Review by Combat Crustacean

Reviewed: 11/28/05

A paragon of its genre.

As a visual novel, Famicom Tantei Club Part II is a titanic success. Not a popular success, mind you, but instead one of sheer quality. Granted, you can't really expect this simple but alluring detective game to grab the masses, especially when you consider that a title such as this was bound never to see the light of day on American shores. Why? Three reasons:

1) Japanese gamers received this software as some sort of promotional deal for a satellite gaming network or something.
2) It's a visual novel, a genre that typically tanks on our shores.
3) The game was released in 1997, a time in which the SNES was ultimately rendered archaic.

All of these factors add up to an incredible tragedy, because quite simply Famicom Tantei Club is an absolutely amazing experience. Fortunately, the fine folks at Tomato and Demiforce Translations brought us a top-notch translation patch for the game; now us native English-speakers can enjoy this sophisticated title in our very own language!

I am wont to call this a 'game', simply because it defies the typical structure of a video game. Instead it opts for the path of the 'visual novel', an interactive linear title where the player reads most of his adventure. Other esteemed titles like this include Radical Dreamers, the plot-heavy side story in the Chrono Trigger canon, and Tokimeki Memorial, a hugely renowned dating sim. Visual novels, since they do not emphasize gameplay, instead employ excellent graphics, immersive atmospheres and enthralling plots to ensure gamers can read through the text.

It's not a guarantee though. In short, if you dislike reading, don't think that Famicom Tantei Club will change your mind. The game is crammed with text, featuring a multilayered plot and dialogue by the boatload. Furthermore, there are points where it can be a little difficult to select your next decision, and there are a couple of points where the course of action you need to take are a little obscure. Be sure to exhaust every single option you can if you are stuck like this, because there's no way to die or otherwise trap yourself in the course of the story. All of these little glitches in the gameplay can build up some frustration with the game, but be patient. If you have the guts to sit through a visual novel, you can certainly mull up enough patience to follow through on a tricky part.

Once you get past those sticky parts, however, it's smooth sailing. This game is best completed in one extended sitting, so that you can digest the plot and allow yourself to be immersed in the atmosphere. The game is maybe 4 hours long if you fast-forward during some of the less important scenes (and trust me, you'll want to -- the text scroll speed is rather slow). Granted, most visual novels have problems with replay value, since they pretty much offer up everything on their first playthrough. The value of Famicom Tantei Club Part II, however, is that much like any good novel, it can be replayed (reread?) and appreciated many times over. I have played through the game three times over a period of about 9 months and enjoyed it immensely every time.

The game succeeds in this department because it does everything so well. Tantei Club's astounding aesthetic presentation is a definite notable as far as this is concerned. Since this was developed in late 1997, the graphics are outstanding for an SNES title. Character portraits are detailed, meticulous and extremely attractive. Atmospheres are rendered beautifully and highly artistic. The musical tracks are thoughtfully composed, sound effects are eerie and spectacular, and the game successfully combines its art and audio to create an atmosphere like few other games of the period. This title serves not only as a detective story, but also as a horror story, simply because the presentation is so fully realized and powerful that it can get outright scary at times.

The plot obviously compounds this sensation of fear. Granted, it starts out a little cliche: kid on the run finds himself in the apprenticeship of an esteemed detective, finds himself on a case regarding the mysterious murder of some high school girl, yadda yadda yadda. Unsurprisingly, however, the plot matures and evolves into something far more thoughtful and insidious. Characters are hardly what they seem. Events of the past are dredged up, serving far more purpose than meets the eye. People act strangely, drastic revelations crop up and the plot twists never stop coming. In simple words, Famicom Tantei Club Part II is a gloriously written game. (The translation, of course, deserves special note.) The characters are incredibly likable -- or unlikable if that is their intent -- and the narrative and dialogue is extremely powerful. This is a game that, despite the time of day, and despite how well your room is lit, will give you the shivers. It's that good.

If you don't like reading, this won't change your mind. If you do, you'd best be on this thing pronto. Famicom Tantei Club Part II is more than just a game -- it is an experience, something you look forward to, and something that deserves to be played at the very least once. Get this game now.

Rating: 10

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