Originally released on the Famicom in 1988, it should surprise many to know that the visual novel genre is something Nintendo had taken part in. In fact, it’s what helped launched the career of writer Yoshio Sakamoto, primarily known for his work on the Metroid games.
Developed by Mages, primarily known for the Steins;Gate games, the games in the Famicom Detective Club (FDC) duology have been localized and released stateside for the first time and even though these are essentially 32-year-old games, they stand the test of time pretty well.
This is a review of The Missing Heir, the first of the simultaneously released Famicom Detective Club games.
What Is It?
Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir is a visual novel not that much different in play style compared to the Ace Attorney series, so if you’ve played any of the Phoenix Wright games, you’ll be in familiar territory here coming across different and interesting characters as you interrogate them to get closer to the truth in this “whodunnit” game.
The Missing Heir is the first game in the series and follows the drama surrounding the Ayashiro family, who built quite the empire as one of the elite and well known families in the region. As a young detective, you’ve been tasked by the Ayashiro family butler to learn the truth about the death of Kiku Ayashiro, the head of the family and majority shareholder of the business who mysteriously died of heart implications the night she read her will. While she was in deteriorating health, the butler believed that the heart failure alibi was too convenient, and that’s what you have to get to the bottom to. Was her death actually a murder? (Of course it was.)
Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy. Not only do the remaining members not want to talk to you, you were also washed ashore on a nearby beach and have amnesia. Ah, how inconvenient.
Why Should I Care?
The Ace Attorney comparison was made earlier because at first glance, that’s the series Famicom Detective Club in this remade form most closely resembles. From the simplistic hand-drawn backgrounds to the subtle animation and distinct art style of all the characters to even the various menus you’ll go through to converse–it’s all very Ace Attorney.
Despite the obvious similarities, both these franchises couldn’t be more different when it comes to the finer details of its gameplay as well as FDC’s more serious (and sometimes too serious) tone.
The FDC games are both well written, but they also require you to be fully attentive of every spoken line. If you miss the most minute of details, there’s a chance you’ll get stuck wondering what to do next, and unlike the Ace Attorney series which helps guide you by de-emphasizing options you’ve already chosen that won’t move the story forward, when it comes to FDC’s dialog options, there won’t be anything highlighted or de-emphasized until it’s time to move on, so don’t be surprised if you often find yourself going through the same choices over and over fishing for something that hasn’t been said yet. I actually had to consult a guide multiple times during this playthrough because I just had no idea what I was supposed to talk about, and sometimes all I had to do was insist on picking the same option three times consecutively. Why is that even a gameplay obstacle?
This was especially true in The Missing Heir because almost everybody in the story, except the butler and the guy who found you at the shore, hates you. You’ll oftentimes talk to various people who tell you absolutely nothing, and you’ll be praying that sooner or later you see some yellow text indicating that it’s time to move on.
All that said, again, it’s a pretty clever story and the journey to get there is worth it (even though in my mind we could’ve done better with who the bad guy actually was, but again, this is a story from 1988), so while the gameplay loop feels annoying from time to time, if you’re as attentive as you are persistent, chapters will fly by.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir is an enjoyable story, but its style of gameplay will take some getting used to whether you’re a connoisseur of visual novels or not. Once you get through its rough edges, the story goes from a mystery to quite the suspenseful tear jerker, and it was definitely an interesting ride.
Still, at $34.99 it’s tough to recommend, especially when its prequel in The Girl Who Stands Behind is actually a better game overall, but it’s hard to get one game and not the other–especially when Nintendo is offering you $10 off to buy both games to make the overall package $60. If you insist on only getting one, though, this isn’t the one I’d recommend–at least not at full price.
Also Check Out:
“Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind” Review