Console ADVs are nice because I get less distracted than if I was on the computer.
Or Ace Attorney 6, which is the 6th entry in the wacky courtroom drama series. This is a series that has gone on for way too long and felt complete by the end of the third game and there is no need for all these spin-offs and sequels that just keep introducing new court gimmicks — is what I tell myself when new game gets announced, followed by “past me go fuck yourself” when I actually play the game. The series has had its high points and low points with me enjoying myself either way, and Gyakuten Saiban 6 features both what I think is one of the best cases (rivaling 3’s final case, even) and the undeniably worst case (and arguably the second or third worst as well) in the series. If 5 is a nice and even ramp up to the final case, then the enjoyment-to-time plot of 6 is like this:
where x is the quality and t is time. Cases 1, 3, 5 are set in the country of Khlain (クライン, idk what the actual romanization is because they seem to like adding h’s and apostrophes everywhere), where there are no defense attorneys due to a law that applies the defendant’s verdict to the attorney as well. It is the spiritual country where
MayoiMaya’s spirit medium powers originated from, and holds heavy Buddhist values regarding the importance of the afterlife. 1, 3, 5 build up to cool revelations and a cultural revolution, and have some of the best uses of the spiritual setting mixed with courtroom drama. 6-5 is like 3-5 on drugs.
Case 2 is a magic show featuring Apollo and case 4 is some rakugo and soba thing that gives Athena some screentime. They have some of the worst writing in the series and feature murder mystery tropes so old and cliched you can hardly believe they belong to a 2016 game that is a part of a series known for convoluted murders. Case 4 in particular features the oddest leaps in logic I’ve seen, resulting in a plain and “simple” murder that is somehow less believable than flying statues and transforming buildings.
Apollo is most fans’ least favorite protagonist because the scenario writers can’t decide on what to do with him, but he gets the best moments in GS6 and finally lives up to his name (in both English and Japanese; it’s as if the localization team could foresee future developments when they did AA4). The ending marks a new beginning for the series, so I’m looking forward to whatever the team puts out next. Dai Gyakuten 2 looks like it will be pretty good…
The ending is one of the most divisive things in recent memory and pissed off long-time fans of the series. The more I think about it the more I like it. And I’m really happy the team poured their all into the making of this game, even knowing that the reactions would be like this.
The development team is a passionate bunch. You can tell because they know exactly why you enjoy the series, why you want a sequel, what would happen if they kept catering to fans’ desires for sequels, and how to wake you up from the entrancing excitement that is watching a bunch of unique high school kids kill each other. They were able to make real life consumers react the exact same way as what they depicted in-game, making the events in-game basically seep into the real-world fandom of the series. Kodaka delivered what is simultaneously the cruelest punch and most refreshing awakening slap in the context of the series. V3 is a game that worked precisely because it had the context of the previous games and came out in the height of the series’ popularity. He is able to write fiction that appeal to real people’s desires for entertainment, and use that fiction to affect reality — a feat that can only be accomplished by understanding his audience to the deep end and establishing a two-way communication through fiction.
On top of the usual hope vs. despair conflict is the theme of truth vs. lies[fiction], two threads that weave together in the context of Danganronpa to create the ultimate finale to the series. It’s not an ending that everyone will be able to accept — heck, most people hate it to the point where they claim that the last trial of the game singlehandedly destroyed their love of the game built up from the first game’s very lame first trial to the amazing climax that is V3’s chapter 5. The “conclusion” to the battle between hope and despair leads to a rejection of all hope and fills the player with absolute despair, disappointed fans may say. But that’s the reaction Kodaka and the production team was trying to get out of you. As the series repeatedly states, the darker the despair the brighter the hope at the end — and in V3’s case, it’s a hope that you have to reach for yourself. Many felt it was a rejection to their love of the series, but after reading the last trial and the epilogue that follows, I couldn’t see it as anything but an affirmation of my love for the series. I found it to be a brilliant and satisfying conclusion to the series that absolutely had to come out right here, right now, for the proper effect. This is the ultimate reply to the sequel-demanding nature of the industry.
Back to a more normal discussion, they did a really good job with the characters in this game. The characterization has come such a long way from the first game’s cast. Ouma is the best boy and the embodiment of the game’s theme, and the protagonist is the best out of the three main entries. I really like how the relationships around the protagonist were built up. 2 is probably the most consistently fun with great trials and humor all the way through, but V3 had a strong effect to me on a personal level. Regardless of whether you’re able to accept the ending or not, the first 5 chapters are most definitely the Danganronpa you’re looking for.
In a clear contrast to the high-energy, stylized, and over-the-top murder mystery adventure games that are popular today (see above), Missing Parts is an 王道 detective game that drives the story through logical deductions and natural plot developments. Unlike games where you figure out the culprit by debating over all the evidence available, your job is to talk to people, gather evidence, and remember not only what people say but pay attention to small things that you are expected to remember. The investigation is the real challenge, as you sometimes have to talk to people the right way to get the key information out of them and head to the right place at the right time to meet who you want. Time passes if you aimlessly move between places, unlike most games which force you to gather all the proper evidence and talk to all the right people about the right topics before moving on. Basically this is a game that expects you to have a good detective’s intuition and know when you should go home and check the internet (in 2002).
As a detective, most of the work the protagonist does is talking to people potentially involved with the case and googling things on the internet. This is normally seen as the boring part of games like Gyakuten Saiban or Danganronpa, so the target audience of this game is probably very limited. While the game and its individual scenes are consistently paced and hardly ever has unnecessary text, there’s nothing flashy to immediately grab the audience’s attention. The emotional scenes and climatic showdowns of logic are presented in a restrained way compared to modern games that like to provide an outburst of emotion, but they effectively creep up on you. The main characters are all adults who do their jobs, but have some 90’s/00’s anime playfulness to draw you in. It’s not some hard-boiled detective story for Mature Adults starring smoking middle-aged men, but it certainly has an air of composure compared to more modern ADVs. It also loves detective fiction tropes, with the characters constantly joking about the protagonist encountering murders wherever he goes and a long-running rivalry between the detective protagonist and a police officer.
