An honest-to-goodness modern game on this site? Oh, wait, it's a pair of remakes of ancient Famicom Disk System games, never mind, doesn't count, we're stuck in the past forever. Ahem. Anyway, standard protocol with modern video game screenshots here, click to embigulate our shots and make them more readable. Now, while these are indeed remakes of games originally released over 25 years ago, the vast majority of you probably haven't even played them, let alone know what they're about. That's not a judgement on your fine and dapper character, of course, merely an observation that most likely holds true for the vast majority of our English-speaking audience. So, we've done our best to avoid spoilers, using only screenshots that either don't give away any details or are from early on enough in the game that they don't constitute as spoilers and keeping some of the plot details as vague as possible, minus some early story beats here and there. Had to leave some of our favourite screenshots on the cutting room floor for this, so you'd better appreciate it. However, if you want to go in completely, absolutely blind, then maybe skip this one. Additionally, we didn't want to type out the full titles each and every time, so hopefully it should be obvious that The Missing Heir is Part I and The Girl Who Stands Behind is Part II. Don't worry, you'll know which is which by the end.
Finally, suicide is a topic that comes up in both games, so please be aware if this is a sensitive issue for you.
We've got a mystery on our hands, gang.
Time to put on our best ruffled raincoat, light up a cigar and get to work with the 2021 remakes of the two FDS Famicom Detective Club games.
I don't know about you, but I certainly didn't see this localisation coming. None of Nintendo's text adventures really stood a chance at English localisation back in the day, either because they were too steeped in theming / folklore unfamiliar to Westerners or dealt with themes that simply wouldn't pass Nintendo's policies at the time. Famicom Detective Club manages to hit both- the first game alone is set in a rural Japanese village and it has bodies on-screen and smoking so any chance of an official translation was pretty much nil. In the three decades (!) since, things have changed a little. As touched on a little by the intro of Tom James' essential Tokimeki Memorial article (which you should read anyway, honestly) games in the loosely-connected genres of visual novels, sound novels and Japanese-style adventure games either find themselves more regularly localised or indeed created by developers outside of Japan like VA-11 Hall-A. With an international market more welcoming to this kind of game (especially with the theme this specific series has, given the success of the Ace Attorney series) perhaps that's why Nintendo decided to release the two Famicom Detective Club remakes for Switch in English, even launching across the globe simultaneously. That's progress for ya, and that's why I even have these two games, The Missing Heir and The Girl Who Stands Behind, available to cast a critical eye over.
What is this pair of games remaking, though? That's where we're best starting this case. Often romanised as Famicom Tantei Club (TL Note: Tantei is Japanese for detective or detective work!), Famicom Detective Club is the most enduring of one of Nintendo's less-discussed legacies, their work in console text adventures, albeit mostly by default. On the Famicom Disc System, they (alongside Pax Softnica for most of them) put out quite a few of these kinds of games, a topic explored elsewhere on this site in the Idol Hakkenden article, with Famicom Detective Club being developed between Nintendo R&D1 and TOSE, primarily written by Metroid co-creator Yoshio Sakamoto. Taking heavy cues from Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken / The Portopia Serial Murder Case (although not having quite as much going on, look at that guide!) these two games used the extra storage space afforded by using both sides of two floppy disks per game to craft fairly long murder cases that you, the insert-yourself-here protagonist, must solve by selecting menu items, searching locations and even typing in the answers at critical moments in the narrative to be the detective you were born to be! Each story has its own twists and turns, with shocking revelations and the odd 'gotcha' moment lurking around every corner as you get closer to finding the culprit. They are just as much the '80s Japanese console menu-driven adventure games you expect them to be, and while you won't be cracking open nuts with an otter you met at the aquarium, there are times where you'll have to think like an adventure game designer to make any progress. You will, however, eventually make it as these games lack true 'game over' scenarios and no way to lock yourself into an unwinnable game, no matter what way you wear your detective hat.
Unfortunately, this is far as I can go when it comes to talking about the original games, because not even fan translations exist for them (or any of Nintendo's text adventures on the system- partly technical limitations due to not being able to expand the amount of storage space, and for Shin Onigashima and Yūyūki the text is displayed vertically with the entire UI designed around this fact, so good luck with that) beyond the Super Famicom remake of Part II which has a vintage translation from 2004 (!), but hopefully this is enough to give you a rough overview of what the original games are about. More importantly, I wanted to demonstrate that while it's very easy to compare these games to visual novels, especially their remakes with their modern presentation and developer pedigree (as we'll see in a second), they remain in a genre distinct from the likes of Clannad and planetarian (and even those are distinct from one another- it's complicated!) and should be approached as such, so hopefully I got that across.
