the history behind Nintendo’s once-forgotten foray into visual novels •

the history behind Nintendo's once-forgotten foray into visual novels •

This week saw the re-release of a real Nintendo curiosity. The Famicon Detective Club games initially seem to come from a parallel universe – Nintendo games, but also visual novels? The re-releases of the first two adventures have been handled with love, with beautifully updated graphics and plenty of quality-of-life changes, but be aware that they remain voluntary and rather weird. To help understand where these games came from, we decided to delve into the history of this fascinating series.

When you think of Nintendo in the 80s, what comes to your mind? Super Mario Bros? Duck Hunt and the glorious NES Zapper? Absolute domination of the home console market? All valid answers, but even for the most devoted of Nintendo, the Famicom Detective Club probably isn’t high on your list. Released for the Famicom Disk System in 1988, this game brought us two classic mysterious murder visual novels, something we haven’t seen from Nintendo since Last Window. Sadly, this duology has never been launched outside of Japan, although it does hold an intriguing history.

You can imagine the surprise then when Nintendo ad Switch versions were on the way and would finally arrive in the West as well. Now this is not another case of translating original versions like Earthbound Beginnings or Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon And The Blade Of Light. Confirmed for the first time in 2019, the developers of Steins; Gate Mages gave both entries the full remake treatment, retaining that core gameplay with new graphics, music, and fully voiced dialogue.

So, you might be wondering what are these games for? Our story begins in The Missing Heir, as our unnamed protagonist wakes up near a cliff, suffering from amnesia. Eventually remembering that he is a Deputy Detective, he teams up with Ayumi Tachibana, realizing that they are both investigating the murder of Kiku Ayashiro. Soon, the duo find themselves immersed in a legend surrounding the Ayashiro family treasure, which threatens not only to resurrect the deceased, but to kill anyone who tries to steal it.

Proving its success, the series got a prequel, released the following year, titled The Girl Who Stands Behind. Set two years before The Missing Heir, we find our protagonist taken in after his parents disappeared and trained by an investigator to become a detective himself. Set up to investigate a murder at Ushimitsu High School, a place haunted by ghostly rumors for many years, the protagonist and Ayumi eventually discover connections to a much older murder case, which is approaching its statute of limitations.

The original games have a distinct visual identity.

While not particularly original by today’s standards, these stories set a standard for high quality, and that is attributable to Yoshio Sakamoto. These days he’s best known for working on Metroid and even WarioWare games, but it was actually the Famicom Detective Club that marked his first experience as a filmmaker. Just a novice at the time, Sakamoto was approached by Nintendo’s legendary Gunpei Yokoi, the father of, among others, the Game Boy. Acting as the game’s producer, Yokoi asked Sakamoto to come up with an idea based solely on a working title, Famicom Shonen Tanteidan (Family Computer Youth Detective Group).

With nothing else to do, Sakamoto started working with Nintendo’s R & D1 team, but things didn’t start the easiest. The group weren’t prepared for a game in which the story would have such a central role, so to help, Sakamoto took a risk. Taking up the concept of basic amnesia suggested by his team at large, he asked to become the filmmaker of the game. Although he considers him a “reckless“Move now, it has finally become a defining moment for your career.

Rather than drawing inspiration from detective works – with the exception of Seishi Yokomizo’s novels – Sakamoto has mainly turned to two places. One was The Portopia Serial Murder Case, an early effort by Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii. The other was … more surprising. In the 2010s GDC Sakamoto has revealed that Italian director Dario Argento, famous for his horrors, is a major influence. Later citing Deep Red as his favorite film, Sakamoto later revealed that Argento’s cinematic approach continues to inspire his writing to this day. It follows four key principles of the master: mood, timing, foreshadowing and contrast.

Original_gameIt’s a fascinating piece of Nintendo history.

Realizing that Famicom Detective Club gameplay should be entirely story-driven, Sakamoto took this new approach, ultimately handing the team a handwritten copy of their planned storyline. With the groundwork, everything else came together quickly. As part of their investigations, players would explore various environments, chat with other characters for information, while examining objects for other clues. It was a simple, yet effective approach, and both games ended up being rated well, although lasting fame eluded them.

Games weren’t completely forgotten by Nintendo, but they weren’t well supported either. Almost a decade later, The Girl Who Stands Behind received a Super Famicom (SNES) remake, featuring improved graphics, an overhauled soundtrack, and a new in-game feature allowing players to review character information. already collected. However, when it was released, the N64 was already two years old and this remake was only available through the Nintendo Power system, through a process involving rewritable flash cartridges. It’s a poorly designed format for long-term storage – and was hardly mainstream – but this edition of the game survived and later received a translation by fans.

NSwitchDS_FamicomDetectiveClub_TGWSB_02The remakes have their own style.

Even more obscure, a third game was released in 1997 called “BS Tantei Club: Yuki ni Kieta Kako”, in which Ayumi was investigating a murder to prove her mother’s innocence. This game aired over three chapters via Super Famicom’s satellite modem device, the Satellaview, also introducing voice acting for Ayumi, but likely denying her any chance to reach a really large audience. Yuki nor Kieta Kako are not currently receiving a Switch remake – which is not surprising given that Nintendo rarely acknowledges that its Satellaview library ever existed.

Since then, however, we really haven’t seen much else from the Famicom Detective Club. Ayumi appeared as a trophy in Super Smash Bros. Melee – and was even considered by Masahiro Sakurai as a playable fighter – but re-releases aside, all we have is an Ayumi costume to unlock in Super. Mario Maker. Forgotten by all but die-hard fans, Nintendo’s decision to remake these games is welcome, but also somewhat surreal, given that popular picks like F-Zero, Kid Icarus, and Golden Sun lie dormant for now. .

With Sakamoto and the original Nintendo development team returning to oversee Mages’ work, these remakes feel like coming home. Personally, I still can’t believe the Famicom Detective Club has finally arrived in the West three decades after its initial release, but it’s better late than never. Who can say what other curiosities Nintendo might turn to. But, if anyone takes any suggestions, I hear StarTropics looks pretty lonely.

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