The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story is an ambitious full motion video experience from Square Enix and h.a.n.d. inc. This interactive mystery features Japanese live action drama at its finest, with a stellar cast stepping up to fill multiple roles. Creating a full motion video game such as The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story requires a fine balance, one that I think developer h.a.n.d. inc managed to do pretty well. In part one of our interview, Producer Junichi Ehara and Director Koichiro Ito took some time to answer a few questions for Siliconera regarding the game’s story and gameplay structure.
Annette Polis: The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story features four murders told over three stories spanning one hundred years for the Shijima family. Is there significance to the particular decades in which each of these stories was told?
Junichi Ehara: If the question is whether it is in line with the story, it definitely is. We also intentionally chose distinctive ages with different looks.
Koichiro Ito: In particular, the case from the Showa Era 50 years ago is important to the story, although it is not directly related to the 100-year history of the Shijima clan.
In each era, one actor will play the role of three detectives. Please pay attention to how each of them might feel in approaching the murder cases, and how they pass the baton to those in detective roles of future generations.
Building a story that spans three separate timelines yet is all intertwined in the grander scheme sounds like a daunting task. What sort of story building tools were used to ensure that everything wove together in a cohesive manner?
Ehara: I suppose the three main points are, that we decided on the fundamental mystery first, that it took a year and a half to complete, and that we asked mystery experts to peer review the scenario multiple times.
Ito: The first thing I did was to decide on the culprit who would be lurking in the shadows for the span of 100 years (this wasn’t an easy task, since such a person would be extremely out of the ordinary in the first place…). With the culprit at the center of the story, I solidified the details for the detectives, their partners, the Shijima clan, and so on.
It was not too difficult to weave the story together as one, but the scenario team had repeated discussions and made adjustments so that the story would have a mystery-like unexpectedness that seems unrelated but is connected, and each chapter would be as broad an experience as possible.
Were there any television shows or films that inspired The Centennial Case‘s use of the cognitive space? (I’m reminded of Japanese programs such as Meitantei no Okite and Trick.)
Ehara: You are very knowledgeable! The cognitive space itself is quite common, so we did not refer to any particular work as a reference.
We incorporated concepts such as “wabi-sabi” and “Miyabi (elegance)” into the design, which have been around in Japan for a long time.
What was the reasoning for separating gameplay into three distinct phases? Was it to mimic the traditional three-act structure?
Ito: We wanted to clearly define and separate the function of each phase, so in the “Incident Phase” all clues to uncover the culprit and trick are presented, in the “Reasoning Phase” players develop a hypothesis based on the clues, and in the “Solution Phase” players challenge the truth using the hypothesis they developed as a weapon.
The “Incident Phase” is, so to speak, a challenge from the culprit to the player. An insightful detective might discover the truth after watching the “Incident Phase”. This means there are other ways you can enjoy the game, such as by putting down the controller after the “Incident Phase” and taking some time to build a theory in your mind or sharing and exchanging theories with others who may have watched with you.
Although it’s hard to say if you can actually consider those things a “game”…
Looking through the studio’s previous games, The Centennial Case appears to be h.a.n.d’s first Full Motion Video game. What technical challenges did you face when designing an FMV, as opposed to a more traditional game?
Ehara: It took us until the last minute to implement a stress-free video viewing system.
The biggest challenge was CPU power, which varies from platform to platform.
In environments with a low thread count, there were frequent cases in the early stages of development where the video would not load in time.
It was also a priority for us to put the footage and the core game on top of the memory, so we had to get creative there too.
Ultimately, we were able to accomplish a video viewing experience that feels seamless.
Stay tuned for the second part of this interview, in which the main character actors speak about their experience with The Centennial Case‘s multi-role system and filming during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story is available now for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch, and PC.