How many of these games were there, then? The first, The Missing Heir / Kieta Kōkeisha (Part I) was released across 1988 and the second, The Girl Who Stands Behind / Ushiro ni Tatsu Shōjo (Part II) was released across 1989, putting them somewhere in the middle of the Famicom Disk System's life. After that, there was a third game, Yuki ni Kieta Kako, broadcast on Satellaview in three parts across 1997, a remake of Part II on the Super Famicom released as a Nintendo Power kisok game that was written to a blank cartridge rather than bought in a shop, rereleases of the first two games on every version of Virtual Console and the Game Boy Advance as part of the Famicom Mini series, and now these remakes. Compare that to its other Nintendo text adventure stablemates- Shin Onigashima got a Super Famicom retelling of the original story from a new perspective plus VC and GBA rereleases, and Yūyūki and Time Twist: Rekishi no Katasumi de... got nowt else (possibly because of some rights issues, although the exact answer is unclear). Whoof.
Fast-forward to now, the present time of 2021, and Nintendo decides it is time to bring the series back- still hanging on to the Famicom moniker of course- in cooperation with visual novel experts MAGES (formerly 5pB Games, best known for their collaborations with Nitro+ to create the likes of Steins;Gate and Robotics;Notes) by remaking the first two games. Notably, the producer for the remakes, as spotted by gosokkyu, is Makoto Asada, better known for being producer on some of CAVE's last home console ports / games including adventure game Instant Brain exclusively for the Xbox 360 (and who, after this remake was announced, said he wants to remake Yūyūki someday too) and the character designs are by Yukihiro Matsuo, 5pB / MAGES veteran who did the character designs for Chaos;Child. While initially only revealed in a Japanese Nintendo Direct (we'll see the announcement trailer later), after being pushed back from late 2020 to 2021 it was announced it'd be having a simultaneous worldwide release, which brings us up to right now, the time when you are reading this very sentence. Probably.
For the most part, the underlying game mechanics in both games are the same, as are (most of) the visual embellishments and quality-of-life features added, but there's a few subtle differences in how they play and the two cases themselves are completely different. So, my approach here is going to be to cover the basics while talking about both games, then move on to talk about each one individually, and afterwards we'll wrap up any loose ends to close the book on this case. Let's get cracking then, the game is afoot!
Let's begin our detective work by talking about both games in a general sense, to set the scene.
So, dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era, what do the games play like now? If you're expecting grand, sweeping changes to them you can forget it. These are old-school Japanese console text adventures through and through (the stories have not been updated to the modern era either- no specific year's given but with no smartphones in sight, we sure aren't in the current year) with three primary modes of interaction- taking actions like talking and thinking through menus, observing your surroundings to look for clues, and (very rarely) making deductions and answering questions with the evidence you've gathered up to that point. Every scene in the game has a set of actions you can perform via the menu that come and go depending on where you are, who's around you and other circumstances. For instance, scenes with objects for you to grab will have the Take command, scenes with multiple people let you switch who you're talking to with Call / Engage, sometimes you can examine an area fully and others you just get to examine specific people or objects, and so on. A big limitation is where you can go- for the most part you're not allowed to move to anywhere new until all your business is finished in the current area or set of areas.
These limitations on your options do their best to mitigate the player getting lost and to nudge them in the right direction, as does highlighting new items or topics in yellow. Most crucial of all is that there's no fail state or way to get in a 'walking dead' situation and be unable to finish the adventure- you're basically not allowed to miss anything that's needed to get to the end like with many Western-developed adventure games that come to mind. You can miss some incidental details if you don't thoroughly investigate everything, and there's even a few non-essential scenes and characters you can completely miss if you're too quick to move things along, but otherwise you will, eventually, get to the end. On the one hand, this approach isn't massively complex, and there are absolutely similar games that are larger in scope and mechanics, but I think these are pretty effective at telling their story this way, allowing you just enough freedom to explore certain elements of the story if you like but not so much freedom that you're overwhelmed and not know where to start to make progress.
