You know… games like this are the reason I’ve grown to love the Switch.
I mean, on top of Nintendo’s extensive game library, we also finally have a console who seems expressly made for older, niche visual novel games such as this–and believe me, it doesn’t get much more niche than an early Suda51 title.
Yes, before he became internationally famous for such titles as No More Heroes and Killer7, Goichi Suda and the crew at Grasshopper Manufacture got their start making a sequence of eccentric and experimental visual novel adventure games, all of which take place in his ‘Kill the Past’ universe. Now, two of those early games, cult hits in their own right, have been translated and brought over to the west for a new generation of adventurous gamers.
What Is It?
The Silver Case 2425 is a compilation of two remastered visual novel adventure games, The Silver Case and The 25th Ward, originally designed by Suda51 and Grasshopper Manufacture for the original PlayStation and Mobile, the first coming out in 1999 and the later in 2005 (right around the time that Killer7 was released). Both games take place in an alternate universe called the ’24 Wards,’ itself a common part of Suda51’s “Kill the Past” series (other games such as Killer7 and Flower, Sun, And Rain are also a part of this series). In reality: Tokyo, Kanto, Japan is divided up into 23 wards; in the universe of these games, the 24th ward is added in Tokyo due to population growth (or that’s the official story, at least). As the title of the later game implies, a 25th ward is being considered later.
Both games have some canonical and thematic similarities other than just setting: both are largely police procedurals to an extent, involving the members of the Heinous Crimes Unit attempting to solve various murders. Both take place in the shadow of the crimes committed by a notorious serial killer named Kamui Uehara (more on that in a bit). Both games also involve a side story about a freelance investigative reporter named Tokio Morishima (although 25th also has a third storyline, more on that in a bit). Both games also have an underlying cyberpunk aesthetic a la Psycho-Pass (though its somewhat muted in the first game). And as you can expect from a Suda51 title, both games are also highly experimental.
Why Should I Care?
The first thing that any player will immediatly be struck by is the game’s presentation. Suda and his team knew that they would have to find some way to differentiate themselves from the masses of visual novel developers, and they found it: The game presents its story through animatics, anime cutscenes, text screens, road maps, computer screens, three dimensional environments, and even full motion video. Even the character art changes depending on whose perspective the story is being conveyed.
Gameplay wise, it is somewhat reminiscent of Hideo Kojima’s adventure games like Snatcher and Policenauts (which were also fairly heavy on the procedural format). Gathering evidence, talking to witnesses, exploring environments, etc. are all par for the course. However, unlike those two games, these games make use of a free-roaming 3D environments explored in the first person (for the first game, at least). Context sensitive areas are signaled via digital imagery (suns for interactive, triangles for non-interactive).
Where these two games differ is in some small details: 25th takes place five years after former, and is heavier on the cyberpunk. Environmental navigation is more direct and based on button presses rather than free-roaming (due to the nature of the later game being a mobile title originally). Navigating various functions are also subtly different in both games: the former uses a radial system that is controlled by the right stick to navigate movement, interaction, etc. while the later uses a three dimensional pyramidal die ( I have…thoughts about this function). And, of course, the casts of characters largely change (though both games do share some characters).
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Obviously, if visual novels aren’t your thing then you won’t really care.
But if you are a visual novel fan, then there are still some things you should know. Graphically, this game has aged moderately well (thanks to the remaster), and the translation is pretty high quality.
But some things can definitely be frustrating at first. The control schemes for both games can be a bit obtuse (especially for 25th, as the pyramidal die for a specific function can be cumbersome to navigate). The three-dimensional roaming in the first game is somewhat janky and imprecise. Also, like other old-school visual novel adventures, you will occasionally be required to talk to someone or click on something multiple times before progressing. This all adds up to the first game’s gameplay being kind of obtuse to navigate at first. Plot wise, going from the first game to the second can be a bit of whiplash due to the fact that the game that’s canonically between them (Flower, Sun, And Rain) isn’t included.
Ultimately, I enjoyed my time in the 24th Ward. The writing is engaging, and the characters are dynamic. But parts of the game have definitely not aged well, and if you aren’t as forgiving of cumbersome control schemes as I am, your mileage will definitely vary on these early Suda51 titles.
But again, that’s kind of what I love about the Switch: the niches it can appeal to.