Game designer Suda51 has become a cult figure over the past couple of decades, with the anime fever-dreams of Killer7 and No More Heroes making waves amongst the hip nerds. This placed his earlier, Japan-only, work into the realm of mystery, to be enjoyed only by the weebiest of weebs actually willing to learn the language. But, weak-willed-weebs rejoice, this building popularity allowed for 1999’s The Silver Case to get an English remaster, all shiny upon the latest gaming platforms. But does the visual-novel live-up to the twenty year gestation period?
The Silver Case takes the form of a first-person adventure game, where you take control of a newly-hired detective to your city’s Heinous Crimes Department. Serial killer Kamui Uehara, more mythic figure than flesh-and-blood, is back on the loose. Solve the crime by reading e-mails and very slowly exploring the tight, 3D environments. Which sounds more boilerplate than the usual Suda51 kaleidoscope of ultra-violence and cock-jokes, but this story is also full of conspiracy, sci-fi dystopia, larger-than-life characters, and a dense web of back-stabbing bureaucracy.
Dense is, indeed, the best word to use here. There’s an overflow of characters, their relationships and backgrounds entwined and deeply important to the plot. New people, technology, and history are dropped on your lap with nary a whisper of explanation. Suda51 draws pleasure from speaking to you in metaphors and allusions, leaving you to piece it all together yourself. Compounding this is a non-linear structure, a dizzying array of narrative devices, and a mixed-media of text, animation, and live-action footage. Mind-shattering.
All this should make the fans of Suda51, and his approachable style of surrealism, stroke their wallets in anticipation. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of fine-tuning and care for the audience here that leaves much of it a confusing slog. The mise-en-scène of text boxes, while beautiful, is a furious mess of information, making it difficult to tell which characters are speaking. Dialogue is cryptic and information is withheld from you until long after it would have been useful. Character portraits can sometimes be drastically different depending on who they’re talking to. The game is ecstatic in its confusion.
Which would be dandy if the gameplay wasn’t so boring. Again, the game revels in trying to obfuscate and annoy as much as possible. Movement that requires menuing for the privilege of choosing your direction of travel, puzzles which require you to click through endless series of identical rooms. It takes the patience of a lover. I’m a consummate lover, snuggler, and worshipper of Suda’s style, but this is too dull for me. While there’s a meta element at play here that’s worth considering, it would be foolish not to mention that tedium for the sake of tedium is still tedious. Meaning that the average player will want to avoid The Silver Case, even if that means missing out on the intricate charms on display.
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Platforms: Windows, Xbox One, Playstation 4
Release Date: April 21, 2017
Genres: Visual Novel, Adventure
Photos by author.