Title: The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: May 12, 2022
Reviewed On: PS5
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Mystery Adventure, FMV
NOTE: Square Enix requested that the screenshots and footage used in reviews must be from the beginning up to a certain defining story point roughly 70-80 minutes in.
Story-heavy games utilizing live-action elements have the potential to create genuinely cinema-esque experiences. The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story embraces those elements in ways that will remind players of the acclaimed visual novel adventure 428: Shibuya Scramble. However, regardless of presentative and conceptual similarities, this is its own distinct beast that provides a gripping narrative amidst pacing and control faults.
Throughout The Centennial Case, players view events that play out in a delivery reminiscent of films or television with real-life actors portraying in-game characters. The protagonist, Haruka Kagami, is a successful mystery novelist with her work even receiving an incoming film adaption. During an autograph signing, she and her editor Akari Yamase are approached by a familiar face, Eiji Shijima, a consultant for the more scientific aspects of Haruka’s writing.
Though aside from being a solely celebratory meet-up, Eiji reveals that he wants Haruka and Akari to investigate the truth of a succession ceremony occurring in his family’s estate under the guise of writing a featured story. This investigation involves research regarding reduced aging, the supposed Fruit of Youth, and a recently unearthed skeleton. Unfortunately, this request becomes a matter far more intricate than what Haruka and Akari bargained for as the former finds herself solving murders tying several century-old threads together.
Detailing further plot components would ruin the game’s point. Still, I can confidently assert that visual novel and mystery fans will fall in love with the meticulously crafted story presented here. This qualitative writing partially results from the cohesive 3-act structure each chapter follows; Incident, Reasoning, and Solution. These self-explanatory divisions seamlessly meld the initially, seemingly disconnected character traits and story beats into a well-rounded conclusion that feels thrilling to resolve.
Moreover, Haruka is an endearing protagonist who makes events more compelling to see through, thanks to her simultaneously awkward and amicable nature. I found myself naturally smiling in many of the more casual conversations, and Haruka’s remarkable tonal shifts between hellbent mystery solver and ordinary girl were incredible.
While a few choices are made during the chapter-respective Incident phases, the primary gameplay happens in the latter two phases. Throughout the Incidents, players will gradually obtain clues correlating to the murder set to occur, and they are used during the Reasonings.
Here, players enter Haruka’s cognitive space, where mysteries are solved with multiple potential outcomes. The clues received during the Incidents form threads of logic leading to differing hypotheses, all to figure out the appropriate truth from a mystery. These clues, mysteries, and hypotheses are visualized as hexagonal nodes on a game-like board and must fit together to make previous events sensical, like a puzzle.
Interestingly, aside from using one’s own logic to determine the relevancy of specific facts and how they connect, the hexagonal nodes have shapes within themselves. And while these shapes may initially seem to be aesthetical inclusions, they can be used to identify other nodes containing identical shapes as an alternative avenue for discovering the truth. In practice, these puzzles are simpler to figure out. However, I find the matching shape mechanic questionable in implementation as it can take away from the focus of the case in favor of playing a superficial matching game. Still, it’s not an enforced playstyle, and it can instead simply be seen as another way to progress.
Unfortunately, the Reasoning phases can also be somewhat dull and unnecessarily drawn-out. Every formed hypothesis provides brief scenes playing out the possibilities of them actually happening. And since there are several hypotheses, especially in the later segments of the game, it can become moderately eye-rolling to constantly view the uninspired cinematics.
Further, a decent chunk of these are either laughably implausible or too overtly obvious, not needing any dedicated thought bubbles. Ultimately, the Reasonings come off as padding at various points, and they could have been trimmed down to resolve pacing qualms.
They can be thought-provoking, but the aforementioned faults sometimes offset them. Speaking of critiques, the controls are a little awkward, at least on console. For example, the Reasoning phases utilize a cursor to choose icons, and the cursor speed is too leisurely for my tastes. I imagine that this particular trait feels more natural on PC.
The Japanese voice cast is undeniably stellar with more than believable enough performances and genuinely instilled passion. Now, there is an English dub option, and while I do tend to go with that choice in most games, I highly recommend sticking to the Japanese dub.
Not only is it outstanding on all fronts, but the English dub delivery is consistently stilted and cumbersome, thereby taking away from a significant strength you could be otherwise admiring. What’s more, in a similar vein to the recent outings of the Yakuza franchise, seeing English voice acting on real Japanese actors can be offputting and immersion-breaking. Regardless, the choice for both Japanese and English dubs is available.
While still in the realm of sound, the soundtrack also deserves notable acclaim. It’s effectively tense, and it dramatically enhances the severity of particular events that play out near the chapter conclusions. These songs never overstay their welcome either, so the team clearly knew how to properly utilize sound to amplify tonal efficacy.
Lastly, note that in the Touchpad menu, several helpful resources are present for prospectively perplexed players to better grasp the narrative should they need it. Maps of the premises, a timeline, clue descriptions, and much more are available to really hone in all facets of a case. An impressive degree of effort was poured into this game to ensure that everyone can follow the sequential events as long as they care to.
The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story is a memorable, impactful, and well-written mystery adventure boasting sublime voice work and live-action talent that elevates the experience to a new level altogether. Even when accounting for the not-so-subtly implemented drab padding and potentially unwieldy controls on consoles, those faults don’t detract from the riveting storytelling any curious detective should dive into. I’m sincerely hoping this title manages to perform well despite its undoubtedly niche appeal.
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