Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Platform: PS4, PC(Steam)
Price: $49.99 USD
Western Release Date: September 4th, 2018
Original Release Date: December 4th, 2008(Wii)
Although relatively unknown in the west, 428 sports an enviable track record in Japan. The game’s success are attributed to its unique gameplay, narrative and systems.
The central plot of 428 revolves the kidnapping of Maria Osawa, daugher of the director of a major pharmaceutical company. As the story unfolds, it turns out that there are more important things at stake than just a regular abduction case.
Upon first launching the game, the player takes control of Detective Kanou. During this first section, you are introduced to the first known details of the kidnapping, to Kanou himself, and to his acquaintances within the police force. You are currently sitting at a stake-out, waiting for the culprit to show himself to receive the ransom money. Inevitably, you are met with a bad ending.
To continue the game, you must then take control of Achi Endo, a former delinquent and totally unrelated party to the kidnapping. It is only through his decisions that Detective Kanou is able to avoid an undesirable ending. That is, choices made from Achi’s perspective have an effect on Kanou’s timeline.
The game is divided in time blocks, starting from 10AM to 11AM. The first block, available as a free demo in on PSN, functions both as an introduction and a tutorial to the game’s unique systems. From 11AM onward you gain access to the rest of the game’s characters, each of their stories intertwined with one another.
428 Shibuya Scramble is a non-linear NVL Visual Novel with multiple protagonists and perspective swapping. There are two different ways of doing this: Directly selecting between characters or by jumping straight from one timeline to another. While playing a certain character, it’s possible you will reach a point where the story will Lockout, forcing you to find a jump from another character’s perspective.
The plot of 428 cannot be told from a single character’s perspective. At the same time, those mechanics are in place to prevent players from discovering plot points in the incorrect order. Furthermore, by following so many different events simultaneously, the player gains a macro vision of everything that is happening around Shibuya at the time.
Detective stories are all about the mood. Without the correct ambience, it’s impossible for the reader to feel the proper thrill of the story. Music in 428 achieves a perfect balance between serenity and urgency, flawlessly complementing the narrative. The soundtrack, much like the narrative, does not feel dragged out.
The entire game is told from live action stills and movies. This is highly unusual, even for a niche genre such as visual novels. Images and backgrounds swap very often, which is different from what I expected at first. Despite not having much to copy from, the game’s direction is spot on.
My friends described 428 as the ‘most boring game that they had ever seen’. Of course, watching someone else play a plot-intensive visual novel is hardly entertaining. From my own perspective, although the game’s narrative is quite light(surprisingly, considering the subject matter), I found it difficult to play for long periods of time. Reading more than a single time block at once felt exhausting.
It’s easy to see why this game received so much praise in Japan. Despite having a rather convoluted narrative and system, the tutorials throughout the first chapter were simple and clarifying, while still being minimally intrusive. The writing is elegant, with plenty of information and trivia mixed in but still managing not to detract from the story. As far as visual novels go, the execution is nearly flawless.
Ultimately, whether or not someone will enjoy 428 Shibuya Scramble depends entirely on how resistant they are to its presentation. Although detective stories might be popular, the fact 428 is a live action visual novel will turn away a lot of people. For those that love niche picks, they will most definitely find a worthwhile experience.