A Dystopian Law And Order With Anger Issues
It seems as though 2018 will be the year I step out of my gaming comfort zone. My last review, Where The Water Tastes Like Wine, took me to some amazing places and exposed me to some really fantastic gaming experiences. The long-awaited The 25th Ward: The Silver Case will be no different here, though for entirely different reasons. That’s not all bad, and it’s not all good either. Regardless, I’m at least among the multitude of gamers that can now rightly say they’ve experienced a SUDA51 game and lived to tell the tale.
From a genre perspective, The 25th Ward: The Silver Case is majority interactive novel with some puzzle solving and murder mystery tie-ins. That being said, it also has some mild utopian/dystopian vibes in terms of the setting. Japan is split up into a variety of wards, 25 in total, that are run mostly through bureaucracies.
Despite these attempts at making perfect living prefectures for the people of Japan, crime still runs rampant. Because of this, the HCU (Heinous Crimes Unit) is responsible for stemming the tide against murder and other crimes. You will experience the game from the perspective of multiple HCU personnel, jumping between the 25th and 24th wards and various members of those teams. This means that things can tend to severely convoluted, especially given some of the poorer translation that takes place during the first two chapters of the game.
Nevertheless, the narrative, when concise, is engaging and at times downright nail-biting. It’s a hard game to rate to be certain, but I think it will hold up well for those who appreciate the interactive novel genre of gaming.
A Multi-Murder Mystery
Like all murder mysteries, this one starts with, you guessed it, a murder. Well, actually, it’s officially a “suicide” but the HCU knows that it is, in fact, a murder. One of many that have been taking place in a single building, and it’s getting out of hand. Furthermore, we know almost immediately that someone powerful is covering these murders up to make them look like suicides, but who in the 25th Ward has that kind of power? And what could their purpose be?
Without spoiling too much it’s soon revealed who is behind this string of murders, or at least who is at the forefront of it all. Things only get more complicated from there, and soon more questions than answers are stirred from the depths of this and other cases that begin to spring up almost immediately.
Yet there’s so much more than this going on even at the surface that it’s hard to keep track of the series of events. You get massive information dumps about the world, and about the 25th Ward almost right away. Not to mention that there’s so much character dialogue that seems pointlessly shoehorned in where you need it least that things get even more muddied. I’d wager some of these chapters, or even the game as a whole, might require a few playthroughs before things make sense. I know this was definitely the case for me.
All Around Me Are (Un)Familiar Faces
Many of my above issues really stemmed from not being able to recognize the people on the screen for large portions of the game. As characters solidified, things began to clear up to some degree, but because text boxes and names aren’t presented in the same place on the screen your eyes are forced to dance around to put these details together in many cases.
Add to this the weird backgrounds with animated geometry. It’s not too bad for most of the game, but during the second (and one of the longest) chapters, dancing squares with bright colors were making me nauseous and distracting me from a huge chunk of the gaming experience and narrative. I couldn’t focus long enough to make sense of anything that was happening and ended up having to turn the game off due to a newly onset migraine.
Mind you, I fully acknowledge that these are likely singular issues. Not being used to SUDA51 games, this is possibly a personal adjustment that needs to be made on my part. That being said though, stuff like this can serve to ostracize new fans to the series, which seems like something of a negative in my book.
What Even Is
Things begin to amp up as connections are drawn between new and old deaths, eventually leading the investigative team to a known killer by the name of Kosuke Kurumizawa. The only hang up is that Kurumizawa is found dead. Yet his name is clearly written all over the events of The 25th Ward: The Silver Case. This is made further evident by one of the HCU investigators, Shiroyabu, being hounded down by hitmen at nearly every turn.
When he goes missing from his HCU colleagues, things really go off the rails. Accosted by assassins, broke, and alone, Shiroyabu begins to evolve into a new man as he takes down his assailants almost as quickly as they spring up. This leads to some rather disturbing twists and turns though, including what appeared as a plausible rape scene when defeating the only female assassin in the bunch. Things are left disturbingly vague, though it’s not hard to conclude that some form of assault likely occurred here. I think it’s here where I really checked out of the game. Rape, or assault, as a narrative tool is never appealing, but to have a person who is supposed to be the good guy doing as much is absolutely contemptible.
As stated, it’s not certain that this was the case, but that there is room enough to question is enough to really bring this game down a notch in my eyes.
Once things start to settle down, the agents and the player will learn more about Kurumizawa, and just how deep the rabbit hole of these murder investigations go. It seems like things are going to be turned on their heads very quickly in the 25th Ward, but stopping it conventionally will not work.
What ultimately confused me the most at the end of everything else was the inconsistency in the dates things took place. Again, I don’t know if these were errors or clever details that might go missed to the inattentive eye. However, the order of things, whether moved around or not, still didn’t help piece a lot of things together wards the end. It takes about four chapters and nearly as many hours for the game to start making sense and the clutter to clear itself, which for an interactive novel is a bit harsh in my opinion.
That being said, the story, when you get to experience it, takes some amazing twists and turns that serve to inform you in more detail about the world of The 25th Ward. The Japan this game takes place in is fascinating, and I’d love to experience it on potentially a more streamlined level. Be that as it may, The 25th Ward: The Silver Case feels messy. Nauseating backgrounds, information dumps (often at unexpected times), a carnival of characters being paraded in and out at random, and dialogue that seemed not only out of place but distracting really inhibited my ability to understand what was going on. Taking notes proved almost as fruitless because so much of what I encountered seemed important at first, but later disappeared from the plot entirely.
I would like to try other Suda51 games to see if they’re all like this, because I don’t think they could be for as popular as they are. Needless to say, I may be in the minority on my rating for this one, but all save super Suda51 fans will want to take a pass on The 25th Ward: The Silver Case.
Final Verdict: 2.5 / 5
Available on: PC. PS4 (Reviewed) ; Publisher: NIS America ; Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture; Players: 1 ; Released: March 6th, 2018 ; ESRB: Rating Pending ; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PlayStation 4 review copy of The 25th Ward: The Silver Case given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.”