"Give me a receipt for this"
"What's your wrestling stage name?"
"I don't have one! I'm not a sumo wrestler! You mean addressee name. It's Date"
"Here is your receipt"
"Why does it say Datenosato! Like it's a wrestling name!"
"The Green Window" (Sandwichman Sketch)
Despite my emphasis on Japanese mystery fiction on this blog and often discussing videogames, I am not at all familiar with Japanese doujin mystery games. I know there's a big doujin PC game scene in Japan, with a lot of them horror games, and also a lot of them freeware, but I assume/hope some circles also publish detective games. I will look more into that, but today, my first encounter with a Japanese PC doujin mystery game.
Akito Date is a PC game series by doujin circle Flower Bridge Infinity about Akito, a college student who happens to run into murder all the time. While not the most patient guy around, he is in the possession of a good set of brains and manages to amateur-sleuth himself out of sticky situations. There are three games out at the moment, two of which are available for free at Flower Bridge Infinity's website. The first game in the series, Akito Date Dai Ichi Wa: Kyoukou no Iwakan ("Akito Date - The First Episode: Something Wrong With A Murder"), gives us a first glimpse of Akito, who has been drafted as an emergency teacher for a day at the prep school he used to attend (in fact, all teachers at the prep school are alumni). Among his fellow teachers is the hotheaded Minamida, for whom Akito
I'll have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by this game. It is a short one, you can go through the game within an hour, but it does feature a competent detective story. It's a bit obvious who and how, I think, but the hints are laid down fairly well, and it shows that an easy detective story does not has to be a bad detective story: the way to the solution can just be a well constructed, if not very inspiring, road. Of course, it's easier to be impressed by a story that complete surprises you with a fantastic trick, or a deviously constructed plot, but a story that simply does what it has to do in a competent way can be loads of fun too.
As a detective game, Akito Date plays mostly like what you'd expect. Move around locations, talk with witnesses, find some evidence. Nothing new here. There is however a surprising mechanic hidden within the menus. Unlike most detective games I know, the player character (Akito) will hardly comment on the evidence you find, or what he thinks of certain people or enigmatic events. He just collects loads of information to use in the final confrontation with the murderer. In other games, comments would be made to help the player along, to give him a hint in which direction to go / to think.
But if it was just that, Akito Date would be a bad game, because that would just mean that it was a highly unclear game. But it isn't. For there is a special 'consider' function, which allows you to 'consider' the evidence you collected in more detail. Switch it on, and Akito will comment on how this particular part of evidence might fit in the big picture, and what its role might have been in the murder. In short, it is a hint system and a fairly specific one too (as it does not give 'general hints', but a specific hint about a specific piece of item or a character). It's actually quite neat, as the system can give vague hints per piece of evidence: if you don't get it, you can just try another piece of evidence and slowly piece everything together. It's thus a hint system with a lot of levels and it allows everyone to enjoy the game and his own prefered level of difficulty, which is something I had not seen before in detective games (it's either a very obvious hint, or nothing). In fact, I'd love to see this system in more games.
For those who read mystery novels for the puzzle plots, wouldn't it be neat if you could get hints on specific parts, rather than general (obvious) hints, in one way or another? When doing 'whodunit'/'gues the criminal scripts at the Kyoto University Mystery Club, you could always ask some questions regarding parts that were vague to the writer and I think that really helps the puzzle element of mystery stories (as few puzzles are constructed perfectly right away, and this feedback helps perfect the form of the puzzle).
This was made years after the original game and is definitely much more polished. And not only the graphics and music (which are definitely better than the original). The story is also much better constructed as puzzle mystery to be solved by the player; from the hints to the presentation of the puzzle and the way you corner the murderer: everything is better than the original and it's a great little game. It's dubbed a 'short', but it's actually about as long as the first game. Storywise though, it's set after the first (and second) game, so it's better to play them in order.
There are three Akito Date games, two of which freeware. The second game, Fukanzen na Kami no Heya ("The Room of the Imperfect God"), might go for a price, but considering the other two entries in the series are fun, I am quite tempted to purchase it.
Anyway, the Akito Date games were quite a pleasant surprise, as competently, if not super-original mystery games. And two of them are free too! If you have a couple of hours of free time, these games are quite fun to go through back to back. You can get both of them from Flower Bridge Infinity's website. In Japanese of course.
Original Japanese title(s): Flower Bridge Infinity 『アキトDate 第一話 ～凶行の違和感』 & 『アキトDateショート ～尾のない黒猫』