Like most creative industries, the games industry has its fair share of oddballs. One of the most notorious is Goichi Suda, or Suda51 as he prefers to be known - toilet-interviewee extraordinaire, games industry eccentric, and creator of all things WTF. A little bit creepy, more than a little risquee, and a bit heavy handed with violence and gore, he's the man behind niche favourites such as Killer Is Dead, Lollipop Chainsaw and No More Heroes. Before finding fame with over the top action games, though, Suda actually tried his hand at one of the most mellow of genres - the visual novel. Now, almost twenty years after its original release, he's gone back to give his very first game, The Silver Case a remaster - a heavily story-driven tale of murder that previously never made it out of Japan.
The Silver Case follows the story of infamous murderer/certified loony, Kamui Uehara - a man known as the "worst criminal of the century" (as in, he's a bad man, not he's a bit rubbish at being a crook), who's recently escaped from his high security mental hospital. A string of murders bearing the hallmarks of Kamui begin cropping up, drawing the attention of the 24 Wards Heinous Crime Unit, a special segment of the Kanto Police Department. The story itself then splits into two halves, with one following the detectives rounding up Kamui, and the other focusing on a freelance reporter who's investigating the case. Both stories run concurrently, with each giving you a different side of the story as the two tales entwine, covering all the strange goings on that surround Kamui, along with a whole load of other oddball things, from pet turtles and carnivorous plants to crime viruses and demons.
A visual novel through and through, The Silver Case is in some ways more like a good book than a traditional game - long scenes of story exposition, lengthy written monologues and extensive conversations are pretty par for the course. With a dash of exploration and puzzle solving thrown in for good measure to keep things interesting, the game sometimes heads into more point-and-click adventure territory, as you search through buildings for survivors, hack a security system, or chase down a culprit in a darkened forest. The 'Transmitter' half of the game, which is focussed on the police force, tends to be heavier on the exploration and puzzle solving than the freelance writer-centric 'Placebo', which relies more on the writer's monologue-esque diary entries to tell the story.
However, The Silver Case isn't a game that likes to make things easy for you - with somewhat unintuitive and clunky controls, navigating your way around each of the crime scenes is a bit of an art. In the bottom right of the main screen, you have a ring of options, represented by the kind of obtuse letters M, C, I and S, each of which relates to a different action. M stands for movement, and once highlighted, you're then free to move forwards, backwards, left and right around the room, looking for various points of interest - anything marked by a yellow star requires your input, which means switching around to C, or 'Contact Point' on the menu, to interact with the item in question. The remaining two options aren't used as much, with S standing for Save (pretty self-explanatory) and I for 'implement', whenever you need to use some kind of tool or item stashed in your inventory. All of this takes place in first-person, through the eyes of an investigator, moving no more than a few paces at a time as you chop and change between menu options depending on context, making the whole game feel weirdly slow and clunky.
Likewise, the story - which is arguably the most important part of any visual novel-style game - takes some getting in to too. Hard to follow at the best of times, its meandering nature, straying into everything from fortune-telling teeth, to demons that appear as a result of people's 'criminal powers' and the therapeutic properties of whittling wooden models only serves to obfuscate things further. Chopping and changing from The Silver Case weaves together the two concurrent tales of a gruff detective and a chain-smoking reporter, uncovering the troubled murderer Kamui's past - and, particularly in the case of the detective, unexplained code words can confuse too, with the first chapter or two a sea of Cauliflowers, Level X/Y and Caesar Codes to contend with.
However, as hard as the story is to follow, there's also something strangely compelling about the tale, with enough mystery, intrigue and weird goings on to keep things interesting - even if some of the finer points do get a little lost and muddled. There's always something strange going on, or an unexpected revelation in the works, with plenty of twists and turns during the course of the story - and its frequent forays into oddball randomness bring a bit of light heartedness to the otherwise serious tale. Whether its Morishima's chats with his pet turtle and partner-in-crime; Red, a police officer speculating about the fortune-telling properties of his teeth; or the weekly email shot from The Amazing World of Carnivorous Plants, The Silver Case is certainly unique, at least.
There's also some interesting puzzles thrown in for good measure, generally of the code-cracking variety. Once you manage to figure out what the chuff the aforementioned Caesar code is, which involves counting on from the letter in question by the number of places through the word it is (so CAT would become DCW), making your way up to the roof of the Cauliflower building is a cinch. A bit later, you tackle what is essentially a variation on the Mastermind board game, where you methodically figure out which of the numbers 1 to 9 make up the 4-digit code and their correct places, within 20 attempts. There's even the odd quiz thrown in for good measure, which covers everything from case-specific details, to Crash Bandicoot's favourite fruit and Japanese geography. Should you find any of the puzzles too tricky (which, given the lack of explanation for some of them, we wouldn't blame you), The Silver Case even has a handy skip feature which will solve the puzzle for you instead.
In all, The Silver Case is a bit of a funny one really - hard-boiled and hard to follow, it's not the easiest game to get in to, being infuriatingly vague at times. But even so, the story here isn't a bad one, and there's enough mystery, intrigue and creepy goings on to keep you coming back, with some clever puzzles to help break up the reams of reading. Still, with clunky, awkward controls and a propensity to be overly vague about some key aspects of the story, The Silver Case a bit of a marmite game if ever there was one.