The main bugbear here is that even with this design, you will get stuck at some point. Not because you can't figure out what needs to be done, but because you don't have the same brain as the game and so won't know the exact sequence of actions to make the thing you want to happen, er, happen. While the game does its best to limit your options, sometimes it hinders things rather than helps- yellow-highlighted items sometimes go nowhere until a long time after they first appear, you can (albeit rarely) be caught going between two or three areas trying to figure out what you need to do and where, and talking topics don't get marked as used and don't often get pruned so talking to a person in a new scene brings up a fairly long list of topics that may or may not be useful. You can sometimes suss out which topics aren't relevant but that's not always the case- frustratingly, sometimes the game does reduce the number of topics but not always! There's also the 'What they know' topic that's almost always available which is a little vague but sometimes necessary to ask after you've brought up a different topic, and of course you will have to ask about the same thing repeatedly at times (although you can usually figure out when that is).
These elements combine to sometimes make it so you know what to do, but just not how to make the game aware that you know. At one point I got stuck because while I thought I'd examined everything on-screen to no avail... I had not examined the face of the character I was talking to, which is apparently what I needed to do. I think it says a lot that NintendoLife put together a guide (spoilers, obviously) that's not a step-by-step thing through the game but specific bits like "how do I get this character to talk to me now"- the players know what needs to be done, but it's just a case of going through the exact way to do it. I think this is where these games live or die for a player, and probably where the games feel the least modernised. Perhaps some sort of optional hint system may have helped (having Remember / Think do more than ellipses a lot of the time could've been a good way to put it in) or a slightly more relaxed order for doing things in certain cases. The fact that there's no 'walking dead' state is a huge motivator though, because you at least know you will never be forced into a situation where you have to reload a save and lose a significant amount of progress because you didn't pick up a pixel-sized lottery ticket in the first chapter or something, and it's certainly better than some games where you just have a massive list of options. Even so, this is a problem I didn't have with Idol Hakkenden but did with some of the Phoenix Wright games, so it's something that can be an issue in the genre but ideally shouldn't be. I don't feel it happens overwhelmingly in these games, but just enough that it'll get to you.
There are, however, a lot of very welcome quality-of-life additions to these remakes that you see in modern visual novels that help to dampen the blow of those other problems. Text-wise, there's a log to let you to check over recently-read text (and have the line repeated to you), Auto Mode so text automatically moves along after each character finishes speaking, adjustable message speed, the option to switch the protagonist's voice off if you really want to get in character or switch all voices off for the silent-movie experience, plus a super-fast skip button to zip past transitions and text. Examining scenes is easier too, with multiple speeds for your cursor and labels that pop up when you see something to make comment on. Both games also have a Notebook first seen in the SFC remake of Part II that keeps track of all the characters and is frequently updated as your investigation proceeds, plus an optional recap of the story so far whenever you load a save file so you're never lost if you haven't played in a while. Finally, a cute extra is the inclusion of the Famicom (and Super Famicom for the second game) soundtrack which also replaces the interface sound effects, although the arranged soundtrack is so good I'd recommend using that for your first playthrough. Completing either game also unlocks a music test for it, although sadly you can only listen to the arranged soundtrack. Gimmie those Famicom beats!
Generally, these are wise additions to the games that merge convenient options from modern visual novels with this old-school text adventure to make it a little less intimidating and more accessible. The text options are very accomodating for both fast and laid-back readers, although I do wish there was an option to make menu transitions instant- when opening the Talk menu you have to wait for the window to expand to see all the available topics which can drag out the interrogation process. One surprise omission is touch-screen support, so in handheld mode you'll be using buttons like a savage. I can only guess as to why, but I imagine adapting the game to support touch-screen may have involved changing up the UI too significantly to be done elegantly (text options would probably have to be bigger for a start, they'd have to add big Back / Cancel buttons, etc.) but it may have been a nice extra. More baffling is the fact you only have three save slots plus an auto-save, a little weak compared to other MAGES games that give you pages upon pages of save slots. It would've been nice to have similar functionality here to skip to your favourite bits (or, in Part II, having backups so you don't mess up the mini-epilogue you want, more on that later) although these games are shorter than what MAGES usually do. Even with that said, the additions here make the games significantly more user-friendly and accessible than their '80s counterparts (and, touch-screen aside, ideal for portable mode so you can play while snuggled up in bed, with your feet up in your favourite chair, etc.) which is always welcome.
