|May 14, 2021
The old classic, Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir, has been updated and released for Nintendo Switch along with its companion game, Famicom Detective Club: The Girl who Stands Behind. This is the first time either has been officially released outside of Japan. After more than thirty years, does the first Famicom Detective Club mystery still stand up, or does its plot buckle under the pressure of its competitors?
Violence/Scary Images: Murder and death are major themes throughout the story. Crime scenes are shown in enough detail for players to inspect, and these scenes depict some blood, open-eyed corpses, knives in bodies, and so on. However, blood is not copious, and there is no gore for the sake of shock value. Someone unintentionally kills in self-defense. The final climax between the player character and the culprit may be scary for some children.
Language: Infrequent use of mild language, like h*** and d***. One instance of s***.
Drug/Alcohol References: Every member of the Ayashiro family smokes.
Sexual Content: A character is the illegitimate child of the deceased’s husband and his lover.
Other Negative Content: A woman shuns her husband’s illegitimate child but later regrets her decision. The Ayashiro family squabbles and manipulates one another for money and power. A politician uses his influence to have an innocent man arrested.
Spiritual Content: Rumors of a curse surround the central family. Villagers are convinced the deceased rose from the grave to hurt other people.
Positive Content: The player character is determined in his quest to bring a murderer to justice. Though the Ayashiro family is unwelcoming to the detective, the butler does his best to assist the investigation. The staff genuinely cares about the family’s well-being.
This game is rated T for Teen.
This reviewer was given a copy of the game.
Detective novels have always intrigued me. My mother and grandfather brought me up on the works of Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, and Agatha Christie. Besides that, visual novels are my favorite game genre (check out GUG Reads Visual Novels for more info on that). Mysteries seem to translate well into this genre since they require the player to react more with their brain than their hands. Thus, it was natural for me to be excited about the first English release of the Famicom Detective Club games.
Whodunnit: The Plot & Characters
The game revolves around the unnamed player character, a detective who wakes up on the beach with amnesia. You discover he was beginning an investigation into the wealthy Ayashiro family. Its matriarch has died under suspicious circumstances and left both a fortune and the family company to her estranged daughter. The detective’s initial job, to discover her true cause of death and find the missing heir, becomes more complicated as other members of the family die one by one.
The teenage detective is a trope overused by all kinds of media. Just look at the continuing popularity of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. At first, I was under the impression my character was a young adult, at least in his twenties. Once he appeared on-screen, though, his partner confirmed his age as seventeen.
Even through my misgivings about another child detective, especially one with amnesia, I found myself invested in his story. Unlike most visual novel and RPG protagonists, this detective has a personality. He is exceedingly indebted to the man who found him on the beach, convinced that he saved his life. This devotion goes to the point of forcing the player to visit his apartment multiple times throughout the game.
He also has a strong sense of justice and persistence. The boy cannot remember anything about his personal life, yet he investigates these incidents as if they were happening to his own family. When his partner reveals he was searching for his missing parents, he never wavers in his commitment to the Ayashiros. Because of this commitment, he is able to solve the case and discover more about his own past.
The storyline about a cursed family has also been seen in many murder stories. However, if done well, the mystery can still entice players into the narrative. The Missing Heir is composed of eleven chapters, most of which end with a plot twist reminiscent of Agatha Christie novels. I was never sure what was going to happen next, so I prepared for anything.
Toward the end of the game, I pieced together the clues. Once the player has enough information, the identity of the culprit feels obvious. Around Chapter Seven or Eight, I had figured out the motive, culprit, and player character’s past. This victory should feel exciting, but it made the game predictable. If you have played other mystery games or read any kind of mystery novels, you will recognize certain character types and events in this first Famicom Detective Club. That recognition will lead exactly where you expect it to, with the possibility of one or two missed connections.
If you are looking for a complicated story that is difficult to figure out, this is not it. On the other hand, the plot twists are still exciting. Its characters are not as one-dimensional as they seem, and you will become invested in their plight, especially that of the young detective.
Detecting: The Gameplay
I was not quite sure what to expect in terms of gameplay. Mystery VNs can range from only making dialogue choices to inspections of entire areas, like in the Danganronpa franchise. The Missing Heir does not utilize choice in the same way as a dating sim or a typical VN. It is more akin to the old point-and-click Nancy Drew games without the walking.
