You can check out anytime you like…
In regards to video games, you can define the phrase “dice-roll” with three simple letters: FMV. Once considered the future of gaming by starry-eyed pioneers, Full-Motion-Video games were fast proven linear and short-lived experiences, generally suffering from repetitive gameplay, poor video quality, and an overall lack of interactivity, despite the best efforts of Megan and her fucking tennis racquet.
But despite sentencing Wirehead, Prize Fighter, and Quarterback Attack with Mike Ditka to the Hall of Infamy, the FMV genre has had its share of engaging releases. Recent years saw titles such as Telling Lies, Dark Nights with Poe and Munro, and the award-winning Her Story totally reinvent the genre. These games utilise the same FMV framework but feature crisp HD video, a modern presentation, and an innovative approach to agency. It appears the once-maligned “Interactive Movie” is seeing a resurgence, finally earning the critical acclaim that evaded Make My Video: Marky Mark.
Taking a stab (literally) at this reappraised genre is Japanese auteur Kazutaka Kodaka. Apparently not content with melting our minds and realities with his anime series Danganronpa, the master of the weird and wonderful is transitioning his penchant for strange storytelling and grisly murder into the real world, courtesy of his brand new thriller Death Come True.
As if reality didn’t have enough problems… Hold on to your sanity, it’s gonna be a wild ride.
Death Come True (PC [Reviewed], Switch, iOS/Android, PS4)
Developer: Too Kyo Games, Esquadra
Publisher: Izanagi Games
Released: June 25 (iOS/Android, Switch), July 17 (PC), TBA (PS4)
Young Makoto Karaki is awakened by a ringing telephone to find himself lounging in an opulent and lavish hotel suite. The only problem is, he doesn’t know how he got there. Nor does he know that he’s Makoto Karaki. Oh, and he has a Special Investigator tied-up in his bathtub… and the TV is telling him he’s a wanted serial killer. Amazingly, this is just the beginning of Makoto’s problems, in what is about to become the longest day of his entire life. Literally.
So begins Death Come True, an FMV thriller co-developed by indie outfit Esquadra and produced by Izanagi’s own studio, Too Kyo Games. Taking the lead from FMV titles that have come before, Death Come True presents the player (see “viewer”) with a live-action movie, pausing briefly to offer choices as to what our boy Makoto should do next. However, where Death Come True differs from other examples of the genre is that while Makoto’s journey will see him come to an abrupt end – readily and often – these fates will actually cause his personal narrative to progress.
Because in this particular twisted tale, Death is simply a way of life.
Over the two-hour story, players will mostly have little agency in events. Yes, the viewer is offered choices – selecting actions and decisions as Makoto tries to piece together the eerie events that surround him – but these are mostly 50/50 affairs, with little clue as to which is the “correct” path. In fact, you may find that both decisions take our hero to an untimely end, either by accident or design. This can make for a very frustrating experience early on, with a distinct lack of satisfaction on the player’s behalf. For the first half-hour of Death Come True, you feel utterly helpless, perhaps even cheated by the game’s “both roads are the wrong road” dynamic. But ultimately, it is the spine of Izanagi’s narrative, and eventually gives way to a little more lateral thinking come Act Three.
What helps keep players invested in Death Come True, despite the persistently uneasy disconnection that features in most FMV titles, is that the “movie” on offer is classy, engaging – and eventually – completely enthralling. Death Come True, despite its small cast, budget, and location, is beautifully shot and expertly performed. Main stars Kanata Hongo and Chiaki Kuriyama (of Battle Royale fame) make for arresting and very likable leads. As chaos reigns around them, and their situation becomes more twisted and implausible, the two leads capture the player’s heart and attention with dedicated and resilient performances.
Star turns are also put in by bit-parters Yuki Kaji as the hotel’s concierge, Win Morisaki as a dogged detective, and Chihiro Yamamoto as a wild hotel guest who is PURE Danganronpa. Treating the odd material with the utmost respect, there isn’t a bad rendition among the whole cast. While we don’t get to spend much time with these characters, they leave an indelible imprint as the story builds to an excellent and emotional finale with two very different, but equally conclusive endings. For all of its reality-bending storytelling and wild, time-hopping physics, Death Come True left me with a legitimate lump in my throat during its concluding minutes. I already miss these characters dearly.
Regarding extra content, Death Come True has a typically morbid side-premise which awards players “Death Medals” for finding every demise in the game. Players can also unlock a glut of great “behind-the-scenes” videos, as well as a slew of hilarious outtakes featuring in-game anchorman Jiro Kanto. These latter clips have to be seen to be believed, as Kanto seemingly improvises most of his dialogue, while his fellow actors try desperately to keep up with his shtick without corpsing. Kanto is apparently a very funny man, his patter not dissimilar to Fred Willard’s commentator in Best in Show.
Unfortunately, by nature of its FMV origins, this is all Death Come True has to offer. For $16, you’re getting a solid two-hour movie, alongside a selection of making-of and outtake videos. While that is slim pickings, Death Come True remains a neat way to while away an evening, with a story that gets its hooks in deep enough to warrant a second playthrough, just to see the alternate outcome. This is most-assuredly a “one-sitting” experience, but it’s a sitting I’ll personally remember for a long time.
Should you hold off for a more agreeable price point? That’s between you and your wallet. But fans of Danganronpa, FMV games, or just off-the-wall thrillers would do well to check out this unique experiment from the mind of one of gaming’s most irreverent creators. I hope this isn’t the last time Izanagi utilises live-action to spill out another of his unpredictable and macabre fantasies. The medium definitely suits him well.
When it comes to gameplay and longevity, Death Come True suffers from the exact same issues as many titles in the FMV genre without breaking new ground. But Izanagi’s engrossing tale of love, regret, and murder redresses the balance with superb performances, dramatic twists, and a genuinely impassioned climax. It’s a short, somewhat expensive trip, but one worth taking when it hits your personal price-point.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]