.
There are many subplots involving the characters, aside from the central plot, that greatly helps in immersing the player into the game’s take of modern-day Shibuya. While the inclusion of all these subplots seem to drag the beginning and middle parts of the plot on for longer than necessary, they also provide the player with a stronger grasp of the characters and makes the concluding parts much more satisfying. With the way the game’s well-integrated story and gameplay works, seemingly unrelated events pile up to affect crucial points in the plot. Overall 428 has a bit of everything, from hilarious moments to suspenseful tension to action scenes and a build up to a grand plot.
You can tell care was put into crafting the game’s setting and character relationships when there are loads of bonus scenarios to unlock. These are hidden all over the place, and are accessible after beating the game by going back to specific screens of text in the story and pressing a specific combination of buttons. The way of unlocking these scenes are like a throwback to some old video games, together with the tedium and requirement of a guide (for most people, anyway). There are also two long side stories involving characters who were mentioned in the main story but hardly appeared, a joke scenario involving talking recycle products that runs along with the main plot, and also two hidden messages from a staff member that are a pain in the ass to get to (what the hell man, I have to read the characters in the third column from the left vertically at a specific screen that tell me to turn off the console!?).
Despite being a sound novel that takes pride in having realistic sound effects, I’d say that 428’s strong point is its visuals. It uses stills of footage involving real actors, which means that it looks much more dynamic than most visual novels featuring 2D art and static sprites. Yes, I know, 3D people. The story is unvoiced. The only segment that looks drastically different and out of place is one of the bonus scenarios involving a certain important someone, which is entirely done with anime-style art complete with voice acting. Initially it provides an uncomfortable contrast to the rest of the game, but it’s easy enough to get used to due to the different tone of the scenario. While the main story has more Japanese drama cliches than anime cliches, the bonus scenario is so detached from everyday Japanese life and action-heavy that the anime art is more fitting.
The style of the 2D art was nudgingly familiar, but it wasn’t until I finished and looked up the game’s credits that I noticed TYPE-MOON’s involvement in the game. It turns out that there’s an anime sequel to the bonus scenario (if you haven’t seen it and plan on playing the game, don’t click), which is probably more well-known than the main game in the English-speaking community. So, upon my completion of the game, I realized how out of touch I was with recent anime (and how my idea of “recent” means 5 years ago).
So yeah, 428 is a neat adventure game utilizing a 5-protagonist point of view and a solid story. Almost like an expanded version of EVE: Burst Error. It has a slow beginning and middle, but the characters and tone are different enough from what I’m used to (read: otaku media) that it was refreshing throughout. The game has a high degree of polish, and the potential to appeal to a wide market due to its accessibility to “normal” people. Best protagonist is Minorikawa because his overly dramatic and forceful actions are hilarious to watch, and his unrelenting passion and grit towards his profession is truly admirable. There are also a shitload of bad endings (85, to be exact), not all of which are serious or tragic. There are a good number of bad ends that simply consist of the character in question wasting the rest of his day doing unrelated things, like Shinya getting fired or deciding to quit his job and run off to the countryside to marry his girlfriend, or Minorikawa getting into a heated argument with a housewife at a restaurant, or falling into a virtual labyrinth full of cats…okay, the last one is the one and only of its kind. The game is available on Wii, PS3, and PSP (also on PSN for download) so pretty much anyone can access it. I played the PS3 version but there is virtually no difference between the PS3 and PSP versions aside from portability and image quality.
As a side note, I know nothing about 3D actors but Hitomi/Maria’s actress is really cute.