With the number of big budget titles in development today, it’s inevitable that several lesser-known games get lost before they’ve even had a chance to shine. Very often, visual novels end up being the victims of this tragedy simply because most people don’t even consider them to be “games.”
The truth is, visual novels are no different from other games in that the passion and dedication behind them rivals that of the biggest of big-budget titles. They also do a remarkable job of telling stories and evolving the narrative in games. Following our “Melancholy of Visual Novels” article which focused on revitalizing the genre, this series of posts is meant to give these niche affairs their two minutes of fame. It is also meant to be a useful source of information for any publishers looking out for their next localization project.
WELCOME, stranger! What are you buyin’?
Or better yet; let’s talk about what you’re not buying because it’s not out in English. That’s right, it’s time for… *deep breath* Visual Novel Adventures We’d Love to See Localized – Chapter 2!
My two picks for this installment are games with a fair bit of history and influence behind them, dating back to the 1950s. Doing the research for this feature actually pointed me in the direction of several other things I really want to look into, including a series of detective novels from Japan.
The two DS games in question – 8-Tomb-Village and The Inugami Family – are both based on novels of the same names by Yokomizo Seishi, an author well-known in Japan for his series of detective novels. The books – 77 in all – revolve around protagonist Kindaichi Kosuke (Kindaichi being his family name), a famous detective during the Meiji restoration era, famous for wearing a scruffy old hat and having a bad case of dandruff. In some forms of media, Kindaichi is depicted as a modern-day college drop-out who ends up solving a mystery or two in San Francisco. Upon returning to Japan, Kindaichi starts his own detective firm. He uses his shabby appearance to his advantage while working on cases, as it leads to suspects underestimating him, even though this look doesn’t inspire much confidence in his clients. Think of him as a Japanese Sherlock Holmes, if you will.
I say “forms of media” because the adventures of Kindaichi Kosuke have been recreated in a variety of forms including a live-action TV drama of the same name and several movies. A related manga, anime and live-action series starring his grandson, Hajime Kindaichi, also exist. Similar to James Bond, Kosuke has been played by several actors throughout the decades including, recently, Tatsuya Fujiwara who played Light in the Death Note movies. Kindaichi’s adventures have become so popular over the years that Yokomizo Seishi even had an award named after him.
According to Wikipedia, “The Yokomizo Seishi Prize is a literary award established in 1980 by the Kadokawa Shoten publishing company and the Tokyo Broadcasting System in honor of Yokomizo. It is awarded annually to a previously unpublished novel-length mystery. The winner receives a statuette of Kosuke Kindaichi and a cash award of 10 million yen. In addition, the winning story is published by Kadokawa Shoten and dramatized as a television movie by TBS.”
Developed by From Software, 8-Tomb Village and The Inugami Family are both visual novel adventures and obviously rely on narrative and dialogue as their selling point. Luckily for them, both games are built upon a solid foundation in this regard at the very least.
Moving onto the meat and bones, ie; the actual plot, 8-Tomb-Village is based upon Yokomizu’s novel Yatsuhakamura and borders on the supernatural. The book has already seen three movie adaptations and tells the story of the cursed village of Yatsuhaka. During the feudal era, the inhabitants of the village were helping eight samurai rebels hide from the government. Fearing punishment at the hands of the shogunate, the villagers soon betrayed the eight samurai and murdered them. In his dying breath, one of the samurai placed a curse upon the village.
Shortly after the incident, strange events began to occur. Attributing these to the curse, the villagers erected 8 graves for the samurai in order to appease their anger.
Fast forward 400 years: the patriarch of Tajimi family (also head of the village) goes insane and starts to murder the other villagers. 25 years after this gruesome incident, his eldest son is poisoned. Believing it to be the curse of the eight dead samurai, the family hires Kindaichi Kosuke to get to the bottom of things.
Note that these events are those of one of the movies. The game seems to follow them fairly closely, judging by the Famitsu page. A web trial of the game is available here (click on the text that says “Web” at the bottom).
This brings us to The Inugami Clan or The Inugami Family, which is based on Yokumizo’s Inugamike no Ichizoku, and sounds a lot more sinister. The Inugami Clan just so happens to feature a plot that would make for a very interesting dating-sim, but given that this is a series of books involving murder and the supernatural, naturally this isn’t the case.
Like Yatsuhakamura, Inugamike no Ichizoku was adapted into several live-action movies. Here’s a plot overview from a review of the latest version of the film, directed by prominent Japanese film director Kon Ichikawa in 2006.
“On his deathbed, the patriarch of the powerful Inugami family informs his daughters that his massive inheritance will go to the grandson who marries Tamayo, the beautiful granddaughter of his long-time partner. This pits the sole son of each daughter against each other in a competition to win Tamayo’s favor. Knowing full well the greed and under-handed strategies by which the prestigious family operates, and sensing the possibility of real trouble brewing, a young lawyer requests the help of Kindaichi Kosuke, a detective renowned for his unparalleled insight and crime-solving abilities.
“Kindaichi complies, thinking this will be a simple matter of overseeing an inheritance, but within days of his arrival a series of gruesome and mysteriously executed murders begin. All evidence initially points to this family member, and then that family member, until the family members and the the local constable are pointing accusatory fingers at nearly everyone at some point.
“But in his characteristically humorous and low-brow style, Kindaichi eventually filters through the complexities and labyrinthine distractions to deliver a conclusion which even audience members will be impressed with.”
Below is a trailer of the game. You can find the flash-based web demo here (again, click on the large button that says “Web”).
For those of you who can’t wait for someone to pick this up for localization, luckily, a translated version of Inugamike no Ichizoku exists. And here’s an in-depth review of the movie in case you’re interested.
Both these games look absolutely stunning and sound equally deserving of a localized release. A mature narrative in games is a rarity these days, so let’s hope someone takes notice of these and decides to give them a shot in the Western market.