FAMICOM DETECTIVE CLUB: THE MISSING HEIR & THE GIRL WHO STANDS BEHIND
By Mark "Demius" Bronneberg on June 3, 2021
The Famicom Detective Club games for the Nintendo Switch were announced in a Nintendo direct in early 2021. These games were originally released on the NES console back in 1988. Apparently, they did get a remake on the SNES and a few (digital) rereleases on previous Nintendo consoles, but all these games were unknown to me, mainly because they only released in Japan. However, when I saw the Nintendo direct trailer I was interested right away. I love detective or thriller movies and they looked like quality remakes. I do not play graphical novel games much, so I did not know what to expect. I guess I expected something like the Lucas Arts games of old like the point and click adventure games of Indiana Jones, Maniac Mansion or Monkey Island.
The Famicom Detective Club offers you two games for the price of one. Or, better said, two stories featuring the same protagonist, who is an intern at Utsugi Detective Agency. These stories are The Missing Heir (TMH) and The Girl Who Stands Behind (TGWSB). The most important thing about these games, or rather, the most important prerequisite to enjoy them, is to not know what is going to happen. I don't believe these games have a lot of replay value once you know who gets murdered by whom and why. I did however enjoy them since it was all new to me. There are also spoiler free walkthroughs online for the people that just want to enjoy the story minus the detective work. So, I am going to do my best to explain the stories without spoiling too much.
The main protagonist is a young bloke who you can name yourself. He works as an intern at a detective agency. It amazes me how easily the cops and other people trust him to be a detective because of his young age, but I guess we'll just roll with it for now. Being young also has its advantages, like being able to easily interview schoolgirls in TGWSB (no you dirty minded people, this game does not have fanservice, it is a serious Nintendo detective game!). In TMH you are hired by the Ayashiro Family's butler to investigate the death of the 'head of the family'. You meet many different family members, some who have better alibi's than others. You also get help from the locals, like doctor Kumada, who runs the local 'hospital/ medical centre', and functions as the coroner. I cannot explain more about the story, just know that I found the early game a bit boring. Luckily, it gets quite tense in the mid-section and the ending blew me away and had me, quite literally, at the edge of my seat. TGWSB is the second game in the series, but functions as a prequel. Whereas in the first game Ayumi is your own assistant, in the second game she is just some schoolgirl who happened to know the victim of a homicide you and Utsugi are investigating. What is nice is that you get a little backstory on how you became a detective and learn a bit about Utsugi, who himself is absent in the entire first game. I liked the overall pacing of the second game a bit better, but the first one is still my favourite, thanks to that amazing ending.
There are no enemies you must combat with guns or fisticuffs (this is no Hollywood detective production of Sherlock Holmes). Instead, you'll have to reason, chat, search and think your way through the different chapters of each game. Every chapter, you'll start off at one location, interview some people, find some clues which unlock a new area, where you can find new people, clues, or other stuff. This pretty much continues all the way through to the finale. Like I mentioned before, you can talk, take, call/engage, look/examine/ remember/think among other options. If you pick, look or take, a cursor will appear on-screen, and you can click on scenery or objects to find clues. Often, I got stuck not knowing what to do anymore and I would just repeat every chat option with every NPC and this gets boring quite fast. This happened less during the second game because I learned what to do. Often, it is obvious that the main goal is to find more clues about person X, which most of the time means asking the NPC questions about that subject multiple times. Sometimes you need to click the same thing 4 times in a row. Often when someone is not where you think the person should be, you missed something in a previous area and need to travel back and forth.
If you still cannot progress, there's no shame in consulting a spoiler free walkthrough. I also did this a few times. Most of the times I missed something that was obvious as the next objective. The game helps you remember, because there is a log in which you can read about all the clues you found and people you've met along the way. Also, after you saved a game and reload the game, it asks you if you would like to be given a summary of the story so far. Also, at the end of each chapter you sit down with Ayumi in TMH or Utsugi in TGWSB and try to summarize all the clues you found that chapter and how they connect to each other. This helps you to stay in front of the massive stories. Also important is that there are horror elements in both stories. These mostly happen when people try to explain the murders by referring to supernatural mysteries. This helps to set a gloomy and dark tone and gives the games somewhat more depth.
The graphics are good, maybe even the best part of this game. The backgrounds are beautifully drawn, the characters look like they have come out of a triple A anime show and more important (you cannot see this until you look up some YouTube videos or play the game for yourself) a lot of stuff moves on the screen! It is not a monotone background, people move, people breathe, the sea moves, a bird flies past, a fish jumps from a pond, and other stuff. This really helps keep the game interesting. The music also helps to set the tone, I really loved the parts where the game changed into an actual crime scene with murder victims; here the tone and music will shift to a more dramatic feel, which really helps to immerse you in the gameplay. And people that want to feel really nostalgic: there is an option to change the music back to the 8-bit counterparts! The voice acting is in Japanese, but also top quality and really helps to set the tone. Since I like to watch a lot of Japanese anime with English subtitles, I was really comfortable around the Japanese voices and English text. I looked up some comparison videos and this shows just how much gaming has progressed since 1988. Finally, the overall style in graphics and sound quality fit the detective genre well. You do need to actually like anime, since these are Japanese anime detective games. All the character designs are amazing and there is a lot of variety in characters, scenery, and music.
Before I reach my conclusion I would like to highlight a few things about these games. Now, I did not really like that you sometimes got stuck because you did not talk about subject Y with person X 5 times in a row. What I did like, however, is the fact that someone explains to you that you need to dial *16 at a phone to call someone. And you can do this whenever you are near the phone and there is no auto dial option, you must remember this. This reminded me of those games I mentioned before, like Maniac Mansion that were full of this kind of stuff. The first Famicom Detective Club game lets you fill in the blanks sometimes, like who did it? And you must spell the name correctly. This can be quite hard since all these Japanese names were hard for me to remember or spell accordingly. The second game luckily gives you a few options to choose from with pictures of the characters which makes this a bit easier.
Like I mentioned before, the ending of the first game is amazing and there are even new gameplay elements (which I will not mention to avoid spoiling stuff that is exclusive for this ending). There are also secrets to find. Sadly, I found the one I am not proud of. In the second game there is a police station, and a pretty police officer greets you. My eyes fell out of my eye sockets, so I picked the option 'take' and clicked on a part of her body, her face expression went from angry to worse and she threw me in jail, and I got a game over screen. I hadn't saved my game for quite a while, so I panicked a little, since I did not expect that to happen. Luckily, this game over screen is just a joke and after a few seconds you are back at the pretty policewoman, who asks if you have learned your lesson. From that brief period of time, all police officers call you by the name 'creepy detective' to remind you what a failure you are. This attention to detail is amazing.
All-in all, I really enjoyed these games. They will take you around 10 hours each to complete, a little longer if you try to find out everything yourself and get stuck occasionally. A little shorter if you look things up online a lot. Since you get two games for €50, I believe it is good value for your money. Don't buy this game if you hate to read and only play Call of Duty or Fortnite because, and trust me on this, you will not enjoy it. But if you like games that are heavy on the story department, have played graphical novel games before, or If you like to read detective novels, this will be the game for you! Maybe even the game that gets you into gaming (what is stopping you? Gaming is a super fun hobby!). I would like to commend Nintendo for remaking these games. It is super original, not a triple A action blockbuster title that the competition keeps throwing at us. This is exactly the reason I love the big N. Anyone looking for a game with a calm but serious pace and mature story, why not put on your detective hat and join the club?