Saturday, October 16, 2010



"Nobody is truly happy when a case is over"
"Detective Jinguuji Saburou: The Shinjuku Central Park Murder Case (mobile phone ver.)"

I've mentioned Tantei Jinguuji Saburou here once or twice, but as I've been playing quite a lot of the games lately, why not make a more general post about this awesome hardboiled detective game series?

While not very known in the Western world, Tantei Jinguuji Saburou is actually one of the oldest running game series, having survived many consoles and even development studios, and started in 1987 with Shinjuku Chuuou Kouen Satsujin Jiken ("The Shinjuku Central Park Murder Case") for the Famicom Disk System. The adventure (which featured advanced graphics and sounds for those times) introduced us to the private eye Jinguuji Saburou, a hardboiled detective who operates from Kabukichou, Shinjuku, Tokyo. He's assisted by Misono Youko, a secretary who is fluent in several languages and quite capable of detecting herself. At the beginning of the game, Jinguuji is requested by his old friend inspector Kumano to help solve the mystery of a strangled woman in Shinjuku Central Park.

The game is set in a hardboiled world, with Jinguuji having to confront witnesses in hostess clubs and even the boss of a yakuza group during his investigation. To emphasize his hardboiledness, the game even has a smoke option, which allows Jinguuji to...smoke. And think. But most people just use it to smoke. It's actually one of the hallmarks of the series, with every Jinguuji game having a button solely mapped to smoking, accompanied by "I lit a cigarette".

Despite the hardboiled world though, the plot of Shinjuku Chuuou Kouen Satsujin Jiken actually has more in common with more orthodox detectives, as the biggest mystery is how the culprit managed to leave the body in the park without leaving any footprints. While Jinguuji does solves this using hardboiled methods (including threatening a yakuza boss in his own home!), the case is distinctly orthodox. In later Jinguuji games, the footprints in the snow theme or other orthodox detective themes aren't the focus of the games, but they never really disappear from the games either.

Shinjuku Chuuou Kouen Satsujin Jiken turned out to be quite popular and by now, 15 games have been released in the main series for several consoles and handhelds, as well as about 20 games in a seperate series for mobile phones. Whether he is solving a crime in hometown Shinjuku, neighbouring Yokohama or even somewhere else,  Jinguuji always stays the same though; a hardboiled story that manages to touch you emotionally, great art, great music, GREAT MUSIC and a lot of smoking. Jinguuji even tried to make it to American shores, as Aksys localised the first Nintendo DS game as Jake Hunter: Memories of the Past. He still smoked, but it didn't really catch on. Maybe because the game was now set in fictional Aspicio U.S.A. instead of Shinjuku. 

Because, Shinjuku plays a vital part in the story. A big emphasis is placed on the hardboiled word of Shinjuku on a visual, a spatial, as well as on a social plane in later games. Places like the clubs in Shinjuku as well as other famous places like the Alta TV screen and Central Park are often visited, but the 'shadow' people of Shinjuku like hostesses, yakuza, homeless people and corrupt officals are also often featured in later stories. Actually, a remake of Shinjuku Chuuou Kouen Satsujin Jiken for the mobile phone (as well as for the Nintendo DS) got rid of pretty much all of the plot of the original game, inserting... yes, more homeless people, yakuza and corrupt people in the new story. Whether that's good or bad change, I can't say, but it's certainly different. But in a sense, Shinjuku as a town, as an entity has been a very big factor in the more recent games, somewhat similar to how Shinjuku has played a very big part in Angel Heart. Of course, it's a very romantic image of Shinjuku, the image of dark town with dangers everywhere, which yet somehow charms its inhabitants.

This is somewhat outside the scope of my blog, but the role of environment in games and the interaction with environment is actually quite interesting, be it a totally fictional one (Hyrule of The Legend of Zelda) or like Shinjuku, based on a real location.

Shinjuku as a location also played a very big part in Tantei Jinguuji Saburou Episode Code: Hai to Diamond ("Detective Jinguuji Saburou Episode Code: Ashes and Diamonds") (PSP), the lastest Jinguuji I played. The story begins with the search for the legacy of a recently deceased real estate developer in Shinjuku, but the case will turn out to have ties with kidnapping cases of homeless people, buildings owned by yakuza, corrupt officals and... the infrastructure of Shinjuku itself. A town which has changed immensely since the war and which changes even now and yet maintains its Shinjuku identity. Gamewise, the game features the ingredients you'd expect from a Jinguuji game (smoking! great music!) and this time also features a branching storyline, something I hadn't expected, as the Jinguuji games are amongst the most linear games in existence.

The Jinguuji series will never be the deduction-fest that is Trick X Logic and even something like the Trick game is more orthodox than the Jinguuji series. However, it is The Lady in the Lake in gaming, that is to say, it features well written stories and character, as well as good music and a truly distinctive style make the Jinguuji series something a detective/gamer should at least try.

See you next trouble

Original Japanese titles: 『新宿中央園殺人事件』、『探偵神宮寺三郎Episode Code灰とダイアモンド』

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