The rest of the changes are in presentation, and to be fair, MAGES have done a great job bringing the characters and locations of both games to to life by doing a lot with a little. Animation and character movement is limited in a lot of ways as they use 2D assets with Live2D-style movement effects, and yet they're pretty effective at showing character expressions and actions as well as small environmental details like the wind gently blowing grass, trains going by on the overpass and so on. The soundscape is pretty great too, with a wonderful arranged soundtrack and fitting environmental noises in the background, plus full voice-acting including big names like Megumi Ogata (Makoto Naegi from Danganronpa) Akio Ōtsuka (Solid Snake from Metal Gear) and Yūko Minaguchi (Sailor Saturn from Sailor Moon, reprising her role of Ayumi Tachibana from the Satellaview game!). One of my favourite scenes is right near the start of Part I, where Ayumi calls out to you from the cliff. As blades of grass gently sway in the breeze, you can see the distant figure of Ayumi calling out to you, her voice just barely audible over the wind and the ebb and flow of the sea. This scene was present in the FDS original of course (with the best ocean wave sounds the era could muster) but it has a hell of an impact here, especially right at the start. Oddly, as I talked about with a friend on Twitter, Part I's in-game animations run a little slower than the ones in Part II which are at 60FPS, but they actually look a little better for it. It feels more obvious that they're using obvious animation tricks like tweening when they're running at a higher speed, and there's less unique animations overall, but Part II does have more striking static screens, especially when recounting the ghost story of the title, so it's six of one, half a dozen of another.
With the groundwork laid down, let's start tackling our first case, Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir.
The Missing Heir begins with you in the role of the 17-year-old protagonist being woken up by the side of a cliff by a man named Adachi with a bump on the noggin and a nasty case of amnesia. After recovering from your minor injuries (but not recovering your memory), you're found by Ayumi Tachibana who says she's your partner at the Utsugi Detective Agency and that you were working on a case by yourself. Thanks to a single note you left for yourself, you're lead to the quiet countryside village of Myoujin and the wealthy Ayashiro family whose butler had hired you. The matriarch, Kiku Ayashiro, recently passed away in suspicious circumstances, and eerie village chatter talks of her vengeful spirit rising from the grave to strike revenge against those who go against the family... You've got your plate full, then: recover your memory, solve the Ayashiro family mystery as the bodies start to pile up and, if you have the time, maybe get onto finding your lost parents. Sounds like a lot for a teenager to handle, but it takes all kinds in this job. Besides, it was the '80s, a different time, nowt wrong with a plucky teenager inspecting corpses, digging up graves and solving mysteries!
The basic game mechanics are as explained earlier, but this some wrinkles not seen in the second game. The one I mostly like is that at a few key points, you have to manually type in an answer that you've deduced. I'm almost completely on-board with this as it makes you think proeprly, like a detective, to figure out the exact answer to put in. However, as it uses the Switch's internal keyboard, you can't exit to check your Notebook to double-check while typing it in, so on your first try you might have to get it wrong just to verify your answer which is inelegant. Other differences are less positive- one of your few permanent menu items is Remember, which lets you try and remember stuff that you forgot about because of that whole 'fell off a cliff' thing. It almost feels like the actions Erika can do in Idol Hakkenden like play dumb and smile were making fun of this specific menu option because its use is vague and generally a last resort. It's also used from time to time to actually remember stuff you've been told like that you were given a torch two minutes previously. It's a little silly and mostly useless, but it's there I suppose. Another negative in this game that Part II fixes is rare instances of pixel-hunting where you need to scour an area for a clue- there's maybe two or three at most, but one on the cliff edge in particular had me frustrated, clicking every inch of the damn thing just to find the bit I needed to examine to progress. These elements do contribute to make Part I a little rougher than its sequel, which is baffling in a way- the game was being modernised anyway, so why they didn't take the opportunity to smooth over stuff like this is odd.
However, the main issue with Part I is that it's a real slow burn of a story. All of the players in this deadly game- and there's a surpising amount of them- need to be introduced so you can start suspecting them, and it really takes its sweet time doing so both in terms of telling the story and how you interact with it. You'll be revisiting the same characters and the same locations a lot and sometimes not even for any particularly good reason- by the end you will be absolutely sick of seeing the living room of the Ayashiro Mansion and especially that bloody cliff edge. Additionally, while I can see why they decided to give your character amnesia- it's at least one way of making characters introduce themselves to you that you'd otherwise know and justifying why you have to ask about everything going on- it feels like it drags things out at points, and is used as an increasingly-flimsy smokescreen for some of the bigger reveals- a game about a teenage detective investigating bloody murder requires a certain level of suspension of disbelief which I'm happy to do but this game in particular absolutely has some "come on, really?" moments that slightly spoil things. Additionally, the game seems pretty faithful to the original story to the point where the game leaves a handful of loose ends after the game's over. One character in particular just completely disappears once she's given out the information she needs to despite being heavily connected to an important character, with no epilogue or anything to wrap her story up. As I understand it, this is exactly how it was in the original, and like with some of the mechanics I find it odd that Nintendo and MAGES didn't take this opportunity to add a couple of things and tie the whole thing up.
