Review: Uncover Suda’s lost past in The Silver Case
Goichi Suda, known to many as Suda51, has become one of the more prolific Japanese game writers and designers around. While he was not particularly well known in North America until the release of the cult classic Killer7, that was far from his first game. This brings us to one of the only Suda titles that never saw release outside of Japan at the time: The Silver Case. Nearly two decades later, the now-localized The Silver Case presents us with a bizarre story full of philosophically-inclined characters and plenty of creepy imagery. So yes, it’s a Suda51 game.
The game’s main plot follows a silent protagonist who is thrust into the strange world of the Heinous Crimes Unit, an investigative team formed to solve crimes that are, well, you know the rest. Their primary case, and the game’s overarching narrative, involves the escape of a serial killer named Kamui and the havoc caused by his return to civilian life. This main plot, while not executed as well as it could be, is genuinely engaging during its best moments. At its worst, however, it’s bogged down with pointless character diatribes and filler that ultimately don’t add much to the overall story.
The Silver Case sometimes buries its best moments in ways that feel like it’s trying to pad out its length.
Much of the dialogue rambles on, as characters demonstrate their previously established traits through inane banter with each other that often results in not much of anything. Much of this dialogue reminded me of Killer7, but unlike that game, I never felt much connection to these characters or their problems; I just wanted to see where the story was going. You often feel the game picking up momentum only to quickly lose steam when two of the detectives get into an argument about some unrelated nonsense. It doesn’t help that a lot of the writing is lacking, often taking a roundabout way to make a relatively simple point. At times, I couldn’t tell if this was due to issues with the translation or if the dialogue really was that overwrought.
That’s not to say the characters are completely without merit. During one case early on, the game would often cut back to two detectives on a seemingly never-ending stakeout which dives deep into their personalities in engaging, and sometimes hilarious, ways. These moments are fleeting, but they did offer a glimmer of a character motivation beyond apathy and the need to be argumentative for no real reason. The Silver Case sometimes buries its best moments in ways that feel like it’s trying to pad out its length, giving you only small nuggets of entertaining dialogue or engrossing story progression to keep you engaged before pulling you back out of it completely.
There is a secondary section of the game which follows a freelance reporter who is offered a nice sum of money to investigate and report on Kamui’s mysterious return. These chapters unlock whenever you complete of the game’s main cases and offer a different perspective on the events of the story. While these sections can drag on, often relegating the bulk of your involvement to checking your email day after day until the plot progresses in a meaningful way, I found myself more intrigued with this character’s perspective on the overarching narrative. This is primarily thanks to following someone with actual personality who works alone and isn’t surrounded by constant bickering.
Kamui’s part in the game is effective when it is allowed to shine, but the game goes off track more times than you can count in order to present you with an unrelated case meant to develop your fellow detectives more than anything. When it gets back to the central mystery, however, it’s riveting. Despite some short, but effective character moments, I never really cared about the detectives, only the mystery around them. And for a text-heavy game with a large cast of characters, that’s a huge problem.
Despite being a game focused on conversation, there are adventure game elements that allow you to do a little exploring on your own. Wandering around in first-person, despite doing so in some relatively simple environments, takes a long time to get used to and is rather clunky. The simple act of moving around and examining items of note can be jarring at times, even after spending hours with the game. Even once you get used to it (and for me it took quite a while), movement in this game still felt off and controls were never anything but obtuse.
I never really cared about the detectives, only the mystery around them. And for a text-heavy game with a large cast of characters, that’s a huge problem.
You are rarely offered a chance to do much but move from one point on the map to another and examine an object before you’re ambushed by more text. There are occasional puzzles to solve, but none are particularly difficult or engaging. Despite being bored by the overly-talkative characters for much of the game, it wasn’t long before I wanted to be done navigating the dull environments and get to back to my fellow detectives’ babbling. The second case in particular is especially bad in this regard, having you traverse up and down the stairs of an apartment complex multiple times (with a loading screen between each floor) in order to find the one person you haven’t spoken to in order to progress the story. To call it egregious is an understatement.
One aspect of the game that does stand out, even by today’s standards, is the presentation. It stages the various scenes in dynamic ways, making even the most dull dialogue somewhat engaging. Some of the game’s later cases even mix up the visuals in some cool ways that fit the narrative, occasionally mixing in FMV sequences or changing the color palette completely, which I appreciated. There are a lot of understated touches, and the new score from Akira Yamaoka improves even the worst of the game’s text-heavy scenes.
What stands out the most about The Silver Case are the elements you come to expect from Suda games, especially his early work. They are present here, but are unfocused and often frustrating. If this had been a tighter narrative without any of the filler, it could have been something special, but as it stands it’s a disappointing cultural artifact that I can only recommend to the most diehard of Suda51 fans. You’re better off never experiencing this formerly unreleased title for yourself.
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