Title: Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir
Release Date: May 14, 2021
Reviewed On: Switch
Genre: Adventure Visual Novel
Simultaneously joining the release of Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind, Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir receives a similar remake and localization treatment. From a release standpoint, The Missing Heir was actually the first entry in the Famicom Detective Club franchise on the Famicom Computer Disk System back in 1988, with The Girl Who Stands Behind being released as a canonical prequel roughly a year later in 1989.
Both games are collectively part of a duology, and although they share some connection in terms of the in-game universe and timeline, you can choose to play in whichever order may interest you, either by order of original release or following the timeline chronologically, since there is a two-year gap between the two games and also because the cases are completely different.
As it is clear from the title, Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir is a detective adventure game. Although the adventure allows a great deal of interaction and speculation, it does ultimately follow the conventions of a visual novel, which is especially interesting since this release is a remake of what was perhaps one of the earliest examples of the genre on home console. That being said, the remake effort goes a long way, almost an example of what visual novels and adventure games could look like if all studios had a Nintendo-sized production budget.
Much like the remake of the other title, The Missing Heir makes excellent use of Live2D models which animate quite smoothly and have a convincing depth of 3D. The rest of the production matches up nicely too, with catchy BGM and fully voiced characters. While the backgrounds can be a little on the basic side, they do feature some animation detail, and the simplicity makes them practical during the investigation process.
Before even getting into the drama of the titular missing heir, the game’s narrative begins with a protagonist who finds himself at the bottom of the cliff with none of his memories intact. This certainly throws a wrench into his work as a young detective, and so with the handicap of missing memories, our hero needs to familiarize himself with his investigation work again, and above all, reintroduce himself to, well, himself! In the process of uncovering his own past, he must also make progress on his investigation of the many mysterious circumstances surrounding the ever vibrant and dysfunctional Ayashiro family.
The Ayashiro family is more than just a wealthy clan residing in rural Japan, as there is also a great deal of history and mythology surrounding them, and what’s more, are the business side of things involving the powerful Ayashiro Corporation. The investigation primarily revolves around the death of the former head of the family and corporation, Kiku Ayashiro. Her passing was officially ruled as a heart failure, and so with the funeral long past, the timing of the death was still suspicious to the family butler, Zenzou Tanabe, who ends up being the one hiring our amnesiac hero. The fact that Kiku’s passing occurs almost immediately after she finalizes her will, becomes the starting point of a layered family drama.
The mystery surrounding Kiku’s death thickens quickly, as it just doesn’t involve the extended Ayashiro family, but also doctors, lawyers, business partners, and all kinds of interconnected acquaintances.
At the heart of it all is the titular missing heir herself, Yuri Ayashiro, the estranged daughter of Kiko who is perhaps the key to solving the opaque legend surrounding the Ayashiro family symbol. As all of these different elements get introduced to expand the setting, soon enough murders begin to ensue, with the stakes getting more dire.
The Missing Heir does a great job of building up its setting, and the intrigue surrounding the extended Ayashiro family and their acquaintances. In no time, our amnesiac protagonist finds himself in a twisted game of Cluedo. With the game being a product of its time, the characters aren’t necessarily designed to be endearing or memorable, as fans of modern visual novels and adventure titles are probably used to seeing deeply emotive characters, but the writing and presentation of The Missing Heir is still strong and delivers a mysterious narrative soundly. It’s more Sherlock Holmes than Ace Attorney in its story delivery, and so it’s a matter of appreciating how this was far ahead of its time when it first launched for the Famicom Disk System back in 1988.
The core gameplay systems in The Missing Heir are largely similar to The Girl Who Stands Behind, where progression is based on conversations by asking the right prompts, and of course being able to investigate and observe the various backgrounds, with occasional interaction points. The progression is generally straightforward, and a notebook helps keep track of all the necessary information on each of the characters. To help move things along, the game will occasionally highlight text and options in yellow as a hint.
Now with the protagonist struggling with amnesia, a command unique to The Missing Heir is “Remember”, which at opportune times allows him to jog his memory and bring the missing pieces together. This gives The Missing Heir an edge over The Girl Who Stands Behind, as in a way players are trying to piece together two different mysteries.
Even as an early example of detective adventure games, The Missing Heir brings a range of gameplay ideas and prompts to good use, and while sometimes it may feel like you need to ask the same questions several times to make something happen (sort of like in older JRPGs) for the most part the detective work involves sound deduction.
Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir succeeds at being a modern remake of what once was a lost piece of Nintendo history. Alongside its prequel, it’s a memorable revival of a true trailblazer in console adventure games. The storyline is well written, featuring layers of mystery and speculation that are worth investigating, and the polished visual style makes the classic adventure relevant to modern genre fans.
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