That's not to say the story or characters are especially bad, mind you. The rural setting is nice and leads to some great background art, and hearing what the locals say about local ghost stories is fun. The local doctor, Kumada, is also pretty memorable for trying to turn his hand at detective work himself (alongside his long-suffering nurse who gets the best animation in the game) and if you enjoy watching rich people get what's coming to them, you'll enjoy where the plot goes... When it gets going. I think special mention needs to be made of Ayumi Tachibana, your partner at the detective agency who starts the game berating you for having the audacity to lose your memory after just a little fall off a cliff. She's sweet really but she serves a couple of important functions for the narrative. For a start, she's off doing her own sleuthing while you're gallivanting across the countryside, and to be honest she's way better at it than you are, digging up all sorts of dirt that proves useful to the case. Secondly, you usually meet up with her at the end of each chapter as you go over what the two of you have uncovered that day, which I like- it's a nice way of digesting the new information you've gleaned from the day's events, which can be helpful if you got stuck picking the same option over and over again when trying to move things along. She doesn't get massively involved in the story as a whole, which is something a little different, and perhaps that's why Part II chose to focus on her. Generally though, it's a less-interesting cast than I'd like, which is a bit of a shame.
Part I is a bit of an odd one, then, especially this remake. The foundations are here for a nice slice of interactive mystery-solving, and the presentation is absolutely top of the line but it just misses the mark in a couple of ways, made more frustrating by the fact that, with a little modernisation and tuning-up in a few places, it could've been alleviated. The slower plot with only a handful of interesting characters and some threads left dangling plus rare-but-infuriating pixel hunting bits combine with the general adventure game issues outlined earlier (that, as we'll see, are less of an issue in the sequel) to put this one firmly in the middle of my scale. It's not bad, and probably just the right length (you're looking at about 5-10 hours depending on how fast you read) but hey, they can't all be Idol Hakkenden.
For fumbling with the magnifying glass a little, Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir is awarded...
In a sentence, Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir is...
A good remake of a flawed adventure.
Now let's move our investigation to the second game, Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind.
Set two years before The Missing Heir, The Girl Who Stands Behind begins with your character being chased by some cops before being saved by Utsugi, who offers you a place to stay and a job as his assistant at his detective agency. Immediately afterwards, things kick off- Yoko Kojima, a student from Ushimitsu High School, washes up on the local riverbank dead, and while the police bungle onto the scene assuming it was an accident, you- a sprightly 15-year-old apparently allowed to just inspect a corpse like it's nothing- quickly figure out it's foul play. Her devastated friend, a younger Ayumi Tachibana, tells you that she and Yoko had their own Detective Club together where they'd try and solve local mysteries. Yoko was investigating something by herself, the school legend of The Girl Who Stands Behind, and became a totally different person before her death... With Utsugi working on a different case, it rests on your shoulders to help Ayumi find justice for Yoko by investigating in and around the school, and also figure out if ghosts are real or not. No pressure, kid.
Not too much has changed for the sequel, but there's a few things that differ mechanically. The Remember action is gone, replaced with the less-vague Think which is at least more useful- sometimes it'll let you digest the information you've just received and point you in the right direction, although often you'll just be seeing ellipses. One welcome change is that any semblance of pixel-hunting has been completely eliminated, as while you can still examine your surroundings there's not really any important things or objects hidden, everything you need is more readily obvious... Although the first examining puzzle is made more difficult as the one bit you need to examine a few times doesn't have a unique tag (here's a tip: something's blocking your view, try and move it). Additionally, the few times you had to type in an answer in the first game are replaced with referring to profiles in your Notebook including a section where there are multiple viable answers, which is a nice use of the Notebook but I did like the 'type it in yourself' bits. Still, this way is more convenient as you get to examine those profiles to help hone in on an answer (though you still can't read the text log from here). Overall, I'd say it's an improvement in these subtle ways and beyond that, in general it feels you're less likely to get stuck in a loop where you know what to do but not how to do it- it happened to me, because of course it did, but it was less often in my experience than in Part I.
