Bennu Reflects on "The 25th Ward: The Silver Case"
Last month, I had the pleasure of playing through SUDA51's first game developed by his company Grasshopper Manufacture. Initially released as a Japan-only exclusive for the PlayStation One, The Silver Case was eventually remastered and ported to the West. Due to its relative success, Grasshopper Manufacture ultimately decided to not only revisit but remake it's follow-up sequel; a former Japanese mobile game known as Shirubā Jiken 25 Ku.
With that being said, just how does the game compare to its predecessor? After all, The Silver Case was a fairly solid game and I did enjoy it a lot. I decided to dive in and find out.
The 25th Ward: The Silver Case is mostly set in the year 2005; six years after the events of The Silver Case and four years after the events of another in-universe game known as Flower, Sun and Rain. Originally published in October 2005, Grasshopper Manufacture decided to revisit The 25th Ward after a successful release of the remastered version of The Silver Case in 2017. The game follows three distinct story arcs this time around; Correctness, Matchmaker and Placebo.
The Correctness arc follows the journey of the 25th Ward's Heinous Crimes Unit; the Matchmaker arc follows a secretive organisation known as the Regional Adjustment Bureau and the Placebo arc sees players reunite with a returning character from The Silver Case. Each story arc was crafted by a different writer; with SUDA51 writing the Correctness arc, Masahiro Yuki writing the Matchmaker arc and Masahi Ooka returning to write the Placebo arc. Each arc contains five 'chapters' of sorts, with Placebo having a prologue and epilogue chapter and Correctness having a prologue, epilogue and bonus chapter. Some of these chapters are set in different years, with one chapter exploring an event in 2003 and another jumping ahead to 2017. As far as I know, these two particular chapters are additional content that were added exclusively to the remake of the game.
The 25th Ward contains a large assortment of characters in its three-part structure. Due to the very minor roles most of the supporting cast play in the visual novel, I'll be focusing on the main characters in my review as they're largely the only ones given enough screen time and development to be considered. Some of these unique one-off minor characters are also fairly spoiler-related and should be experienced fresh without prior knowledge or input.
Mokutaro Shiroyabu is a young, fledgling detective in the 25th Ward's Heinous Crimes Unit. Originally a police officer working for Central PD, he was hired by the HC Unit's Director Hatoba to work as a detective in the 25th Ward. As a whole, I'm not particularly fond of Shiroyabu. He's my least favourite character out of the main cast. He's young but very cocky and a bit smug. Although he's somewhat good-natured at heart, he just rubs me the wrong way with his attitude and mannerisms. I'm not sure if it's a translation change or not but his dialogue constantly uses younger slang and he's prone to using the word 'like' a lot. It's almost as if it's a verbal tic at some points with the frequency in which he uses it.
That being said, he's not a badly written character. Shiroyabu's story is arguably the most important in the Correctness arc and his development as a character changes dramatically over the course of the game. Without spoiling the story, let's just say that he becomes less annoying over time. That being said, he also becomes a bit more enigmatic and mysterious as well which is interesting to see. Out of the main cast, however, he's still my least favourite character.
Shinko Kuroyanagi is another detective working for the Heinous Crimes Unit in the 25th Ward. Unlike Shiroyabu, Kuroyanagi is a lot more enjoyable as a character and secondary protagonist of the Correctness arc. Kuroyanagi is bold, hot-tempered, foul-mouthed and even a little perverted; a fun spin on the old, bitter cop trope in the form of a young but heavily experienced female detective. Forced into working Shiroyabu early on in the story, Kuroyanagi initially chastises Shiroyabu with verbal jabs and insults but gradually begins to warm up to him over the course of the story. Despite my feelings about Shiroyabu, he makes a good companion to Kuroyanagi who is clearly the more experienced and headstrong of the two.
Although Kuroyanagi's character doesn't change much over the course of the game, it is revealed early on that she indulges in dirty talk in online chat rooms with strangers. This is actually explored somewhat as part of the Correctness arc's story when the HC Unit's investigation leads them to a particular internet and manga café. Although a bit unexpected, it does help to flesh out Kuroyanagi's character as a confident woman with a bit of sass and a take-no-crap attitude. She reminds me very much of Tetsugoro Kusabi from The Silver Case in regards to her personality; something that is very much welcomed and appreciated.
Shinkai Tsuki is a thirty-something-year-old agent of the 25th Ward's Regional Adjustment Bureau. Portrayed as a serious and stoic type, Tsuki is the lead character of the Matchmaker arc alongside his partner, Yotaro Osato. Being the older and more experienced of the duo, Tsuki acts a kind of mentor to his young partner in the hopes of raising him to be an excellent agent. Despite this, Tsuki also has some pain in his past; a series of tragic events that lead him down the path that he's on. In a way, Tsuki's role as mentor to Osato is to try and help the young agent from making the same mistakes he made in his youth.