The game is also really long — it has 6 cases and each case is easily 8 hours long. It was originally released in three parts for the Dreamcast, then in two for the PS2. The PSP port has all 6 cases together. Despite enjoying myself, it took me forever to get through all the cases because they appear standalone at first, and each case is so filled with information that they feel fulfilling upon completion.
At the end of every case you are given a ranking according to how good of a detective you were. It’s worth playing the game without a guide, although sometimes shit gets frustrating like how if you don’t go home and check the internet at the right time, you’ll miss an entire sequence of events that is necessary for an A rank.
People might be more familiar with 428 from the same maker, but Machi is a cult classic that was a financial failure back in its day. Of course that was 1998 so bad sales then are numbers that would make extremely good sales now.
428 is what I would consider a good mainstream ADV in the sense that it has a grand plot that unfolds through the perspectives of 5 protagonists and is overall a well-balanced game that is hard to put down. It’s consistent and coherent with the occasional silly bad end. It’s a good page-turning ride that uses 実写 to provide a variety of visuals that would be extremely costly to make in hand-drawn anime-styled CGs. Machi is 428’s big brother in concept and mechanics, but rather than a grand plot with mainstream appeal, it’s full of absurd weird shit that emphasizes the cult part of cult classic.
Machi follows 8 people through a period of 5 days in Shibuya. They occasionally cross paths, and one person’s seemingly insignificant decision can affect another’s future. It’s like 428, except instead of converging into a legit plot, Machi is 8 different people’s 7.5 individual stories from beginning to end. 7.5 because two protagonists’ plots are actually closely related but they end on day 3 instead of lasting all 5 days. The characters will occasionally bump into each other (usually in the literal sense) or make decisions that affect someone else, but their individual scenarios are so diverse that it would be impossible for them to converge like in 428.
Rather than an overarching plot featuring multiple protagonists, Machi is like watching 7(.5) 90’s television dramas at the same time. Most of them are really cheesy from today’s point of view, but some of them are entertaining for me to enjoy. The best one is 七曜会, where a university student gets blackmailed by a beautiful woman into becoming the 7th member of a totally sketch pyramid scheme cult where they members call themselves by days of the week — he is Friday and the boss is Sunday. He falls in love with high school girl Wednesday, and gets to see her again if he successfully blackmails enough people. This scenario is so absurd and ridiculous that it becomes constantly entertaining as you follow a university student as he gets into all sorts of silly situations, watches a strip show, and makes a pachinko rival at night all for the sake of being bullied by a JK.
Other stories I enjoyed were THE WRONG MAN, where an actor playing a Yakuza boss in a drama accidentally switches places with an ex-Yakuza guy who was accused of robbing a jewelry store with his former underling, and で・き・ちゃっ・た which is about a high school playboy who got two girls pregnant while dating a rich girl who is also the niece of a Yakuza boss.
オタク刑事走る！ is about an otaku detective who gets various bomb threats and has to prevent Shibuya from blowing up by solving weird arcade game-related puzzles. This is the most similar to 428, but is also boring precisely because it lead on to a similar game with a real attempt at a grand plot. The best part about this route is seeing all these 90’s technology being used in the puzzles.
There’s also a story about a fat girl trying to lose weight after her boyfriend threatens to dump her if she doesn’t go from 64 kg to 47 kg in 5 days; it was one-note and dragged on for too long while being so offensive in today’s context that it no longer feels offensive. The entire route is about her trying to go on a diet by not eating, only to dream of food in every waking moment and pig out at the end of the day.
Schrodinger’s Hand is some bizarre psycho-horror about a writer on drugs and alcohol believing that his left hand is secretly deleting his “masterpiece” novel and writing shitty “lowly entertainment” for the masses when he’s asleep. The entire scenario is like some drug-trip sequence of an insane man, and is hilariously out of place. Fans of the game seem to really like it, but it was so odd I had no idea what to think of it. 迷える外人部隊 is an edgy, dramatic scenario about a guy who came home to Japan from the French Foreign Legion trying to find the meaning of his existence, only to reject everything that can potentially be his 居場所. I can see what it was trying to do but the writing was so overbearing it was difficult to take seriously (especially in the context of the rest of this game).
Not all the routes end well — some of the “true” endings are really bizarre or unsatisfying. I guess オタク刑事走る！ is intended to be the “main” plot that you should close off last, because it has a legit satisfying ending. There are shitloads of short bad endings to collect, ranging from standard stuff like Shibuya blowing up or getting murdered by Yakuza, to odd 超展開 and stuff that is trying so hard to be a joke ending it ends up losing its effect. Some of them are genuinely fun, buried between really weird stuff.
428 is the game I would actually recommend to the average person, but it’s easy to see why Machi is the one that attracts hardcore fans who still love the game nearly 2 decades later. I was enjoying myself through most of the game, and the 90’s drama absurdity was charming. You can tell the development team had loads of fun working on the game, and the credits is full of footage of the actors fooling around. The scenarios are so varied that at least one of them will entertain you at any given time, and 七曜会 basically made the game for me by being so fun. It’s hard to call the game “good” when judging with modern standards but there is something there that provided fun in a different flavor from everything else I played in recent memory. The 実写 works really well as you see real actors making extremely exaggerated faces, and some of the silly parts are all the better with real people because it looks so dumb it goes full circle and becomes good.