As for the writing and plot, things definitely go at a much snappier pace than the first game. There's no amnesia plot device to bog things down nor are there a million relatives of the Ayashiro family to become acquainted with, aside from the intro with Detective Utsugi you basically get started right away in looking into the murder, the school legend and even a cold case that might be connected because sure, why not. The theming being a high school ghost story might be something that puts people off, but personally I love that kind of thing, the way events from the past can get slowly warped over time to form the basis of a ghost story is always fascinating to me. As with the first game there's a couple of twists and turns along the way and the odd red herring that might throw you for a loop (one in particular got a big laugh from me, I'll be honest, they got me!) but in general the pacing is a bit snappier, the twists feel a little more natural and more loose ends are tied up by the end. I imagine a lot of that is because the game had an earlier remake which added a lot to the FDS original including more characters and steps to solving some puzzles, an advantage this has over Part I (and even then time was taken to update the remade source material- a student used for some transphobic jokes added to the 1998 remake was replaced with someone else with no such baggage). There's more to get you engaged and interested in the story, and that probably explains why I found myself finishing this in the dead of night because I just needed to see how it ended!
Where Part II is a big improvement is in variety of locations and characters. Obviously there's key places you'll be revisiting a lot- the back of the old school building is this game's equivalent of the cliff edge, but for the most part you revisit it with a purpose in mind rather than just going there and thinking "Oh, golly gee whizz I wish I could remember something!"- but also there's way more one-off characters you get to chat with and slightly more locations you end up visiting. The school location gets used in a fairly clever way as a narrative device of sorts too, as classes being in session and faculty meetings dictate who's around for you to speak to. Changing the setting to a city does mean you miss out on some of the better-looking backgrounds from Part I, no lush countryside to take in, but places like the seedy downtown area, the mysterious room with the mirror and the moody, suspenseful scenes at the climax with the school enveloped in darkness are striking in their own way. As for the cast of characters, there's a lot of teachers and students to chat with, but also chance encounters with passers-by and there's certainly a few more eccentric characters that stand out among them, like the shifty janitor Tazaki, the gruff bartender and the slightly forgetful Komada- nothing quite like what you'd see in a Phoenix Wright game but this level of character makes the cast more interesting. Shout-outs to the drunk salaryman who you have to be rescued from by a club promoter especially. There's also a slight streak of humour here and there, like Ayumi laughing for the first time since the case began and your character's internal annoyance at being called Mr. Detective which help balance out the slightly dark tone of the overall plot.
Let's hone in on the game's star for a second though, as Ayumi is back, this time a more sullen girl prone to getting lost in thought. Fair enough- her best friend's dead- but it's certainly an interesting contrast from the first game. She's also the centre of one of the best chapters, just under halfway through after your character tells her to stay out of the investigation for her own safety. You'd think this'd be a bit of eye-rolling "girls can't be detectiving, am I right lads" but it's turned on its head as Ayumi takes some extreme measures to protect you from your own investigation and get some answers out of the biggest suspect. It genuinely caught me off-guard but I felt it pulled it off pretty well, putting Ayumi even closer to the heart of the story and showing a little of her development into the great detective she is in Part I. Near the very end of the game, she's not around for a while and honestly, it was a relief to see her again just as the story got really grim and dark clouds were literally surrounding the school! She also plays a role in a certain amount of replay value- certain actions like asking her alibi first when you first get to talk to her affect an unseen 'affinity' value out of 20 that's revealed once you finish the game alongside a more general personality assessment about how you conducted your investigation. Different ratings get a different mini-epilogue, either delivered by Ayumi herself or some of the other girls you encounter in the game, which might be incentive enough to replay the game. It's a cute little feature, although the hints that it's even a thing before the end are a little vague. You may also want to replay the game for a few scenes that you can actually miss which seem to be more common than in the first game, like an encounter with a cop on his way to play pachinko, some students spreading rumours about you and a couple of fake 'bad endings' like the ridiculous bee scene.
So, I definitely think Part II is an improvement on the first. There's not too many mechanical changes but most of the ones present are welcome as it cleans up some of the nonsense from the first game, it feels like there's less opportunities to get completely stuck, the plot goes at a much quicker pace and is generally more interesting with a lot going on that'll keep you suspecting and guessing right until the end and the cast of characters is nice and varied. Really, Part II absolutely had an unfair advantage here because of that 1998 remake already expanding on the game and adding quite a lot, so there was more for MAGES to work from which works in its favour. The only real downside compared to the first game is some elements of the presentation because of the setting and some little animation things (beyond the speed issue mentioned earlier it feels like there's less movement-intensive animation, certainly nothing like the nurse shrugging in Part I) which might also be a problem for some, but generally I'd say this is the better of the two games, and I can easily see now why most representations of the franchise point to this game rather than the first. Even if this is a prequel. But it's Part II. How does that work? Now that's the real mystery!!
