Famicom Detective Club: A look at the detective visual novel of yesteryear

Famicom Detective Club: A look at the detective visual novel of yesteryear

Famicom Detective Club

If during the Nintendo Direct on February 17 you wondered what Famicom Detective Club was, surely you were not the only ones: this investigative visual novel in fact has its roots in the late 80s and has not left the Japanese borders until today, or rather until May 14 when a revised version will be published on Nintendo Switch. Following the success, on Famicom Disk System, of text adventures such as Shin Onigashima (also relegated to Japan only but known for its high difficulty and included by the then Famicom Tsūshin among the best games ever), Nintendo decides to move to the well-established investigative genre: Famicom Tantei Club is thus developed, which consists of two main chapters plus a sort of sequel divided into three parts and published for Satellaview - BS Tantei Club: Yuki ni Kieta Kako (Broadcasting Satellite Detective Club: The Past Lost to Snow). Even more unknown, this third game stars Ayumi Tachibana, who in previous titles was the partner of the unnamed protagonist. Unlike the others it has never been re-released and the remake of the series itself does not include it, unless you expect it as a post-launch DLC.

Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir

Famicom Tantei Club: Kieta Kōkeisha, cover of the two game discs

The first chapter to be released is Famicom Tantei Club: Kieta Kōkeisha, in English Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir, divided into two discs dated the first April 27th 1988 and the second June 14th 1988. It was produced by none other than Gunpei Yokoi and written by Yoshio Sakamoto, both key figures in the Nintendo Research & Development 1 division. As the young protagonist, we are found at the foot of a cliff by a man named Amachi only to discover that he has lost his memory and therefore have no idea how we got there. After we recover it will be a girl named Ayumi (yes, the one mentioned in the previous paragraph) to reveal to us that we work for the Utsugi Investigation Agency, engaged in the investigation of the suspicious death of Kiku Ayashiro, head of the Ayashiro company and owner of an estate. . Legends circulate about a curse that would strike anyone who tries to steal the Ayashiro's treasure: with this information in mind we will delve into the story, interrogating people, examining crime scenes and collecting clues that can lead us to the truth.

A murder mystery to the core, with that pinch of supernatural that never hurts, but which is difficult to trace since it has never been located outside Japan: the lack of an amateur patch, as often happens for games closed within the borders natii, made it very difficult to use it and therefore bring it to the same level of notoriety as the next chapter, which instead enjoys an unofficial English translation capable of making it accessible to many more people. Nonetheless, we know that Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir, along with the following title, was the trial by fire for Yoshio Sakamoto before he received the well-deserved success for his work on Metroid. Not only that: the game was inspired by Dario Argento's horror films but above all by Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken (The Portopia Serial Murder Case), one of the first visual novels ever published, conceived by Yūji Horii - another prominent name in the industry. Dated 1983, developed by Chunsoft and published by Enix, the game was distributed for NEC PC-6001 and then converted to home computers and NES but there are also mobile versions.

Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken, cover of the game Portopia's success, coupled with being a precursor and first example of a visual novel, has led him to be compared to the role played by giants like Super Mario Bros. when it comes to defining a genre. It is therefore not surprising that Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir may have inspired it, nor that this so-called hidden gem has influenced a game director such as Hideo Kojima to the point of pushing him to pay homage to the game both in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Unfortunately, there is nothing else to add on the first chapter of the series, except that its success led to an even more successful sequel and that in Japan the title was included in the Famicom Mini collection for GBA and distributed on Virtual Console for Wii. , Wii U and Nintendo 3DS.

Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind

Famicom Tantei Club Part II: Ushiro ni Tatsu Shoujo, cover of the two game discs Here is where the series shines and, unfortunately, ends if we don't take into account the little-known sequel with Ayumi Tachibana in the lead role. Famicom Tantei Club Part II: Ushiro ni Tatsu Shoujo, in English Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind, is actually a prequel that leads us to know how the protagonist came into contact with Utsugi and what her goal is. The game follows the same release formula as the original on the NES, with one disc released on May 23, 1989 and the second a little over a month away, on June 30, 1989. Although welcomed by praise, the original version did not thrill. critics as much as the series' 10th anniversary edition, dated April 1, 1998 for SNES - which features completely revised music and graphics, while the gameplay and storyline remain the same. To complicate, however, an already difficult situation, given the Japanese exclusivity, is the fact that this remake has never been officially available in physical form. Similar to today's digital versions of games, it could only be obtained through the Nintendo Power program (no, not the US magazine): this is a peripheral made only for Japan for SNES and Game Boy, whose service allowed owners to download the related games on a special flash memory cartridge at a reduced price.

In practice this means that the player, once purchased the cartridge, would have had to send it to Nintendo to copy the game onto it, or go in a shop offering the same service. The cartridge could only hold one game at a time, so once completed many simply overwrote it with a new one: this led to the existence of very few authentic physical copies of the SNES version of Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind. The cumbersome Nintendo Power system has prevented many people even in Japan from acquiring the remake, limiting its presence despite everything. A shame if you think that, as Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken was an inspiration, this game in turn influenced the creation of the Ace Attorney series.

Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind (SNES), introductory movie

Thanks to the tireless work of the fans, the second chapter enjoys an English translation patch that has allowed many (including us) to benefit from it and bypass the language barrier . It is certainly not perfect, thanks to the underestimation of the amount of texts by the original author, and in some places it is perceived more a literal translation operation than an adaptation but it was still very useful to get an idea of ​​the reasons behind it. its success despite the difficulties in distributing the remake - and possibly better evaluate the Nintendo Switch version. For example, we note how many mechanics that are thought to have been recently created are instead present in Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind. Comparing it with its original version it is not difficult to grasp its enormous steps forward and recognize the remake as the most complete, definitive edition we would say today. A qualitative leap due to the involvement of a large part of the team that worked on Super Metroid, including the legendary pixel artist Tomoyoshi Yamane, a real guide in the update to 16bit: the static screens that tell the story have become animated and the search for detail wouldn't make the game look bad even in today's visual novels.

Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind (SNES), name selection screen

Beyond the soundtrack and graphics, an investigative visual novel would not be worth much if the story that supports it were weak: it is obviously not the case in question, which stages a valid story, full of twists and turns. As anticipated, Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind is a prequel to the original that delves into the origins of Utsuji's protégé (aka the player himself), who finds himself involved in a murder case a few months after joining. in the Investigation Agency: the body of a student is discovered by the river and has evident signs on the neck that declare death by strangulation. However, as the game progresses, links to an unsolved case begin to emerge until it becomes obvious to everyone involved that perhaps this latest murder isn't as random and isolated as it was originally believed. A plot that perhaps today we would find trivial, were it not that some subsequent investigative narratives within the visual novel genre originated from here.

Overall, Famicom Detective Club is one of those lost series that, both for the influences received and for those offered in the years to come, deserves a remake capable of thrilling fans and, why not, intriguing on the roots of the particular but prolific visual novel genre. We are curious to see how Nintendo will be able to bring back in a modern key a series that already in its time proved to be the precursor of many important aspects around which today's games revolve.

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