In the eternal struggle to have video games taken more seriously, we’ve seen a lot of interest in “auteurs” in games. It’s a concept that’s often brought up when we talk about films. The idea is essentially that certain games are so intensely shaped by a single creator that they can be considered the sole author of that work; Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear titles, for instance, are impossible to divorce from Kojima himself, and many would say that a Metal Gear game without Kojima would be Metal Gear in name alone.
Likewise, Grasshopper Manufacture head Goichi “Suda 51” Suda is often considered an “auteur” thanks to his indelible style. We saw a great example of that style in action with last year’s fantastic Let It Die, and Suda 51’s back with a localized and updated version of his 1999 adventure game The Silver Case.
The plot of The Silver Case is, uh…it’s a little tough to explain. I’m PRETTY SURE that it’s focused on serial killer Kamui Uehara, whose murders in the 24 Wards of Japan drew the attention of the Heinous Crimes Division and who appears to have returned to his misdeeds after escaping from psychiatric treatment. The investigation into Kamui’s crimes results in a rift between agents from the police and the government, and the game focuses on that rift and how it affects the case. I think, anyway.
I’m not actually 100% sure, since this is a Grasshopper Manufacture game; in fact, it might be the most Grasshopper Manufacture of all Suda’s games, and certainly one not interested in explaining itself even the tiniest bit. If you’ve played Killer7 or this game’s DS sequel Flower Sun and Rain, you’ve got an idea of what I’m talking about. On the surface, this is a police procedural and crime drama, with some vignettes thrown in related to the overall plot. In reality, there’s a lot going on that you’ll have to discover for yourself. The game is separated into two chapters, Transmitter and Placebo; the first is the aforementioned crime drama, while the later focuses on a journalist investigating the same crimes and is a bit easier to wrap your head around.
Even the gameplay, such as it is, seems to intentionally lean toward the obtuse. This is a hybrid between an adventure game and a visual novel, with the focus being on the latter. During the adventure game parts, you’ll typically just run around little contained areas solving puzzles; this tends to be a huge pain in the butt thanks to the interface’s tendency to fight with you at all times. It’s telling that a character early on implores you to stay patient and calm as you learn how to control the damn game. Just as an example, you have to use a menu to swap between moving around, examining objects in the world and using inventory items, with a little transitional animation each time you change actions. This would almost be workable if you weren’t also dealing with some nasty puzzles along the way; even the easier early game brainteasers still manage to be brutally tedious despite not stretching your brain cells all that much.
The hilarious thing is that despite The Silver Case’s inaccessibility, there’s a good chance you’ll keep being pulled along and encouraged to see more of the plot. That’s thanks in no small part to the striking Film Window display system used throughout the game. Each part of The Silver Case is portrayed as a sort of multimedia collage with animated backgrounds, FMV, CGI, text and images all playing off of each other. It’s gorgeous and unlike pretty much anything else in games; one would imagine that during the initial launch of The Silver Case on PS1 that it would have absolutely blown players away. I found the game’s presentation appealing enough to keep on trucking despite not especially enjoying adventure games (and particularly not enjoying this game’s no-mercy take on adventure gaming).
So The Silver Case is a heavily flawed title that can still manage to catch players’ attention with a fascinating presentation and bizarre plot. That’s really how Suda 51 games tend to work, isn’t it? You either love or hate what this guy produces. The Silver Case is going to be particularly divisive, especially compared to more recent Grasshopper games with more accessible gameplay like No More Heroes or Let It Die. Assuming that you’ve got an idea of what you’re getting into, hwoever, I think I can recommend taking a look.