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Review: 428: Shibuya Scramble

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Japan has been holding out on us

428: Shibuya Scramble is a live action visual novel that originally saw a Japanese release back in 2008. A decade in video game years is practically an eternity, and even the most holy of classics can lose some of their magic with age.

Luckily, that’s not really the case here. The story is positively brimming with kinetic energy, and it never feels tame or dated. We meet the main cast of characters in the moments just before a young woman, Hitomi, is about to make contact with her sister’s kidnappers and hand off a hefty ransom in the hopes of seeing her released.

428: Shibuya Scramble (PC, PS4 [reviewed])
Developer: Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd.
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd.
Released: September 4, 2018
MSRP: $49.99

The police have officers strewn all across the city waiting to pounce on the criminals when they finally show their faces. The opening moments carry the tension of a rubber band being readied, with the stubborn fingers of a school boy, to shoot across the room or snap in two under the stress. One wrong move and it’s all over. Play your cards right, however, and you’ll launch headfirst into an endearingly detailed story of personal struggles and international terrorism.

It does a great job of constantly juggling the tone between slapstick humor, action, and a pang of sadness that consistently caught me off-guard. Although, none of this would have hit nearly as hard without the excellent performances from the cast. They all absolutely nailed their respective roles.

There are five main players at the beginning of the game. Kano is a rookie detective who is just trying to wrap the case up as soon as possible, so he can meet up with his girlfriend’s father and ask for her hand in marriage. He’s predictable but relatable. Achi, one of the other playable characters, is a thug reborn as a man with a mission: to clean up the streets of Shibuya. Literally, he is obsessed with picking up trash, and I love his endless enthusiasm.

Osawa is the father of the kidnapped girl, and he’s probably the most complex of the bunch, teetering between doting parent and ruthless, work-obsessed scientist. Minorikawa is a reporter who needs to fill up twelve pages of space with stories before the day runs out in order to save his employer from bankruptcy, and he is not afraid to play dirty. Tama, on the other hand, is a mystery woman who is trapped in a cat suit, and she will win your heart over as she adorably attempts to sell shady weight loss beverages. The fates of all these characters crash and intertwine in delightfully unforeseen ways.

Most of the gameplay is relegated to a series of multiple choice options presented during key moments, but these carry immediate and long-term repercussions. However, each chapter of the story is presented in hour-long, in-game chunks, and these decisions only impede your progress one chunk at a time. Still, it can quickly get confusing when you’re in the thick of it, trying to piece together the timeline of causality that unlocks the next story segment.

Highlighted words will randomly pop up in text and clicking on them can either take you to a glossary, where optional exposition on subjects is offered, or a character jump. When you find a character jump, assuming you’ve completed all the necessary events beforehand, you’ll hop over to a different character’s timeline and progress the plot further. It starts out fairly basic, but quickly ratchets into a complex puzzle by the time you’ve reached the third hour.

Navigating this twisting labyrinth of dialogue options and character jumps is especially a treat because the bad endings, which you will see a non-stop deluge of, actually show off footage that is essential to fully understanding the motives of everyone. They’ll casually show you scenes heavily foreshadowing what’s about to happen during the next big plot twist or teasing a character’s true intentions. A lot of this is content that could very easily be missed, but it’s absolutely worth hunting down. If you just cut through the meat of things, you could probably finish in about twenty-five to thirty hours, but I clocked out at over fifty.

One thing that’s worth pointing out is that by using photographs, shot on-location with meticulously designed sets, 428: Shibuya Scramble avoids the tired visual novel cliché of reusing assets. After all, a single photograph is much easier to create than hand drawn artwork. They really make each scene count too. Every turn in the story, even the bad ones, are unique to each character’s perspective and change based on your actions as others. Even by today’s standards, this is ambitious as hell, and it pays off.

The only real complaints I have about it are a somewhat abrupt ending as well as a few puzzle solutions that felt a tad obtuse towards the final stretch. One of the last chapters, which spans across two hour-long blocks, is especially guilty of this. They really made me work to earn that “true ending,” but it was totally worth it. By the end, I wanted to find every little morsel of info that I could about these characters and the overarching story.

When I think of live-action video games, I typically assume that I’m in for a total shit show, but this manages to offer what might genuinely be the most persuasive argument I’ve ever witnessed for the concept. Honestly, I’m surprised this hasn’t been copied to hell and back. It works extremely well.

428: Shibuya Scramble may be a ten-year-old game, but it’s such a unique experience that it feels like a slightly flawed, modern classic even today. If you have any love for the genre, don’t skip this one.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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428: Shibuya Scramble reviewed by Kevin Mersereau

8.5

GREAT

Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.
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Kevin Mersereau
Kevin MersereauContributor   gamer profile

I like video games, music, comics, and corgis a whole lot. Pretty much everything I do in my free time revolves around these four things... more + disclosures


 


 


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