428: Shibuya Scramble (Review)
Where To Get It: Steam
It is, in its own way, a glorious thing when, amid a high tension kidnapping story with more twists and turns than a conger eel, with terrorism, and assassins, and Super-Ebola, that I am having the biggest emotional rollercoaster ride with the story of a young woman trapped in a mascot costume, working for a terrible conman. Terrible, that is, in the sense that all of his schemes seem destined to go wrong.
Poor Tama. Still, it highlights something interesting I find about 428: Shibuya Scramble, Spike Chunsoft’s latest Visual Novel offering – It’s cruel, but in a way that still entertains. A visual novel with a silly amount of Bad Ends, jumps and hints hidden in its text, and several plotlines that have to be progressed to the next hour toward an ending, although whether that’s the “best” ending depends on a number of factors. Including the fact that everybody is, to some extent or other, not very good at what they do.
Considering that at least one of these people is an investigator in the kidnap case, and another a freelance journalist… You might appreciate it’s a bit of a struggle to keep the story moving sometimes. But farce, as has been said, must be played with a straight face, and, for the first fifteen minutes or so of most of the stories, you’d be forgiven for thinking you weren’t in for this kind of wild ride. A wild ride, sure, as the kidnapping is the very first part of this storyline, but not… Everything else.
As a visual novel, its choice to go with live action (photographs and movies alike) works pretty well, as the actors have gone all out with their expressions, working well with the sound design of the game. And it contrasts well with the ridiculousness of the situations. Here, light music contrasts with the hopeless situation of Tama. There, rocking, overdriven guitars point out the heroism of the freelance journalist Minorikawa, while the text… Paints an entirely different story. It’s artful, whether it chooses to support or contrast, and it’s hard not to appreciate both that and the accessibility. Choices are clearly presented, and one of its core mechanics (Blue text for further explanation, red for “Jump” choices, which shift the timeline to another character to get around plot blocks) equally so.
Similarly, as a visual novel, it lives or dies by its writing, and the writing, is, as I’ve been mentioning quite a bit, excellent. I never thought I would say that tonal whiplash could feel good, but… In this particular case, it somehow works. Each character has their own voice, and, even with the contradictions the world keeps throwing their way, it’s hard not to get sucked in to their own presentation of the world. Kano, and his Dick Dictums (That’s private dick to you!) Tama, and her childlike demeanour. Even the side characters have interesting places in the story, so it’s hard not to see the Shibuya district as it is: A living, breathing place filled with interesting folks. No, really… Filled. The population density of Japan is no joke, as a sobering note about the rail system’s capacity shows.
As such, it would be quite hard not to recommend 428: Shibuya Scramble. Its digressions in blue text are as often illuminating about the Shibuya district and Japanese culture as they are amusing (and, in at least one case, hide progress by way of a JUMP point… Ohhh, you cheeky devils!), its tutorial was one I didn’t mind, even though it deliberately sets Kano, the detective, up for a Bad End right out of the gate, and it’s kept me playing where other games of its sort quickly lost my interest.
The Mad Welshman thinks it a sign of quality that he didn’t want to spoil story beats here.