If you forgot what visual novels were like back in the late '90s then look no further than this remastered version of The Silver Case.
Upon booting up The Silver Case, you're treated to multiple shots of a car driving on a road mixed with dialog that sounds childish from the get-go. By childish, I mean downright crude. Every other sentence has a swear in it which makes it impossible to feel any kind of empathy for what the main characters are going through. Shots of conversations between what appears to be a police or military unit of some kind and a detective whiz by and you're basically thrown right in to the middle of the story. Seeing as you would expect those in the police force to have some air of professionalism about them, it's surprising that every single person you meet in the introduction feels the need to constantly insult you and others around you. Unfortunately, the bad taste remains as you continue further into the story, presumably as a failed means to show how gritty and no-nonsense the characters are. There are many ways to show depth of character in story-telling but The Silver Case doesn't try to explore anything further than basic obnoxious dialog.
Once you finally get to actually experience the little gameplay that The Silver Case has to offer, you're placed in a room at the bottom of a large satellite station known as Cauliflower. The controls are then explained to you over and over again with characters telling you that it's simple and that you're dumb if you don't get it. I agree that it is simple once you understand how it works but getting to that point is a real challenge. It's one of the most needlessly convoluted control schemes that I've ever had to learn. You pick between four letters on a wheel and rotate it to select one then press X. The letters stand for movement, implement, contact point, and settings.
It's such a strange selection of choices. After selecting movement, you can move around the first-person grid by using the directional buttons while hunting for star-like icons that tell you you've reached something that can be interacted with. Then, you select "contact point" from the wheel or press triangle to interact but you may have to turn around or look up or down first. Selecting "implement" allows you to use something you're holding and "settings" brings up the save menu. Why you couldn't just use the arrow keys to move and the face buttons to do other things is beyond me. It feels like a cruel joke to make it this overly complicated.
After you get the controls down, you still won't know what to do. This is a running theme in The Silver Case as it has you repeat actions in certain orders to trigger events which makes it seem random when you can actually progress. However, my biggest challenge is something seemingly simple; knowing what is a doorway. You'd be surprised by the number of times I thought I was facing a wall or an object but it was actually a door. If I'm facing something that looks interactive, why would I press up? Pressing up makes you move a space forward and will also open a door (apparently). The fact that this isn't obvious combined with the fact that you have to face specific directions to trigger events means that you'll often find yourself simply going from square to square while pressing every single button until something actually happens. It's extremely tedious and simply not fun.
Other than pressing every button on every square, the rest of the gameplay consists of a few puzzles scattered around that can be solved by using your noggin or by utilizing the magnifying glass to cheat your way through. Cheating is very tempting considering the amount of mental energy you probably just expended tediously getting to the puzzle itself.
When the short scene at the satellite building comes to a brutal end, you're taken back to the headquarters of the police squad who are now investigating. Finally, a little bit of context as to what the heck is going on. Some of the main characters are then introduced and you find yourself working with them to help solve a string of murders that have been taking place in Tokyo, supposedly by the serial killer Kamui. As you complete each chapter, you'll unlock a placebo version of that chapter where you play through the same time period but as a freelance journalist. I was hoping this would be a well-mannered pleasant young lady but of course it's yet another disgruntled frustrated man with just as much uninspired dialog as the detectives.
Speaking of ladies, they are few and far between in The Silver Case. You could say it's supposed to be a reflection of gender roles in the police force but the one female detective is a complete pushover and can't stand up for herself. The banter of a bunch of alcoholic, sexist, homophobic, and generally disrespectful chauvinists gets boring extremely fast. Also, the nickname they give you is like the humour of a twelve year old boy. As a female gamer, such sophomoric macho crap makes it even harder to want to keep playing.
Visually, the developer has done a great job of making the graphics fit more in-line with the quality of static images you'll see these days but that's about as far it goes. The visuals consist of a box in the middle of the screen where you'll see flat images of scenes with dialog underneath and shapes and random words floating behind that. The programming-related keywords that fly across the screen in the first chapter are very off-putting. I missed some of the conversations and kept getting distracted. It feels very retro but at the time of its original release, maybe it was cool? Possibly, but it sure is annoying. Thankfully, the words go away after the first chapter and you're left with the odd shape or line floating across instead which is still distracting but much less so.
The sound effect of every single letter being typed as it appears onscreen can be excruciating. I can't believe they didn't add a setting to mute it. There's also no way to advance or skip text. You just have to tolerate it or turn down the volume to keep your sanity. Seeing as it's quite an old game, there's no voice acting but the soundtrack complements what's happening quite well. When you're walking around, there often won't be any audio playing but I saw this as a nice break from the awful typing sound in the cutscenes.
As a visual novel in 2017, The Silver Case is a huge disappointment. I definitely wouldn't recommend it to the average fan of the genre. However, if you're a Silver Case fan, the upgraded graphics and nostalgia factor should be enough to make it a worthy download.
- + A nostalgic trip back to retro visual novels
- + Static graphic assets are remastered from the original and look pretty good
- - Awful writing and character development
- - Terrible overcomplicated controls
- - Will make you almost constantly ask, "What the heck do I do now?"