Famicom Detective Club is a pair of visual novel mystery games released in the late eighties. It was originally played on an add-on for the Famicom called the Famicom Disc System, which used a proprietary medium for its games that resembled floppy discs. The Disc System allowed for more complicated games with better visuals, or in the case of Famicom Detective Club, the information for a text-based, story heavy game. However, since the Disc System never found its way out of Japan, neither did Famicom Detective Club. That is, until the Switch. A modern and faithful recreation of the original games has been made and localized for an international audience, to the pleasure of people like me who always get painfully curious when you hear of a game that was considered a classic but can only be enjoyed in a language you do not speak. However, now both The Missing Heir and The Girl Who Stands Behind are able to be enjoyed by a much larger audience.
There isn’t much to focus on in terms of gameplay. The games are visual novels, so players will become fast friends with the A button. I’m sure the game is emulating the original experience in this regard but often the player will need to hit the same selection in a menu more than once to find out more information. Some examples: sometimes you need to hit option A thrice to get all the information. Sometimes you would need to hit option A, then option B, then option A. Sometimes you would need to hit option A, then option C in a different menu, then the original option A. My complaint with this is that the game does nothing to indicate that any option may yield more results. Options don’t gray out when they’ve been depleted of information, so there will be times when you’ve hit every option but the game isn’t progressing, making the only solution to finding out what to do is going through every menu, hitting every option until you hit the one that gives you something more. Sometimes, the order in which you need to hit the options is esoteric, making progressing somewhat infuriating. Normally, I would chalk this up to the fact that this game is 32 years old, but this is a remake. I won’t overlook the exclusion of basic quality of life features like graying out an option you don’t need anymore.
Story / Personality
I played the games in the original release order, so that’s how I will be talking about them. Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir follows a protagonist that the player names who had recently suffered a great fall and is rescued by a polite gentleman named Amachi. The main character is suffering from amnesia, and strives to discover who they are and what happened to them. Soon they find their close friend, Ayumi Tachibana, who informs the protagonist that he is a part of the Utsugi Detective Agency, a private investigator group, and that he was in the middle of a case. The protagonist then follows the steps he took and soon becomes reacquainted with the case he took for a client named Zenzou. Zenzou is a butler for the rich Ayashiro family and he had hired the protagonist to look into the mysterious death of Kiku Ayashiro, the matriarch of the family who had passed away the night she had gathered her extended family to read her will. Official reports state that she had died due to a pre-existing heart condition but Zenzou did not trust that answer and hired the protagonist to investigate. Rumors of a curse on the Ayashiro family are circulating throughout the small village and people claim that Kiku will rise from the grave and take revenge on the living. A panic arises when a second member of the Ayashiro family is murdered and what was once a suspicious passing becomes a murder investiagtion.
The Missing Heir is a story of a power struggle within a powerful family and a murder mystery wrapped around them. There is a healthy cast of characters all with their own goals, desires, and motives. The story is filled with twists and unexpected reveals that makes the tale an enjoyable ride throughout. I’m a fan of mystery stories and (not to brag) I’m rather talented at deducing the reveals rather early in a story. The Missing Heir proved my deductions wrong more than once, speaking to how well it can guide you down one of several paths of reasoning to mislead you.
The Girl Who Stands Behind is a prequel following the same protagonist character two years prior to the events of The Missing Heir. A recent hire to the Utsugi Detective Agency, the protagonist is charged with taking a case involving a deceased high school girl who was found dead in a river. Initially thought to be a mistake, the protagonist is able to deduce that the girl had been murdered due to strangulation marks on her neck. What follows is an investigation into the high school that the victim had attended, which brings to light how closely the case is tied to an old ghost story revolving around a poltergeist the students call The Girl Who Stands Behind.
Where The Missing Heir is more of a character driven story, The Girl Who Stands Behind can be thought as the opposite. It focuses much more heavily on the supernatural aspects with the character intrigue playing a supporting role. While I love mysteries and murder stories, I personally have a slight preference towards The Girl Who Stands Behind only because I am also fond of ghost stories. The Missing Heir has a ghost story in it but it’s not as prevalent of a focus.
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My biggest complaint with the games is that before playing them, the titles and the fact that the main character and Ayumi are both high school aged made me think that I would be in for an experience geared towards a young audience. Of course I was making assumptions but I was thinking that The Missing Heir would have me going on a trip to find a long lost child and The Girl Who Stands Behind would have me solving a Scooby-Doo-like mystery of a haunting in a school. So imagine my surprise when a third of the way through The Missing Heir, the game shows a centered shot, fully in focus, of a corpse with a knife in its chest. Not that I was surprised that someone was murdered, the story was foreshadowing it if you ask me, but I was more surprised that they showed it without hesitation. The Girl Who Stands Behind is worse, featuring a corpse in the first fifteen minutes. I mention this for the parent looking for a gift for their kid and they come across something called the Detective Club series and think it's something suitable for a ten year old. It is not and the game is suggested for teenagers for good reason. ESRB rates it T for teens 13 and up, Pegi rating is 16, Australian rating is M for Mature and not recommended for those under 15.
Graphics / Art Direction
The pair of games clearly want to emulate the originals in their visual design. The Missing Heir features a lot of static scenery, character movements are slight, often preferring to vanish and reappear when they need to make posture changes more involved than tilting their head slightly. Environments tend to be backdrops, and camera angles either the person you’re talking to in the center of the screen or the occasional dutch angle to show something too tall to fit on the screen normally (like a hanging body).
The Girl Who Stands Behind features a much more lively and interesting visual design. Characters will have fully animated movements on screen. Camera angles are much more visually appealing; one that really stood out to me is a shot where Ayumi and the protagonist are talking in front of a mirror and the protagonist’s reflection can be seen off center in the mirror. In a contest of which game is better looking, even though they have the exact same anime art style, The Girl Who Stands Behind easily wins.
Music / Sound Design
Just like in their visual design, the music emulates the originals as well. I’ve never played the originals obviously but I would think the music would be modern orchestrations of the original scores. The Missing Heir features a restricted selection of music, I can only remember a small handful of songs, one calm and chipper piano tune is played chiefly throughout most of the game. The Girl Who Stands Behind again features a more robust offering in this area comparatively, I want to say I heard a wider selection of music in the first hour of the game than I did throughout all of The Missing Heir. Once again though, I would wager that this was intentional.
Final Score: 78%
All in all, the Famicom Detective Club games are great. The stories are very strong and rightfully so considering that it’s their main offering. There are definitely flaws in the games that do not need to be there considering they are remakes but they don’t tear it down. It’ll cater to more patient players but I would assume that would be the general audience of visual novels anyway. The most egregious issue I have is the fact that I think the titles are misleading, so those who are buying them as a gift should check the maturity rating and consider who you’re giving it to. Other than that, I only have minor nitpicks to say, like how the protagonist runs around telling people he’s a detective when he’s really a private investigator with no ties to the police or how The Girl Who Stands Behind is possibly the least intimidating name for a ghost.
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