Missing In America No More
Those who have followed gaming for a long time have inevitably heard about a game from another country that sounds amazing, and they can’t wait to play, only to find it won’t make its way to their home country. Nintendo used to be terrible at this. We didn’t get a Fire Emblem in the US until the seventh release. Advance Wars was a huge hit, but many don’t know that it was the seventh title in its series. We still can’t play Mother 3 in English legitimately. Even today, some games that seem like no-brainers don’t see a US release. The Brain Age titles were huge hits on the DS. Despite that, Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training shows no sign of coming here. Some of the games we miss out on feel like tragedies. Others, like Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir, are only minor disasters.
The import crowd has talked these up for years for their deep, ahead of their time stories. Neither is an all-time classic adventure game, though. Despite being remade for the Switch, they still show their age in several ways. That’s especially true of this first game in the series.
Unlock The Mystery
Things start when you wake up and realize you’ve fallen off a cliff. When questioned about how you got there, you realize that you can’t remember. You also can’t remember anything else. Amnesia may be a tired trope but cut The Missing Heir a little slack. It was first released in 1988, before this became so overdone.
Soon you find that you’re an assistant at the Utsumi Detective Agency. You were researching the death of the matriarch of a major business empire when you fell off that cliff. As you slowly remember who you are, you’ll have to uncover what is going on in a family where everyone seems to be at each other’s throats. When more people start dying though, you’ll realize that you don’t have a lot of time. It’s all up to you, with your only consistent help coming from fellow assistant Ayumi Tachibana. Who can you trust when you don’t even remember who you are?
New And Improved?
A lot of love has gone into remaking these games. The artwork in The Missing Heir is stunning. Beautifully animated backgrounds and characters with a ton of personality help modernize things. There’s only limited animation, but it’s used well. The soundtrack is beautifully remastered, though you can still choose to listen to the original Famicom versions of each song. Though only available in Japanese, the voice acting is also very well done. If you don’t want to listen to another language, you can always turn the voices off, however.
While The Missing Heir looks and sounds like a modern game, it doesn’t play like one. The UI here is ancient, calling back to console adventure games of the 80s. You choose your actions from a list of words. You can talk to people, search each area, move between areas, and a few other options. It works relatively well, though modern gamers used to more streamlined UIs may have trouble. Unique to The Missing Heir is a remember option. This lets you try to focus and regain your memories using what you’ve learned.
There are so many ways to update things that should have been no-brainers. Why do I have to scroll across the screen with a magnifying glass when my Switch has a touch screen? Why do I often have to select the same option multiple times before it works? This wouldn’t be so bad if the game made a point of telling you this is sometimes needed. Figuring it out through trial and error instead can lead to frustration. A few times throughout the game, you’ll suddenly have to enter a word from scratch instead of choosing on-screen options. It’s cool from the standpoint of feeling like a detective. I just wish it happened often enough that it didn’t feel jarring every time it comes up.
Pulls You In… Eventually
The Missing Heir’s story is where it shines, and this is definitely an interesting tale. Because it uses many tropes, I imagine most players will figure a lot of it out before the characters do. While I did so, there were still a few twists on things I didn’t see coming. Other times there were things I was sure were telegraphed before the game went in a different direction. The big picture was what I thought it would be, but the details were very different. One moment in particular in the second half seemed at least at first to blow up my theories.
Even the story here takes its time to get going, though, which is ultimately the biggest issue with The Missing Heir. I wasn’t fully hooked until chapter 5 (of 11). Characters are fun and have personality, but they’re fairly thinly portrayed. This made it hard to really care about most of them. That meant I needed to really get into the core mystery of the game to be hooked, but that reveals itself slowly. While rarely hard, it’s also easy to get stuck because some parts of the game require you to select things in a very specific order. Clues often aren’t quite as clear as I would have liked, leading to confusion. You can almost always get past this eventually by selecting every option over and over. This certainly makes you feel like less of a master detective, however.
I enjoyed my time with Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir. It tells an interesting story that puts surprising twists on some expected tropes. While there were elements of the UI that showed their age, once I got used to them and played the game on its terms, I was able to work through it without much issue. With the story taking its time to get interesting, though and being fairly short at that, it is hard to call this a must-play. Still, for fans who have been interested for many years, finally getting to play this in English is a treat. A bundle of both titles for a discounted price is certainly appealing. For those who haven’t been, though, it may be worth jumping ahead to its superior sequel.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed); Publisher: Nintendo; Developer: Mages; Players: 1; Released: May 14th, 2021; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $34.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir.