The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story was a surprise announcement during the February 2022 Nintendo Direct. Seeing Square Enix’s name on a full motion video game came out of left field. Japanese mystery dramas like Trick and Meitante no Okite resonate with me. Seeing The Centennial Case combine the genre with video games shot it to the top of my must play pile. Its ambitious bit of storytelling spans one hundred years of events tied to the Shijima family. It goes over the suspicious deaths that surround them and a mythical fruit rumored to be in their possession.
It all begins when a skeleton is uncovered at the base of a cherry blossom tree on the estate. The discovery is leaked to the press just in time for the family’s succession ceremony. In pursuit of the truth, Eiji Shijima invites mystery author Haruka Kagami and her editor Akane to the home.
Due to the nature of the game, this review of The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story contains some spoilers.
None of the Shijimas know who the remains belong to. Ryoei, Eiji’s father, puts it to the side so he can proceed with the succession ceremony and his surprising announcement. He will not be naming any of his three sons as the new head of the family. This year marks the end of this family tradition and all the secrets it contains. One of these secrets is the Tokijiku, also known as the Fruit of Youth. Eiji wants to know if such a fruit is in his family’s possession and use it in his medical research. It’s said that the Tokijiku grants those who partake of it a sort of agelessness. It is an extended life, but not an immortal one.
Haruka’s investigation into the Shijima story and the Tokijiku myth starts with a story from 1922. This tale, written by a Yoshino Shijima, involves an auction supposedly containing life-extending items. This included a single Tokijiku. Yoshino has no item to enter the auction with and ends up joining the event as the companion of the enigmatic Josui Kusaka. An untimely death mars the auction. Yoshino and Josui then work together to solve the murder.
For the sake of the story, Haruka envisions the characters in each story using the likenesses of the people also at the Shijima estate. She inserts herself as the author of each story. This is primarily Yoshino Shijima, an aspiring author and ancestor of the Shijima family. Eiji is cast as the enigmatic Josui Kusaka. This feels like was a creative choice used to limit how many actors needed to be on set during filming due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But it works. When you think about it, authors tend to draw inspiration from those around them. Using these strangers to portray characters in the stories she’s reading for clues fits her profession.
Once the camera rolls, it’s crucial you pay attention to everything on screen in this FMV game. From the inflection in the dialogue to the smallest facial expressions, everything and anything can be worked into a hypothesis. Particularly noteworthy clues will flash on the screen for just a few seconds. Make sure you hit the corresponding button to add it to your collection. Clicking that button ensures the hex token appears for you during The Centennial Case‘s hypothesis portion.
During the hypothesis building section of the FMV game, you will be presented with Mysteries in the cognitive space. Presented in red, you need to find the clues that match up with the Mystery in order to make complete observations. You pick up the hex clue you believe matches the Mystery and if it snaps in place, you’ll see a potential hypothesis form. These remind you of what happened and what the potential reasoning for them could be.
There are a couple of things to note while in this mode. First of all, you might have to be very precise with dropping the hex next to the Mystery. Because the Mystery path is on a bit of a weird angle, there were times I thought I had the wrong piece because it would not drop. It turns out I just hadn’t placed it exactly where the game wanted it. By the time I reached the second chapter, I realized that each of the clues had a pattern facing one (or rarely two) of the edges. Finding the clues that matched the direction and patterns displayed on the Mystery hex made this process so much easier.
When enough of your Mysteries and Clues are unlocked, The Centennial Case moves you into the Reasoning portion of the game. Here, you can test out your paths of logic and see what sounds right or wrong. This is probably my least favorite section. All it does it remind you of the hypotheses you just finished going over. By now, you’ve got your theories in place, making this rather pointless. Plus, the version of Eiji that lives in this cognitive space doesn’t really offer much feedback. The only FMV portions are a quick intro and outro to the game’s mode. Everything is text-based otherwise, and its interface is clunky. It got to a point where I did one Reasoning task before ending the phase so I could dig into my conclusions.
That’s when the fun part comes. It’s time to share your deductions and name the killer. Path of logic options open up. So long as you keep hitting the correct ones, you’re golden. As soon as you make an error, things get awkward. First up, some of the scenes that come about from making the wrong are priceless. When the characters start cracking up, the laughter in infectious. The game doesn’t end here. You’ll see a prompt to either go back and review your mysteries or get a hint. What’s missing is an option to just jump back in and go from there. Even when deciding to get a hint, I was kicked over to the Mysteries section and forced to exit from there.
The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story needs just a few updates to the user interface to make this gem truly shine. Adding an option to return to the game without backtracking to Reasoning and/or viewing hints and adjusting the angles of the Mystery path to make it easier to snap clues into place are both a great start. But maybe the most irritating thing I encountered all game was the lack of a persistent save function. Saving is only accessible while in the hypothesis or points summary sections of the game. If you want to save from any other part of the game you only get a suspend option. It’s not like you can reload a previous save if you make a mistake. The Centennial Case auto-saves frequently; there’s no “gaming” the system to get a perfect score if you messed up.
Unfortunately, Square Enix decided that any form of sharing isn’t allowed. You won’t be able to take your own screenshots, record video, or even stream The Centennial Case. This is a game that I think people will be too scared to take a full price risk on. Seeing it in action is a much better way to gauge whether or not this is for you. I can type your eyes off and tell you all about my experience in this interactive story, but if my ups and downs with this genre is anything to go by, video speaks louder than words.
While it might not be the perfect FMV game, The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story is pretty darn close. With the entwined stories, spectacular acting, and lengthy scenes, it truly is an interactive experience fans of the genre should not miss. And I’d personally love to see Haruka get tangled up in more adventures such as this one. She’s a character that speaks to my soul. Let me traipse around Japan solving crimes with her, please and thank you in advance.
The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story is out now for PlayStation 4/5, Nintendo Switch, and PC.