The Shell Part I: Inferno Review – Sublime Horror Mystery Aesthetics

    Title: The Shell Part I: Inferno
    Developer: Innocent Grey
    Release Date: July 27, 2023
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Shiravune
    Genre: Visual Novel, Adventure

The Shell Part I: Inferno is an HD revision of the classic mystery visual novel Kara no Shoujo. Developed by Gungnir’s subsidiary Innocent Grey, the title changed publishers from MangaGamer to Shiravune in this new release with the promise that the final episode of the trilogy will come over.

The Shell Part I is a period drama that follows the story of Tokisaka Reiji, a detective who lost his wife to a serial killer six years before the game’s events. The year is 1956, and a new brutal case is happening in Tokyo. The targets this time are young girls still of high school age.

Besides the age of the victims, the brutality of their deaths adds another grotesque layer to the case. Not only are they killed, and their bodies show up in many places of the city, but the case includes mutilation while still alive, removal of reproductive organs with insertion of a black egg, and other morbid details.

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Though the police are already investigating these deaths, Sergeant Uozumi requests Reiji to help find out the truth. However, he has also been scouted by Tokio Saeki, Vice Principal of Oba Girls’ Academy, to find out the whereabouts of missing students. Gathering information on them forces the protagonist to act as a fake History teacher and spend a long time in this girls-only school.

At the same time, he also has a third request from a mysterious girl with long, black hair. This young woman called Toko Kuchiki asks him to look for her true self. Reiji is clueless about how to handle this one at first, leaving it as an afterthought, but eventually understands her reasoning.

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Honestly, it took me a while to get acclimated and interested in the world of The Shell. The beginning is a slow burn, with some silly banter that sometimes feels excessive and detracting. However, once the game had fully established the setting and the deaths had weight, it became a compelling read with intriguing characters and discussion themes.

One of the main attractions of The Shell is the atmosphere. The jazzy soundtrack, the beautiful art style with some female characters looking like porcelain, and the occasional poetry-like writing make it a unique experience. Though the resolution to the cases is simple, the game is a beautiful reflection of its characters’ twisted, flawed, and human natures.

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Besides the visual novel aspect of the experience, which takes over the most time, there are a few investigation moments. The idea is that Reiji has to look at crime scenes and meaningful locations for hints that will make a difference when solving the case. At times, Reiji will look back and try to piece things together by picking specific names or clues, and it’s possible to not have the right one depending on how you explored the areas in your everyday “free time.”

However, this point-and-click-like gameplay is simple and rare, and the visual novel bits are the actual meat of the experience in The Shell. These investigations sometimes feel poorly designed by not distinguishing the clickable areas, forcing the player to click multiple times on the same place, and even having correct click orders. People used to more robust mystery games may end up disappointed by this part of the experience.

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Despite how gorgeous the illustrations of the characters look, the game is light on H scenes. However, while that could have meant removing them would not significantly impact the experience for some people, the Steam version removes the gore and makes the investigation more difficult by covering and hiding the corpses’ details. As such, we recommend using the 18+ patch to play it properly.

Compared to the previous edition, The Shell Part I runs at 720p, has voice acting for Reiji, a few changes to the interface, and a smaller font. The game also has a new translation for the text to be consistent with the upcoming sequels. Though it’s very fluid to read, it sometimes feels like the translation is too modern for the period and adds some unnecessary jokes for flavor’s sake.

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The Shell Part I: Inferno is a unique visual novel with an artistic undertone oozing from its period atmosphere. Though flawed in multiple individual parts, the whole package stands strong as an experience with an undeniable lasting impression. Honestly, the sequels can’t come soon enough to quench the thirst it leaves behind.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Ivanir Ignacchitti

Random Japanese games are my jam. Handhelds, RPGs, VNs and PC banzai.