Review: The Silver Case
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: NIS America
Genre: Visual novel
Platforms: Playstation 4, PC, OS X
The Silver Case is a release 18 years in the making. Way back in 1999, this game served as the debut title for Grasshopper Manufacture, a games studio helmed by the now notorious Goichi “Suda51” Suda. Though plenty of his games afterwards would receive translations and re-releases, this title never quite made it to English shores. 18 years later, can this oddity really translate?
The plot revolves around the investigations of the Heinous Crimes Unit, a squadron of police detectives serving in the 24 Wards. This cross-sectioned version of contemporary Japan is, as we begin, being terrorised by a ghost from their past: serial killer Kamui Uehara. A Special Forces Unit is sent in to capture the deranged killer; in a brutal encounter, the only one surviving is, you, the player. Rendered mute from shock, you are drafted into the Heinous Crimes Unit, tasked with untangling the bizarre web of crime and secrets that exists in this city. Given the moniker of ‘Big Dick’, you serve as the viewpoint for all the cases that come afterwards, including the mysterious ‘Silver Case’ itself.
Meanwhile, a reporter named Tokio Morishima works on his own investigation. Slowly but surely, the both of you inch your way towards the truth…
In simple terms, this game is a visual novel, but calling it that would do a disservice to the off-kilter atmosphere Suda51 creates. While the game does contain your usual long stretches of dialogue and narration, it’s constantly punctuated with other forms of media. Tableaus of your location sway back and forth. Character portraits are switched for full images, their art style switching from chapter to chapter. There’s even occasional full-motion videos, grainy with age. Very little in The Silver Case is presented plainly, unless plainness is the point. This artistic approach gives the whole game a sense of style and strangeness, sure – but on the flipside, also makes things very confusing and hard to follow. Standard Suda fare, then.
Gameplay breaks are equally bizarre in their stark utility. Big Dick (yes, really) explores a grid-based map in first person. Exploring the world takes the form of a command wheel: Move, Contact (interact), Implement (item) and Save, which need to be spun, selected, then utilised. The game itself explicitly says “It’s a weird system, but you’ll get used to it.” And you do. It’s just no less odd that this, for whatever reason, is how they’ve chosen to have the player interact with the world.
On occasion, the long narrative segments are broken up with minigames. A detective in your new squad, for example, mentions that everyone in Heinous Crimes has had to pass a 100-Question endurance quiz. Some did better, some did worse, but everyone has had to do it. And then…you do. There’s just a 100-question trivia quiz, maybe 10% of which is related to the murder investigation you’re currently hip-deep in. Afterwards, you’re informed that you scored what you scored. Points don’t matter in this world, so don’t worry about it. Suda51 has never been big on explaining the bizarre things that happen in his stories. It’s never more clear than here, before he was restrained by profits and public opinion.
The side chapters starring Morishima are more straightforward. Painfully so. Hired to investigate Kamui, Morishima generally gathers information through the email on his computer, putting out feelers via his contacts and talking to his pet turtle. Despite being an investigative reporter, Morishima’s world is suffocatingly small. His one-room apartment contains two squares to move between and only four things to interact with: his computer, phone, a window and the turtle. While the narrative is engaging and Morishima an interesting character, falling into the pattern of computer-sleep-computer could almost send a person mad. The front door is right there, yet Morishima never leaves. Not outside of a cutscene, anyway.
Big Dick and Morishima’s stories run on achingly parallel lines. The two just barely brush up against one another before diverting away again, tantalising with what might happen the next time their worlds meet. An entire chapter even takes place in Morishima’s actual apartment block – yet even though Big Dick is there for days, the two only meet for a brief moment before Morishima slams the door in your face.
Whether or not The Silver Case will appeal to you is purely a matter of taste. The plot is engaging, the world strange and exotic despite its low-poly landscapes. The whole thing proceeds very much at its own pace, willing to meander and navel-gaze before shocking you with sudden, desperate violence. Music, presentation, the tone of the translation: it all comes together to be stirringly, constantly weird in a way that bigger games simply cannot replicate. A big-name studio like Ubisoft, for example, can create dreamlike sequences in things like Far Cry 3 no problem. They’re certainly effective. What The Silver Case excels in is maintaining this strange atmosphere throughout, sketching the characters and their emotions in fine detail amidst a world of utter mystery.
The Silver Case very much deserves that dangerous title of ‘art game’. If you’re willing to take a chance on something which doesn’t concern itself with palatability, a game like this can suck you in like nothing else. This is a world where the moon is always out, and always full. They say that when the full moon is out, people go crazy. Here, that might just be true.
|Suda51's first release is even more bizarre than all that came after. Strap in for a weird adventure, ride past the barebones gameplay and confusing twists, and you'll have a story to remember.||3.5 3.5 ( on 5 rating)|