It’s time to put on your detective hat in this game that’s less hardboiled noir and more anime high school visual novel.
Resurrected from the past, Famicom Detective Club is a duology of adventure/murder mystery games that originally released for the Japanese Nintendo Entertainment system – called the Famicom – all the way back in 1988 and were never released outside of Japan until now.
The original game was developed by Nintendo’s R&D 1 team but the modern release was developed by Mages, working closely with Nintendo and the original team.
The two standalone games are called the Missing Heir and The Girl Who Stands Behind. Both have you play as a 17-year-old assistant detective at the Usinagi Detective agency. You can name your character, but sadly you cannot customise anything else like their look or gender which, despite not affecting any gameplay, would have been nice.
The Missing Heir
You are found unconscious and realise you have lost your memories after surviving a fall from a remote rural cliff. You discover you are a detective sent to investigate the mysterious death of the chairwoman and matriarch of the Ayashiro family business, making everyone in the family a suspect.
While trying to regain your memories and find out what happened to you, you learn of rumours of a lost inheritance, uncover deadly secrets and a terrifying curse that could lead to the deaths of anyone who interferes with the family.
The Girl Who Stands Behind
This game acts as a prequel to The Missing Heir. While searching for your missing parents, you are recruited by a private detective.
While investigating the disturbing death of a high school girl named Yoko, you discover a link between her demise and a ghost story of a vengeful, bloody girl who died 15 years ago and appears behind people before they mysteriously die.
Visuals to both games are exceptionally smooth, boasting a well-drawn, colourful world and richly detailed characters. Everything feels like an actual anime, with environments and characters featuring light animations like detailed facial expressions, hair movement or grass swaying in the breeze.
The look of the original game and especially the characters has been very faithfully recreated. The 8-bit and 16-bit originals have been remade in HD with dynamic animations. However, the animation is a little limited like most visual novels
The updated UI has been vastly improved from the original games’ boxy layout, allowing you to really enjoy the artwork.
Another big improvement is the audio quality and the addition of voice acting. The acting is solid and helps make the game compelling. However, it is Japanese only with no English dub, which is a shame, but it does feel appropriate.
You can change the soundtrack to the classic Famicom effects, which is a nice nostalgic touch for those familiar with the games but I wish I could switch between the original and new graphics even more.
In Famicom Detective Club you travel to locations to interrogate persons of interest, scan the scenery with your cursor to uncover clues or evidence, and then use this information to speculate on what happened.
Those familiar with more recent games like Ace Attorney, Hotel Dusk, and the fantastic Snatcher will feel right at home here with the gameplay and story.
Good deductive reasoning will help you progress but double-checking your notes will go a long way, as well as using a process of elimination while talking to characters.
Famicom Detective Club suffers from the common issue that arises in lots of point-and-click games, where it can be unclear as to how to progress, or in what order you are supposed to continue. This can be frustrating as you visit and revisit a scene and characters only to exhaust your conversation options and examine everywhere.
Also, there seems to be no punishment for saying certain things to those you interrogate, meaning you can just work through your list of options without fear of punishment.
When you load a save game, you can view a recap, which details what has happened in your investigation so far to remind you. This is a very handy feature if, like me, you play several games at once or have a memory of a goldfish.
The game is navigated from a simple UI called Detective Command that features a list of options like where to go, look, who to talk to, questions to ask and options for saving the game.
Detective Command offers a limited set of options that can be performed in your current location. This includes things like calling over a witness, taking an item found at the scene, and looking at the area in more detail.
One of your options is Quit Investigation which is confusing as this is used to save the game. Ideally it should just be called Save or be accessible from the drop-down menu separately from the standard Detective Command UI.
Asking questions can sometimes feel like trial and error as you’ll often ask about a particular topic which will stay in your question list with no indicator that there are more questions on the same subject.
However, new topics will be highlighted in yellow which is helpful to know what you haven’t yet asked.
Sometimes you’ll need to go and ask about the same topic to get different responses and further information. This seems unnecessarily vague.
It’s a shame that Famicom Detective Club doesn’t feature touch controls or support a touch pen like the one used in Brain Training, as this would make the game much easier to navigate and feel less dated. Having to scour a crime scene or area to look for clues can be tedious with a thumbstick as it’s awfully slow-moving.
A dropdown menu allows you to load your game or look at your Notepad which is handy if you get stuck or need a reminder on who everyone is and what their motives and alibis are. It also updates as you uncover more information but is handy to return to for reference.
It’s a surprising that Nintendo decided to resurrect two long-forgotten Japan-only games for us in the West, but it is a great move.
Some aspecta of the gameplay feels dated, which isn’t surprising for a 33-year-old game. However, the games’ greatest strength is the interesting characters and compelling stories.
Despite its linearity, the package is a gripping and enjoyable experience. Famicom Detective Club feels like something that would have been amazing on the DS but still works well on the Switch despite not utilising all its functions.
The stunning visuals, UI streamlining and great voice performances mean that Famicom Detective Club can stand toe to toe with any contemporary visual novels.
Let’s hope more forgotten gems are localised and released. I’m looking at you Mother 3.
Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir and Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind are out on Nintendo Switch on May 14.