Little details make or break games in the modern scene. With a plethora of indie titles saturating the market, sweating the small stuff sets a developer apart from the rabble. Jisei, a visual novel released back in 2010 by SakeVisual, gets some of the details part right but forgets to add the rest of the game.
Jisei declares itself to be a mystery novel. Specifically of the ‘whodunnit’ variety, this Western visual novel opens with a classic image of a corpse as the protagonist waxes philosophical about the horrors of dying before he wakes from a nap in a coffee shop.
After getting nauseous and interpreting it as a sign that someone just died, he wanders to the bathrooms to find a dead body in the women’s room. The story takes off from there, but it’s a short flight – Philly to D.C. and back plus baggage claim, tops.
Jisei’s first distinguishing quality is its characters. Presumably set in America, each character has their own little quirk and appears to be easily classifiable as one trope or another. Like well-educated amateur actors they play their parts too well, losing their feel as natural humans in a natural setting. The detective is curt and by-the-books, the cute female barista behind the counter is so much of an airhead she must be hiding something, and the list goes on.
Fortunately, the characters are still fun to interact with. Thanks to voice acting that completely avoids activating the Cringe-O-Meter, interacting with the various suspects and hearing their stories proves to be enjoyable and fun. Despite confirming every first impression the player has of them, they play their roles well.
The protagonist naturally carries a little baggage, some of it in the form of a psychic ability that allows him to, by touching a corpse, see its last moments including how the person died and all the pain that comes with it. It’s this ability that first clues him, and the player, in that this murder isn’t ordinary.
The story itself is solid, for only lasting an hour. Describing the plot of a murder mystery without spoiling anything can be tricky, but in this case not much needs to be said. If I claimed that I knew who the killer was based on a gut feeling 10 minutes into the game, I wouldn’t be lying. It’s no Sherlock Holmes; hell, it’s not even Encyclopedia Brown. But it is entertaining, with enough twists to keep the player engaged despite confirming everything they already concluded for themselves.
And the game is engaging. Unlike the traditional visual novel style, the player must proactively choose to talk with the suspects, asking them questions and investigating the rooms of the coffee house in an effort to clear their own name while also finding the suspect. It’s a pleasant departure from the norm.
As previously mentioned, details make and break games. Having a ‘Notes’ option to peruse the information the player has obtained so far? Excellent addition to the detective atmosphere. Mispronouncing Mikolaj by saying ‘mee-ko-lodge’ instead of ‘mee-ko-lie?’ Awful; a jarring error in an otherwise-polished game. Music that suits the mood? Expected, but the quality was unexpected.
Charging $10 for an hour’s worth of mediocre mystery? Major no-no. At the end of the day, Jisei is a mystery game. That the end is extremely predictable early on is bad enough, but the game’s efforts to create twists are 50-50 well executed or completely unearned. To a fresh player without a walkthrough, the ‘bad ending’ in particular will come so far out of left field as to have its own zip code. Worse, the player might even see it coming regardless.
Jisei, at first glance, looks and sounds polished. It fights hard to be a good mystery novel, but leaves one unsatisfied by the time the credits roll. Using the excuse of “it’s the first episode in a series,” might cut it for some, but it doesn’t eliminate the possibility that it might be a turn-off to exploring the rest of the titles. For $5 this might be a worthy way to spent a Lincoln on an hour, but $10 a download is a tough pill to swallow.
[+Engaging gameplay] [+Pretty art] [+Good music] [+Good writing] [-Extremely short] [-Too predictable] [-Overall mediocre]