There’s something weirdly anachronistic about The Silver Case. It’s a game that first came out in 1999, and it shows its age despite some graphical improvements for PS4 release, yet it also feels ahead of its time, even today. The first game from renowned game developer Goichi Suda, The Silver Case is a noir detective thriller told through an adventure game / visual novel hybrid, but the final product is much more than the whole.
When you think of a visual novel, you probably have a clear-cut idea of what that looks like: character portraits over scene-setting backgrounds, a text box that fills the bottom portion of the screen, and special event scenes at key points in the story. The Silver Case has all these elements, but it abandons the familiar visual novel layout in favour of composition that’s more like a collage. The text box moves around and changes size as necessary, and the character portraits and scenery all rearrange themselves in creative, unorthodox ways. It’s a deliberately disjointed approach that’s very fitting for a story full of unreliable narrators, shady characters, and bizarre plot twists.
All of this is accompanied by the satisfying click-click-click of a typewriter as the text unfolds, driving home the feeling of an old-fashioned detective story. Some may find it annoying, and there’s an option to disable that sound effect if you find yourself in that camp, but I’d suggest at least hearing it out for a chapter or two – it’s a little touch, but adds so much.
Of course, the story itself will be the main appeal here, and The Silver Case tells a fascinating one. Taking place in an alternate modern-day city known as the 24 Wards, it traces an investigation into a string of strange murders. A likely suspect is soon found when the investigating police learn that a serial killer Kamui Uehara has escaped from his psychiatric ward – however, as in any good detective story, there’s a lot more to the case. It unfolds in ways that are surprising, darkly humorous, horrific, and thought-provoking, all played out in an episodic structure with that experimental take on the visual novel. Like I said, it’s oddly anachronistic – both classical cop story and experimental cyberpunk adventure.
That’s the sort of thing you’d expect from the mind of Goichi Suda, though. Though it first came out in 1999, The Silver Case wasn’t available in English until last year’s PC release, so we’ve finally got a chance to peek into the mind of a younger Suda through one of his earliest works. It’s not as comical as Shadows of the Damned or Let It Die, nor as transgressive as Lollipop Chainsaw or Killer7; compared to Suda’s more recent efforts, The Silver Case is relatively subdued. Yet it carries his defining punk sensibility throughout, and you can see the seeds of themes he’d go on to explore in great detail across his career, like death, interpersonal conflicts, and criminality.
If The Silver Case has one weak point, it’s the clunky “gameplay” that occasionally breaks up the visual novel core. These sections play out like a traditional first-person adventure game, but with particularly unwieldy controls and nuisance puzzles. The most annoying of these involve code-breaking, but fortunately, this version includes an auto-solve option for those who don’t want to spend too much time messing around. Auto-solve or not, this is a game that’d be at its best if it was just a pure visual novel. The story is the thing that carries the whole product, and the moments of “gameplay” just interfere with that.
Still, it’s worth putting up with infrequent clumsiness to experience the tale that The Silver Case tells. It’s smart, funny, engrossing noir storytelling of a kind that you don’t see much of, especially in games, and it’s a fascinating insight into the history of one of the game industry’s most intriguing creators.
The Silver Case is developed by Grasshopper Manufacture and published by NIS America. It’s available now for PlayStation 4 and PC.
A PS4 press copy was supplied by the publisher for this review.