Nintendo’s Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir and Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind both release on Nintendo Switch in a few weeks. Want to know what to expect from these two mystery adventures? Siliconera’s Jenni Lada and Graham Russell are on the case.
Graham Russell: So Jenni, we’ve both been playing these new Famicom Detective Club games! Neither of us have finished these stories — they’re not short, and we’ll have our reviews in a couple of weeks for our full assessment — but we know a lot about these games from their first few chapters! And we’d like to share our preliminary findings with our readers.
Jenni Lada: They’re honestly games that I didn’t think we’d ever get to see localized. So this is a big surprise on my part. They’re interesting, both culturally and historically. Let’s look at the facts.
GR: So we should start with a little history. Because it’s really important for these games! Both Famicom Detective Club titles, The Missing Heir and The Girl Who Stands Behind, originally released on the Famicom Disk System. We didn’t get the Disk System for the Western NES, of course, and these games have a lot of text! So they weren’t localized then.
But they’re here now! They’re getting a deluxe treatment by developer Mages, a team known for its visual novels like Steins;Gate.
JL: Essentially, you’re a teenage detective. You’re trying to solve the mystery of who you are, while also solving other cases happening in the world around you. While Mages is known for its visual novels, these aren’t! They’re Japanese adventure games, for better or worse, which means that there are a lot of old ideas and menus to parse while trying to work out what’s happening.
GR: It’s an important distinction! In some ways. (We’ll get to that later.) So what are your first impressions?
JL: I’m shocked by how fluid it is! It really feels more active and animated to me than a traditional visual novel. I also forgot how critical guesswork is in these sorts of games. What about you?
GR: Yeah, I feel similarly. It’s a real clash between dated game design and thoroughly modern presentation. Which is weird! Famicom Detective Club is a weird thing.
Ultimately, previews are about two things: what we’re liking so far, and what we’re hoping will get better as we keep playing. Which do you want to dig into first?
JL: Let’s start with the things that come across as a bit difficult to deal with. For example, these are remakes of very old games. Even with some modern conveniences, like auto-saving and multiple save slots, there are going to be times when it challenges you. Not because it is difficult, but because it is obtuse.
GR: Sounds fair to me! Yeah, these Famicom Detective Club titles are… I really even hesitate to call them games sometimes. They’re interactive stories, in a way, and that can be really cool. But there’s no fail state. You’re examining scenes and asking questions to witnesses and suspects. And you do that until you see all the messages the game wants you to see, then the game lets you move on to the next step.
And it’s not as simple as “try all the menu options,” that old adventure game staple. Regularly, you’ll need to keep choosing to ask about a particular subject or person, with no real indication that you’ll get a different answer before you do.
JL: It also has the searching element that takes you to a scene to look for specific clues. Except sometimes the actions you need to take aren’t what you expect! So let’s use Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind, which is the one I’m playing, as an example.
There is a very early investigation scene within the first five minutes or so of the game. You’re looking at a person. You can use the “Where?” option to give you a magnifying glass to look at areas, some of which will be highlighted. And you can get stuck here! Because the game doesn’t mention that you could also use “Take” to alter the way the area looks, but not actually take an item. So I spent about ten minutes before, in frustration, I started trying to “take” everything and ended up changing the scene to reveal the detail I needed.
GR: That’s rough. I’m playing The Missing Heir, and it gives you the “Take” option for… ten scenes? Fifteen? Before it actually gives you something productive to do with it.
Okay, let’s turn to the good parts. Because there are good parts! Like we mentioned earlier, the presentation is really something.
JL: Right. Famicom Detective Club is very visually appealing. These aren’t like Live2D character portraits that do that unnerving thing in which a portrait “breathes” or has micromovements. Rather, there are natural animations as people drink coffee, engage in workplace activities or respond to your queries. If you search an environment, you’ll actually see other people you can interview walk past in the background as a cue that “Hey! People are here!” I’m accustomed to visual novels that have static portraits or CGs, so it is refreshing.
GR: This is a cool touch, for sure. And one that most certainly wasn’t in the Famicom Disk System games, so all credit to Mages on the visual direction here.
Also, and this is of course crucial for a game like this: the writing is legitimately compelling. The localization is… fine. I haven’t encountered too many issues there, outside of some occasional menu command confusion. But the characterization! The plot points! I want to know more, which is helpful, because it’s the only reason to keep playing.
JL: Right. That’s a big deal here too. And in Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind there’s a whole ghost story. We have an urban legend we’re hearing about and trying to figure out while also deciphering details about a crime. I have to know what happens.
GR: In The Missing Heir, there’s also some rumblings of supernatural nonsense, but I’ll leave that to our readers to discover as they play.
We’ll each get into more details in our reviews, but for now: what do you most hope to see from the game as the tale progresses?
JL: I definitely hope to see more answers. Like I would like to know what is going on with this mystery. And I like seeing the character animations and setpieces, so seeing where things go would be fun. What about you?
GR: I’d really like to see more complex crime scenes! Or something to ramp up the difficulty to add to the tension. But I’ll be happy enough with a satisfying ending.
Check back in a few weeks for our full reviews of these two games! Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir and Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind will launch on the Nintendo Switch on May 14, 2021.