Known primarily in the west for ultraviolence and a bizarre sense of humor, the onlooker can not deny that there is something…different about the works of Suda51. As a person, he is open and not without a continual sense of humor about himself and what he sees around him. His games take that attitude, add in a dose of strangeness and unleash it upon the public like a broken levee. But in his home country of Japan, he earned his way into the cultural lexicon with a more low key, contemplative game, The Silver Case. Never before released in English, the title has finally made its way overseas courtesy of a joint effort between Grasshopper Manufacture, Active Gaming Media and Playism. Now Western audiences can see where he made his game writing start.
One thing that should be brought up immediately to fans of fare like Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw is the decided lack of gore. The Silver Case isn’t the splatterfest those enthusiasts may enjoy. It also doesn’t feature the over the top lewdness of No More Heroes. When trying to fit this title in with Suda’s more familiar works, think Killer 7 in terms of tone, except with a lack of gunplay, and a dose of first person point and click adventure and heavy visual novel elements.
Actually discussing the plot of this tale does a major disservice to the uninitiated. Even the opening chapter, Lunatics, features some twists and turns that, had they been spoiled, would severely diminish the impact. Taking place in an alternate modern day, players find themselves embroiled in a mystery taking place in an area known as the 24 Wards. A series of murders have been taking place, and after much hemming and hawing, the most likely theory is that the culprit is a serial killer thought long dead.
The tale is spread across multiple chapters, maintaining the feel of a string of serialized episodes comprising a longer mini-series. Each episode contains copious amounts of dialogue and exposition that could be seen as tedious for such a tale such as this that tends to lean on a sense of urgency. During a couple of moments, I found myself wanting to impatiently yell at the screen for the game to get a move on. These moments were exceptions, though, thanks in large part to Suda’s original story design as well as the fantastic translation work of Active Gaming Media. Suda’s oddness shows through here in a pure, uncut form. That, alone, makes this title worth exploring.
There is one other complaint regarding the story/text sequences: the sound the text makes when appearing on screen. It sounds like they were going for a dot matrix printer sped up, which would work great in small doses. However, when it accompanies every letter of text as it appears, the noise quickly moves from novelty to “must be turned off with prejudice.”
The point and click sections do take some acclimation, as well. When in control, the player must switch between movement and contact, with a distracting lack of flow. Quite frankly, it’s overly cumbersome and obviously from a period when developers were engaging in some heavy experimentation with controls from a first person view. Suda had made some allusions to avoiding changes to the original title even if they would improve the playability. It would be reasonable to argue this was one of those decisions. In an obtuse way, I can appreciate this. Having never played the original, it’s nice knowing that this is as close as possible, despite the graphical updates made so it doesn’t look like complete garbage on modern screens.
One thing that must be called out is the quality of the puzzles. During the first chapter alone, the player isn’t treated like a child. In order to open a series of doors, the player must figure out the password based entirely on the word printed on the lock along with a machine on the first floor that, through experimentation, provides the cypher. There are two ways to handle this section. First is to take the word, trudge back downstairs, and plug it into the machine for the answer. The second is to observe the logic of the coding by plugging letters into the machine. Once the pattern understood, the passwords can be figured out on the spot. Admittedly, the pattern isn’t hard to deduce, but it still exercises the brain in a way not many games manage these days. Sequences that challenge the player’s mind appear throughout the game, and are sorely welcomed.
Were one to be completely honest, the gameplay found in The Silver Case would garner it a middling score. The controls are a bit too clunky, leaving the excellent puzzle design to carry the work, but the game is more of a showcase for the story. On that front, The Silver Case succeeds. As this is an early Suda game, many fans have already made their decision. His quirkiness is on full display and it has a singular style bursting from the seams. Fans of Suda51 absolutely must play this game, but other folks might need to do some self reflection. A tolerance for the controls, a set up that the game itself comments upon as being off, is needed, and the sound must be adjusted to prevent insanity. Anybody looking to ignore these minor issues and looking for a visual novel/adventure game hybrid should study The Silver Case.