Review | Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir
Visual novel adventure games were always pretty popular in Japan, but in other regions of the world, it took some time for them to gain some traction. Thanks to various games like Ace Attorney, Danganronpa and many others, the genre is really thriving. Even Nintendo dipped their toes in the genre over 30 years ago, releasing the Famicom Detective Club series for the Famicom Disk System. The series had remained exclusive to Japan and only made slight references for western audiences in games like Super Smash Bros. Melee. Now, Nintendo has decided to bring the series outside of Japan for the first time with remakes of the games. First up is Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir.
Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir is the first game in the series. Despite this, it actually takes place a couple years after The Girl Who Stands Behind, which was the second game. I felt it was best to start with the first game just to replicate the original release order. You can start in any order you like, as nothing carries over aside from your chosen character name. The prequel does give players a bit more of an introduction to the characters, but it isn’t necessary to enjoy The Missing Heir.
Things start out with an interesting premise, as our unnamed protagonist wakes up to a mysterious man named Amachi. After being found near a cliff, you soon realize you have amnesia, with no memory of who you are or how you got there. While trying to regain your memories, you soon meet a girl named Ayumi, who works for the Utsugi Detective Agency. As it turns out, you are actually a junior detective from this agency, and Ayumi is your friend and coworker. She helps to get you back on track of a case that your character is working on involving the death of a company chairwoman.
This chairwoman ends up being a part of the Ayashiro family, which just so happens to be involved in a superstitious legend. Supposedly, the family is cursed, and locals believe that the chairwoman is enacting vengeance on the members of her family. Our amnesiac protagonist gets wrapped up in a bigger plot that spans several days, uncovering his own memories in the process. The story is full of quite a few twists and turns, so we won’t go further with the details. Of course, that doesn’t save it from having a few predictable moments and one loose end after the credits roll. Despite this, it’s a pretty enjoyable tale from a bygone era.
Gameplay involves investigating various locations, talking to people, and focusing on your inner thoughts. This being a remake, this is where the game starts to show its age. Much of the gameplay focuses on asking questions to various people you’ll meet. You’ll often come to these people with topics that are relevant to them, and many that are not. The biggest issue is that even if you have relevant questions, sometimes you’ll have to repeatedly ask it to get results. Sometimes you’ll even exhaust those options and you’ll have to find a different method to progress further. This includes showing various items, talking to different people, or even simply just looking at the person. It often shows inconsistency, and makes for some frustrating moments.
The questioning really doesn’t help when many of the people you talk to are incredibly uncooperative. Even when you ask reasonable questions, some of the characters will practically bite your head off. Persistence is key in many of these moments, and sometimes you’ll only gain progress by badgering people. You’ll basically ask multiple questions until you either uncover a new clue, or gain the option to travel to a different location. During rare cases, players will have to type in a specific word to move forward. Sometimes you’ll even have to move between two locations multiple times to get new results. Occasionally, it even just comes down to the order you do things in. Being a remake, I guess it’s faithful to the original, but it’s still irksome.
When conducting investigations, players will be able to move a cursor over the scene. I found it to be a huge missed opportunity not to offer touch screen controls here when playing in handheld mode. It would’ve been a nice quality of life feature to make things more convenient for players. This is especially disappointing when you consider that the cursor movement can often be pretty slow. It would’ve been great to offer cursor movement speeds in the options to rectify this. Hopefully the developers consider patching in a few things to make the game less tedious to play. (EDIT: We were unaware of the cursor speed increase by holding down the left analog stick during this review. That is our mistake, so disregard the cursor speed issue.)
One of the best elements of the Famicom Detective Club remakes is the new visual style. The game uses a lot of gorgeous artwork for environments and characters. Characters don’t remain as static images as they animate enough to give them a bit more life. It’s not as lively as something like the Ace Attorney characters, but the fact they move in general is a nice touch. Some sequences even offer a bit more animation, giving the game a more cinematic feel at times. Then you get to some of the more gruesome moments. The game really doesn’t hold back with some of the grim visuals, which makes it surprising that this passed with Teen rating.
Speaking of these scenarios, this overall scenario of the game is where a lot of logic goes out the window. Our protagonist is a 17 year-old assistant to a detective, but Police practically give him full access to crime scenes. Conversations often start with characters denying you access, only to realize you’re from Utsugi Detective Agency and practically reprimanding themselves for denying you in the first place. It really puts things into perspective for the time these games originally released. Thankfully, it only adds to the charm, as illogical as the scenarios may often seem.
Finally, the game offers full Japanese voice acting while giving English text. Unfortunately, most of the visual text is still in Japanese, but the localization team at least makes the game playable for western audiences. It would’ve been nice to go the extra mile to offer English voice acting, but I can’t complain. The Japanese voices we got are splendid, and I even recognized many from some of my favorite anime. All the original music was given brand new arrangements thanks to Takeshi Abo, which all maintain the charm of the original tracks. As a nice touch, players can also revert back to the original 8-bit tracks if they choose to.
While Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir has some gameplay issues, I’m still glad I played it. It represents a different time for Nintendo, and it’s great to play what’s essentially a piece of history. The game offers some significant updates to the visuals and music, and the Japanese voices give it new life. While the story will only take a few hours to complete, it’s a fun mystery and delivers a few satisfying “aha!” moments. Sadly, it’s lacking in replay value, but hopefully we can see a sequel thanks to these releases. If you’re a fan of murder mysteries and adventure games, then Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir might be right up your alley.
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10