The pacing is not too fast or too slow. Players are given enough time to thoroughly investigate each crime before being handed additional information or a new case. Investigation consists of interviewing witnesses and scouring crime scenes or other related areas. The day continues until the character has discovered everything he can about that particular act. Then the player is told to return to the detective agency.
Discussions with suspects and witnesses have just a few options the player must cycle through relentlessly. For the most part, this simulates the interview process. Players can talk to a variety of people in each setting and ask them the same questions, noting how different types of people respond to the same query.
However, the same dialogue options remain throughout the entire game with very little variation. For example, at the beginning, the player asks the butler about the various family members. When you return to him at the end of the game, you are given those same family members as options. While he might have new information, he may also just say, “It’s as I’ve told you before.”
The most frustrating part of The Missing Heir was that the path to the next section was not always evident to the player. In most games of this nature, unused dialogue options change color to show whether players have used them or not. In the Famicom Detective Club, this is not the case; the dialogue options are almost always the same. Unused options are rare and dependent on discovering more information by cycling through the same questions over and over. Sometimes, the correct question would be evident, like if the player learned extra information about a certain character. More often, though, players are forced to discuss every single topic with every single character in every single location before they can find what they need.
It is also possible to talk about one thing multiple times without the dialogue changing. There are times the detective asks someone a favor, and they refuse. In these instances, players must continue to hit the same option, saying the same thing over and over before the character complies. In other cases, players must ask another character the same thing before going back to the first one.
While some repetition can be expected with this genre, most games give an indication of what the player can use to interact with those people. For example, Nancy Drew games cycle through the entirety of a conversation at once, instead of forcing the player to click the same option over and over. Color coding the text when new information is available would also be helpful.
This annoying mechanic extends into the investigation area, as well. Players can investigate most things in any location, but very few items are useful to the case. At one point, when looking at a body, the cursor text only says “____’s body.” There is no indication of where the player should look to find the condemning evidence. At every other crime scene, important areas were indicated with a “?”, but this one particular clue took a lot of trial and error plus the help of a guide to discover.
Interviewing: The Soundtrack & Voicing
The original Famicom Detective Club games did not have a voiceover. In remaking them, Nintendo brought in a full Japanese cast. Every line for each character is fully voiced, including an option to give the protagonist a voice. Though there is no English equivalent, the Japanese voice actors bring a new element to the game.
Each character’s emotions could be felt with their respective actors and actresses. The game plays fine without the audio, but with it, The Missing Heir is immersive. You hear the fury in one character’s voice as you accuse their friend of murder. You feel the sorrow when the butler finds the body of someone he cherished. Moving sprites and animated backgrounds make scenes come alive more than a normal visual novel, but the added voices give the feel of a television drama.
Each location has its own music. Unfortunately, most of it is forgettable while some of it grates on the nerves. The default sound settings are not optimized for listening to the actors, as the music and sound effects drown out almost everything else. Even with the music almost to zero and the voices all the way up, one specific score still overpowered the speaking. All the songs were repetitive, but this one was more noticeable than others, like a thirty-second song on loop.
The Missing Heir, the first game in the newly released Famicom Detective Club series, has its ups and downs. The soundtrack is forgettable at best and frustrating, at worst. Its plot can be predictable, and the characters selfish. Newer gamers, or those unused to difficult thought puzzles, may get frustrated over the amount of trial and error needed to find each clue, especially in the befuddling conversations.
On the other hand, the plethora of suspects and witnesses are charming in their unique personalities. The detective has an intriguing subplot that, while somewhat predictable, will still connect him with the player. Gameplay is fun, despite the frustrations. Players who want to enjoy the experience without difficulties can easily find walkthroughs and guides to help them with harder sections.
All in all, The Missing Heir was a lot of fun. It was a short, sweet game that introduced me to characters I really liked. The mystery was great, even though it was predictable. Its plot twists kept me at the edge of my seat, and the gameplay (aside from all the trial and error) matches the detective feel. If you’re looking to become an armchair detective for a few hours, The Missing Heir may be the way to go.
However, I recommend playing the prequel, The Girl Who Stands Behind, before picking up this one. Check out my review to find out why!
The Bottom Line
The Missing Heir is a fun game with intriguing characters, a twisting though predictable plot, and a lot of trial and error.