Crimes with hostages are on the rise in Japan, and they’ve been getting worse and worse. You are Onizuka, an experienced negotiator in the Zero Department, a section newly formed by the police force to specially handle these situations. Your job is to talk to criminals and settle the whole conflict without a drop of blood being spilled, whether that be from the kidnapper shooting the hostage in a burst of anger or from suicide.
This is the premise of the game Diamond and the Sound of a Gunshot, a Japanese-only visual novel-esque game from Sony that plays like a thriller with the atmosphere of those old hardboiled novels from the 1930s. Even on the title screen, a slow piece that reminds you of dark alleys and clandestine meetings flows through the speakers, bringing you into the mood.
The game plays like a visual novel would. A shot of scenery – tall skyscrapers and a sprawling metropolis – and text that helpfully states the setting as New York City appears. The screen then cuts to Glen, whose relationship to Onizuka isn’t stated yet; all we know is that he is apparently mentoring him and introducing him (and you) to the art of negotiating. Like in most visual novels, his dialogue appears under his avatar, and the conversation moves to the next set of words at the press of the button.
However, even here, a small design theme is established. Titles and settings are typed onto the screen as they would on a computer, complete with clicking noises, and dialogue appears like subtitles, labeled and color-coded for the person speaking. Although the avatar seems to be part of the background, emotions and actions are expressed fluidly, shifting from one frame to another. The game plays like an unvoiced, subtitled movie.
Then, Glen decides to pull a fast one on Onizuka and tests him on his (your) skills as a negotiator with only a few words of advice. The situation: “I am a criminal that escaped from prison. I have a gun, and I have shut myself in a jewelry store in the first floor of a building. The hostages are two employees and one customer. The building is surrounded, and after two hours have passed, the criminal’s face appears at the window.”
And here is where things start getting interesting.
The game enters a negotiation mode, where you will have to try to navigate through your opponent’s demands, threats, and bluffs. This is done by pressing a button corresponding to different dialogue choices. These always change depending on the situation – some examples I’ve seen are “Wait!” “I understand,” or *Stand up to leave*.
The screen is split into two halves, with Onizuka on the left and the demander on the right. The proportion of space each screen takes up changes as the dialogue continues – anytime someone talks, the opponent’s screen becomes smaller, and this is emphasized when someone yells or panics. It’s really nerve-wracking to watch Onizuka get pushed o the edge of the screen as time goes on because it seems like you’re going to fail, although that isn’t always the case. There is also an “Emotion” gauge in the bottom right hand corner that indicates how angry or frustrated your opponent is; the closer the Emotion gauge comes to filling up, the closer you are to failing. The goal is to try and come to a truce with the opponent that, preferably, does not include anyone’s death.
The catch? The dialogue flows in real time, with the words appearing and disappearing on the screen. The timing is such that the words advance as though they were being spoken, and the movements of the dividing line of the screen coincide with this silent voice as well. For example, when someone yells “No! No!” the divider line will move twice. Options appear and disappear, and it is imperative you select them at the right time before that option loses relevance and disappears. Taking too long to respond is taken as a sign for your opponent to continue talking, and thus can be considered another option as well.
This may all sound complicated and difficult, but really, you don’t have to worry too much. The game’s focus seems to be on people’s interactions, and while the game may be difficult at times (I still haven’t gotten the first test completely perfect yet, and I’ve played through it four times), failing at a negotiation only results in a black screen and the option to replay the section. If you manage to get through without getting everyone killed and failing, then a grade report of sorts will appear, telling you what you accomplished, what happened (i.e. how many people died), and your grade for comparison on replays.
Unfortunately, I only played the demo, which consisted of three prologues — one of Onizuka starting out, one of him joining the Zero Department, and one of you meeting your new partner, Kanzaki Hiromi.
As far as characters are concerned, the game comes with an interesting cast. The demo focuses mainly on Onizuka Youichi, who has an odd sense of humor that makes you go “Are you serious?” Apparently, the reason he drives such a hard bargain on his salary in the Zero Department is because he has a debt incurred from boat races. Just as a hint, fail to save one hostage in the first prologue and see what Glen says. There was also a glimpse the hot-tempered Kanzaki Hiromi, your new partner, with whom you have your third negotiation.
Diamond and the Sound of a Gunshot looks to be an interesting game that takes a different look at crime situations. From its movie-like style to real time negotiations that make you wonder if these situations actually happened in real life, this game provides a unique experience from the eyes of someone who is talking to criminals rather than busting them.