By Leah McDonald / June 9th, 2021
|Title||Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir|
|Release Date||May 14th, 2021|
|Genre||Murder-mystery, Detective, Visual novel, Graphic adventure|
You wake up on a lonely, isolated stretch of beach beneath a looming cliff, completely dazed. A man urges you to open your eyes, concerned. Who is he? What’s he doing here? What are you doing here? For that matter, who ARE you? In a panic you realize you can’t remember anything – not even your name, and you certainly have no idea why you’ve just awoken at the base of a cliff, perilously close to the sea. What exactly happened to you?
So begins Nintendo’s Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir, the first of two never-before-released-in-the-West graphic adventure games finally available on the Switch. The game is a faithful shot-for-shot remake of the Famicom original with gorgeous new art assets, orchestral-arranged soundtrack, and full voice acting – and, of course, an official English translation. Right off the bat, the visual presentation caught my eye, which together with the amnesiac premise helped draw me into this world of intrigue.
You play as the Protagonist, an unnamed high school student who works for the well-respected Utsugi Detective Agency. Only problem is, you don’t know that. You don’t know anything, as you apparently fell from the cliff and hit your head hard enough to give you amnesia. Amachi, a local resident, just so happened to find you unconscious near the road and takes you in until you’re well enough to return to the cliff to search for clues, where you meet up with fellow detective Ayumi. She’s been looking for you after you said you went to the cliff to meet someone the night before as part of the case you’re working on. Together you piece together that something is going on with the Ayashiro family in Myoujin Village, so off you go to find leads on both your memory and your case – a suspected murder, as it so happens! The wealthy Ayashiro family’s matriarch has died, and her butler expects foul play from her relatives, who stand to inherit her entire fortune if her estranged daughter can’t be found. The villagers all believe the family is cursed following generations of misdeeds. Is there truth to either side of this story?
If you’ve played any sort of murder-mystery graphic adventure – think Ace Attorney or Layton – you already have a good idea of how FDC plays. The game is 30 years old, so it helped establish half the tropes that continue today, after all. That is both a strength and a weakness, as what may have been novel in the nascent days of video gaming is now old hat and unremarkable, but even so, The Missing Heir managed to win me over with its charming visuals, fantastic voice acting and well-written, if predictable, plot. There were a couple surprises along the way, but for the most part, I knew where the story was going and was along for the ride regardless. I just liked the quirky characters and unique setting enough to see everything play out. Myoujin Village is a quaint locale with some lovely vistas, and the locals are a blend of superstitious and quirky, with notable standouts being Doctor Kumada and the local priest Genshin. I liked all of them, honestly. None ever reached the over-the-top zaniness of Ace Attorney characters, but The Missing Heir is a fundamentally earnest and straightforward drama, so I never really expected them to. That being said, they did have some memorable personality traits.
Gameplay is pretty cut and dry. The game is completely menu-based, with the player choosing an assortment of options to advance the story. In the beginning, you only really have the option to Talk, Look/Examine, and Remember (a neat little nod to the fact you’re an amnesiac). As the game progresses, you’ll open up some situational choices, like Open and Take, but nothing ever gets very complicated. The Protagonist also has his trusty Notepad, where he catalogues useful information about the case and all its players. If you’re ever stumped, you can read up on what he’s detailed to give you clues as to where you should go next or to whom you should speak. That being said, the game also shows its age in that some of the dialogue trees are unintuitive, and you often have to do the same action multiple times in a row in order to advance your choices. There were several times where I knew what had to be done, but couldn’t make that choice until I arbitrarily clicked through everything the game demanded I do. There’s no solving this mystery earlier than intended or skipping a story beat or action. For instance, at one point in the game you need to unlock a door. In order to do so, you have to “Take” the lock. At other times you know you need to visit a specific location, but the game won’t flag your ability to Travel until you’ve exhausted every dialogue option, even when it doesn’t offer you any useful information. These moments were never frustrating enough to derail my play experience, but they did happen more frequently than I’d care for.
Still, all things considered, Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir is a solid, enjoyable mystery to play. I loved exploring Myoujin Village and learning about the cast, or swapping between the orchestrated arrangement and original chiptune songs. The game is also a time capsule into Nintendo’s past and the early days of graphic adventures on console, and has aged remarkably well. I sort of wish they’d included the original version of the game, if only for comparison’s sake, but having the music is a nice touch. The game even comes with a Music Mode you unlock after completing it. It’s a nice touch. Will this title wow veteran visual novel and graphic adventure aficionados? Not really. But for its place in the genre’s history, I think it’s worth a shot.
Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir is available on the Nintendo Switch for $34.99 USD or $59.98 as a double pack with The Girl Who Stands Behind.
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