The 25th Ward: The Silver Case Review
Release Date: March 13, 2018
Developer/Publisher: Grasshopper Manufacture, Inc/NIS America, Inc.
Platform: PlayStation 4, Steam
Suda51 is a developer whose name means something. Much like Hideo Kojima, Will Wright, or Tim Schafer, a Suda51 fan usually can tell that the game came from his mind. His popularity in America comes from his over-the-top action games such as No More Heroes or Lollipop Chainsaw, but one of his earlier titles was The Silver Case, which is quite different from what you may expect. This game was originally locked into Japan, though an official translation was released for English speaking countries in April of last year. As more of a visual novel, which is less gaming and more video, The Silver Case tells the story of a utopia that is stricken with mysterious murders, and the characters that investigate and try to crack the case. Orignially, that title was released on the PlayStation One. It was remastered for PC and the PS4. As Shawn reported last year, upping a PS1 game to modern systems still left it looking extremely retro, and you could even see the retro flavor in the interactive parts, which hindered his score. Suda51 reportedly said that if The Silver Case was received well enough, then he would be interested in bringing the sequel over. Unfortunately, as a port of an episodic game originally released on 2005 era cell phones, it brings with it a whole different set of issues that keep it from being as captivating as the story really could be.
Set five years after the events in The Silver Case, The 25th Ward continues the story in a way that allows new people to step in while keeping the original flair and some key plot points for players of the original. Through the game, several different scenarios and chapters tell a tale of murders and intrigue. My biggest issue is unfortunately the presentation. Characters have lengthy Japanese names, which perhaps I could keep track of better if there was some consistency. Sometimes there's a pic of a face, sometimes it's the characters in-scene, but character speech is defined by a quick flashing box around the person's head with their name blinking in for a couple seconds, with text boxes on the bottom of the screen. At times, the names would even be in places where the typeface was similar to the color behind it. The text boxes aren't labeled; you rely on the in-screen visuals. It also doesn't help that the text comes on the screen in an unskippable character-by-character type complete with something between a typewriter clack and an old dot-matrix printer scream that made me want to mute the game, despite the interesting soundtrack.
Within the first hour of gameplay, I ran across many issues that made me realize that the game is first and foremost a mobile game. When moving around the environment, large "buttons" show up that mean "move forward" or "turn." You have to tap the direction you want and X to confirm. It gets tedious when, to walk down a simple hallway, you end up hitting six different menus. When choosing whether to move, talk, use items, or interact, you are presented with a four sided die you have to rotate to find the proper icon. On a controller, we have at least 22 different input options, and we're using a single analog stick and the X button. If this game were to be ported to any home console, I would have personally went Nintendo, as the 3DS or handheld Switch would allow them to use those on-screen giant buttons more naturally.
At times I felt like it had to push me where I was "supposed" to go. At the start, the story made me feel like I had to just "go into the building." I had to talk to my cohort beforehand, which I did, then I tried to go in, and he would say "we're not done here." I actually had to select the "talk" option about three times before I could even walk in. That die I mentioned before was used for puzzles as well, which boiled down to things like punching in an elevator floor number. Things like this could easily be done on a traditional number keypad, and I feel we're choosing form over function here. Not to mention there are dies for the entire alphabet later in the game. Other times, I wish that I was given more of a push. After you press "start" an animation begins, with boxes growing and shrinking. Eventually they all clumped on the screen. I sat there for thirty seconds before I said "hmm...that looks like a strange representation of a person," to find out I could "walk," but only one direction. Then, I made it to a triangle...and then the text adventure started. Really kinda out there.
The story itself is very intriguing. I did not play the first game, but didn't feel I was missing out on much. There may be a few more "ah ha" moments for fans, but the game still does a good job of keeping you up to pace. The characters seem real, in the human-flawed kind of way, though sometimes what they have to say makes no sense, or they fall into type-cast roles. In general, they actually seem like real humans, albeit presented in the flat, type based form the game centers around. Like I said: I can tell this series was originally made for far more limited systems, and that it was created far before Suda51 became a more solid storyteller. The Silver Case and it's sequel could probably have been stripped down to their story and implanted in a much more modern game or serialized Netflix show to provide a better experience.
The 25th Ward will appeal to heavy visual novel fans, but the lack of virtually any animation means you'll spend a lot of time staring at static screens and rolling text boxes. Fans of the original game are basically getting more of what they love, so buying it for them is a no brainer. Die hard fans of Suda51 are going to see his traditional character designs, but that's about it. The American audience, used to his more bombastic affairs, may walk away disappointed. If you can stick with it, though, a wonderful and interesting story awaits.
-Very real, human feeling characters
-A glimpse into where Suda51 started
-Unique art style--not like any other game you're playing
-Seems designed for a low-powered touchscreen
-Choice of form over function in the most basic of game design
-The droning drill of the "typing" and static screens are really all you get
Thanks to Grasshoper Manufacture, Inc and NIS America, Inc for providing a code for review.