For grabbing that dropped magnifying glass and holding it triumphantly, Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind is awarded...
In a sentence, Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind is...
A mystery worth sussing out.
We're done with both games... But there's just one thing that bothers me. Well, a few things.
Let's wrap up all the loose ends and bring this investigation to a close.
I can't really close things out before answering two big questions that I frequently see get asked about these remakes, whether you need to play both of them and what order to play them in. Now, the former is a legitimate question in the US and Japan because you can buy them separately, but in Europe they're a digital-only bundle with one price, no splitting them up or getting a discount by buying one then the other so it's a bit of a moot point, you might as well play it if you've got it. While I didn't like Part I as much, I still think it's worth playing through given its relative brevity. As for the order... I played them in the order they were originally released- The Missing Heir then The Girl Who Stands Behind- and felt I was better able to appreciate Part II after the issues of Part I, but I can see why people might want to play them the other way around seeing as Part II is a prequel. Additionally, maybe plugging through Part I is what helped me get less stuck in Part II because I'd gotten used to things, but counter to that is how I breezed through Idol Hakkenden with no need for help at all, pointing to it being a case of design rather than skill acquisition.
In the end, it doesn't really matter, neither is massively dependent on the other in terms of story. There's a little acknowledgement of this in the games themselves- both check near the start if you've played the other so you can reuse your character name, and that's the sole connectivity between your two save files. So, I've got no answers for you, sorry! Hey, not every case is made to be solved. Sometimes you just have to go with what's in your gut after seeing the evidence.
Ahem. With everything done and dusted, now it's time to amble into the sunset with another pair of cases behind us. The Famicom Detective Club remakes, then, are pretty solid. They're a little rough around the edges in a few elements (Part I moreso than Part II) as the game mechanics haven't been massively changed, but I think the plethora of UI changes and quality-of-life additions- while imperfect- make them significantly more palatable than the original games and more than worthy of your attention if this kind of adventure game is your cup of tea. Honestly, I made the mistake of grabbing shots from the Famicom Disk System versions after beating the remakes and boy, having to constantly swap the disk side and wait for the loading times was a pain and that was on emulator, I don't even wanna think about running these on real hardware! Even the Super Famicom remake of Part II, great as its presentation is, found itself on the business end of the emulator speed-up key. These, then, are easily-accessible remakes of some fun juvenile detective mystery adventures, even if one's stronger than the other, and my biggest hope is that, now the market's perhaps more receptive to these kinds of games than in the past, we get more of them. A remake of Yuki ni Kieta Kako, free of the limitations of the Satellaview broacast format (where you'd play for an hour and only lightly interact with the world, simply waiting for the next plot development to occut) would be the obvious starting point, but in any case I kinda hope this is the start of the Utsugi Detective Agency's grand reopening, especially in the West, I'm developing a bit of an appetite for games like this.
We'll have to wait and see, huh?
And now, it's that time, folks!
First up, a series of no-commentary playthroughs in case you'd like to compare the originals with the remakes.
Click each image to be magically teleported to YouTube!
Here's both halves of The Missing Heir for the Famicom Disk System.
Here's both halves of The Girl Who Stands Behind for the Famicom Disk System.
And here's the remake of The Girl Who Stands Behind for the Super Famicom, with the Japanese version on the left and the English fan translation on the right.
A very brief note on the announcement of these remakes, as there's some interesting footage.
The remakes were first announced in a September 2019 Nintendo Direct but only in the Japanese broadcast, with a cute intro showing the Famicom Disk System boot-screen and a formal introduction to the games by Yoshio Sakamoto himself. What's interesting here is that the brief footage shown of The Missing Heir has a completely different UI than the final game, with a baby-blue theme for textboxes and menus, replaced with grey boxes for the released game. Perhaps they were planning on having themed UIs with The Missing Heir having a blue one and The Girl Who Stands Behind having a red one? In any case, it's interesting to have just a smidgen of insight into the development of this remake.
There's two differences between the Japanese and English versions of the games, one for each game.
