The murder mystery formula is tried and true. There are thousands of ways to spice it up and even serialize it. A lot of them fall victim, however, to some questionable tropes, especially in their use of science or technology. I’m looking at you zoom and enhance. But what happens when you set one before this technology is available? Enter Master Magistrate, by IRODORI, brought to the west by DMM Games’ new localization company ShiraVN. It’s currently on Steam in early access, so I took a look at it to see how the title is shaping up.
In Master Magistrate, you play as Shimei Ooka, the new magistrate for Oukacho, a fictional feudal era town “where the cherry tree blossoms all year round.” The magistrate is a hybrid role; they’re a detective, judge, defense, and prosecutor rolled into one. Woah, we’re solving crimes in a position that justifies the player taking part in all of these processes? Sign me up.
You don’t have to do paperwork either, Ooka has other people to help him. These allies consist of a childhood friend, a rival, a mysterious child, as well as members of a vigilante police network called the “Shinsengumi.” However, this isn’t the police force that patrolled Kyoto during the last years of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the previous feudal Japanese military government back in the 1860s. So how does this cast come together?
Master Magistrate divides its structure into three sections. The game starts as a linear VN until a murder occurs. That’s when you step in to investigate. You check out the crime scene, go out canvassing for witnesses and find out whatever evidence you can to solve the case. Once you’ve got yourself set, you enter the court setting. In these segments, Ooka brings together those who are the most suspect and goes through the case. By contrasting their testimonies with the evidence you uncover, so you discern the truth and solve the case.
From what I’ve played, the cases have a subtle difficulty to them and require a close look at the evidence you’ve obtained. It can be problematic when you are unable to check the text backlog when answering a question. Luckily, this is mitigated by the lack of penalty for making a mistake. Good because you can throw answers at the wall and see what sticks, but bad because it may encourage complacency. However, the game does reward you for playing well, with concept art and extra goodies. While I feel difficulty options would have been a better solution, I do like my games to be as accessible as possible.
It might also be because the original PC release in Japan had H-scenes (and they thought players might be thinking with their dicks?). This content was removed from this release, but it was also absent in the Japanese Vita release, for obvious reasons. The game doesn’t feel like it needed that content, though. Because the first thing that comes to mind when you’re playing a murder mystery is porn isn’t it. Sarcasm
In terms of visual design, the game knows how to utilize the medium. Characters have loads of different poses, and there are tons of CG scenes. For the length of the game and the genre, there are a severe number of them. For example, there’s a sword fight at the beginning, before the first trial even takes place, that had so many cut-ins I felt like I was reading a comic book.
The protagonist lacks a voice and is out of frame in many of those CGs, but he’s present when it counts, with the game using different art styles to sell different scenes. The trial sections also give him a bunch of unique portraits and cut-ins that help make presenting evidence and calling people out, super satisfying. The art style does become inconsistent for characters, which do cause some to feel remarkably out of place. I think I’ll likely get used to it as I progress.
If you’re a fan of games like Ace Attorney, or maybe even Dangan Ronpa, then Master Magistrate certainly looks like something you should be keeping your eyes on. I mean, my eyes are on it, I need to see how this mystery ends.
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