Unlike many Switch games, you can't play the Japanese version of these games by changing your system's language (you can play the Phoenix Wright trilogy in Japanese if you want, surprisingly enough) so I've had to rely on snapshots from Japanese playthroughs of the games, linked as appropriate. Believe me, if I had the chance to bumble through each game in Japanese on turbo speed, I would because what else am I gonna do today, really.
First up is The Missing Heir, but it's a slight spoiler for the final act, so some parts are hidden. Highlight the text to reveal it...!
In the Famicom Disk System original and the Japanese version of the remake, the pattern on the back of the hand mirror you find is in the shape of the Manji symbol. It basically serves as a map to the storage space maze you have to navigate at a certain point in the game. Explaining the history of the Manji and its appropriation by the West in modern history is many, many leagues beyond the remit of Gaming Hell, and so we'll just leave it at this: the image was replaced with a more generic design and the entire storage space maze completely changed as a result. The screenshot here is from this Japanese playthrough at 5:35:00.
The difference in The Girl Who Stands Behind is one I'm embarrassed I spotted, but I've got to pass the curse along.
In the Notebook page for Ayumi, her age is listed as 15 in the Japanese version but omitted entirely in the English version. You can figure out why they left her age out by yourself, it's easy enough (just as long as you don't make a 10-minute long YouTube video about it, I don't want that on my conscience) but I find it kinda funny they even bothered seeing as you can at least guess her age in this game using either the fact she's a first-year student in Japanese high school or, uh, basic maths as she's listed as 17 in Part I which takes place two years later. Nintendo defeated by numbers, the common enemy of mankind. The screenshot here is from this Japanese playthrough at 8:17.
Let's close things out with a bit of fun, references to the original Famicom Detective Club games in other games. There's not many!
Better lump all the Smash Bros. games together as unsurprisingly that's where a lot of them are. Super Smash Bros. Melee is probably the first place where a lot of Westerners heard about the series at all (hi there, it's me, I learned about the series this way) with the inclusion of a 3D trophy of Ayumi Tachibana, based on her appearance in Part II. The trophy's English description is notable for getting almost everything wrong- it's the second game where she solves her friend's murder and she joins the Utsugi Detective Agency rather than open her own (I'm being nice and ignoring the game mentioned in the bottom-right, usually for first appearances, by assuming they listed Part II because that's the basis for her design here). Anyway, Super Smash Bros. Brawl has the title screen music from Part II in the Famicom Medley music used on the Mario Bros. stage (which does not return for subsequent Smash games) and art of Ayumi from Part II appears as a Sticker, with that same art used again for her Spirit in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
Famously, Ayumi was very briefly considered by Masahiro Sakurai for the roster in Melee but dismissed because she had no presence overseas.
Put her in Ultimate, you absolute cowards!
The next appearance of the series is in the Japanese version of Wario Ware Touched!, Sawaru Made in Wario. 9-Volt and 18-Volt's set of Nintendo-themed games each have a regional exclusive. In the English version it's a Metroid-themed game where you have to drag Metroids off of Samus, and in the Japanese version it's a Famicom Detective Club Part II-themed game where you have to tap the difference between two images from the game, with the three difficulties being obvious difference (different characters), more subtle differences (Ayumi's sidetail is on the other side) and are you kidding me (one of the windows far in the background is different). There's a surprising number of different pictures too, I counted as many as twenty when I was testing this, and the different scenes even have the appropriate music tracks from the original game! One nice touch is if you fail to spot the difference in time, the bottom picture briefly changes to the "Quit Investigation" menu option.
Finally, Ayumi was one of like a million Costume Mario costumes in Super Mario Maker for the Wii U, added in a March 2016 update and unlocked by clearing the 100 Mario Challenge in Expert or Super Expert difficulty. She has a sprite set created from scratch just for this game, and like every Costume Mario has unique musical cues for grabbing the Mystery Mushroom (Clue 1), posing (Clue 2), grabbing the flagpole (Ayumi's Theme) and falling down a pit (The Girl of the Legend). You can see a video of her in action at 3:00 here. Ayumi was also included in a set of badges in Nintendo Badge Arcade on the 3DS themed around Costume Marios, which is where the screenshots from above come from, but it looks like it may have been only in the Japanese version.
Rather than our traditional close-out...
Wanna know a secret? You'll have to put some facts together to figure it out though.
At a few points in each game, you have the opportunity to use a phone to call specific numbers in order to progress.
In Japan, the telephone number for the police is 110, and the number for other emergency services is 119.
When you figure this out though, please don't try it in real life.