Despite his reserved nature, Tsuki does have a lot of development as a character through his internal dialogue and his interactions with other members of the Regional Adjustment Bureau. Working for an organisation that 'adjusts' people in the 25th Ward, Tsuki, and his co-workers have done a lot of morally dark things to ensure peace and order in the region. That being said, Tsuki's past haunts him; and it chases him through most of his story. He's a great character, with a good combination of stoicism and emotional depth that makes him an appealing protagonist.
In a similar fashion to Shiroyabu, Yotaro Osato is a young, slightly cocky and overzealous agent who works as the counterpart and secondary protagonist of the Matchmaker arc. However, unlike Shiroyabu, Osato is a more entertaining character to spend time with. He's respectful and attentive to Tsuki and constantly tries to go out of his way to impress his partner and co-workers. He's resourceful, headstrong and a bit naive at times; but he's good-natured at heart and proves his worth as a member of the Regional Adjustment Bureau.
Osato is given a lot of screen time to develop as a character and grows throughout the story. He becomes entangled in Tsuki's past a result of his proximity to his partner and goes down a different path than Shiroyabu as a result. Although I'm not overly fond of some of the younger cast, Osato is an enjoyable character most of the time. He's far more relate-able and human than Shiroyabu.
Finally, we come to Tokio Morishima. The sole major returning character from The Silver Case in the main protagonist role, Tokio now lives on a boat down by the port in the 25th Ward. Suffering from amnesia after the events of The Silver Case and Flower, Sun and Rain, Tokio's story in the Placebo arc involves him investigating a mysterious online personality known as the 'Goddess' for a mystery client while attempting to regain his lost memories.
Although his story does get a little crazy at times, Tokio is still arguably my favourite character in the series. His struggle for self-identity, his occasional bitterness and smart-ass attitude and his friendship with the hacker known as Slash all carry over from The Silver Case. It's good to see him back in such a profound and major way. While I am disappointed some of the other characters from The Silver Case didn't get as much screen time or were omitted entirely, I'm relieved that Tokio at least is given plenty of time to shine in his role; and develop as a character along the way.
The 25th Ward: The Silver Case follows on from the events of The Silver Case in a newly established ward known as the 25th Ward. Like its predecessor, The 25th Ward is set in Japan; this time in the year 2005. As mentioned earlier, the game is divided into three story arcs or 'parts' as it were; Correctness, Matchmaker, and Placebo.
The Correctness arc centres on the adventures of Mokutaro Shiroyabu and Shinko Kuroyanagi of the 25th Ward's Heinous Crimes Unit. What initially starts as a straightforward investigation into several suicides at a high-rise apartment block soon evolves into something more complex and downright abstract that can only come from the mind of SUDA51. Without going into spoiler territory, let's just say that if you're familiar with the full story of The Silver Case then you're in for another 'cuckoo-bananas' journey that is both compelling and fun. At least SUDA51 is aware of his own craziness as there are several points in the Correctness arc where characters outright question how certain scenarios or characters even make sense. Not to mention that the player character is even more of a passive observer in this game. At least The Silver Case allowed your player character to have some degree of agency in the story.
That being said, there are some great moments in the Correctness arc. The Boys Don't Cry chapter in particular is memorable for its temporary shift in game-play and narrative mechanics that bring a sense of refreshment to the game. Another example is the White Out chapter which is set in the year 2003, two years before the events of The 25th Ward. Players who have finished the modern remake of The Silver Case will be familiar with the first part of this chapter as it was included as a special bonus at the end of that game. In a nutshell, we get to see some new and familiar faces that helps bridge the gap between the two games.
Next up is the Matchmaker arc. Written by Masahiro Yuki, this arc follows the journey of Shinkai Tsuki and Yotaro Osato of the Regional Adjustment Bureau. Initially set up as a counterpoint to the Heinous Crimes Unit, the Regional Adjustment Bureau consists of a select crew of special agents who are sent out to areas within the 25th Ward to 'adjust' individuals that have broken the rules of this highly-ordered and structured society. Acting as a sort of 'secret police' akin to George Orwell's 1984, Tsuki and Osato are the main two agents that we follow over the course of the Matchmaker arc as they attempt to retain control and order while a former yakuza crime syndicate attempts to regain its former glory.
Compared to the Correctness arc, the Matchmaker storyline is mercifully easier to follow and digest. While it too has a bit of an abstract twist near the ending, it's thankfully a lot easier to comprehend. Both Tsuki and Osato are well-written and compelling characters and their interactions with their co-workers are interesting and occasionally humorous. The Matchmaker arc is a slightly more grounded experience filled with a more human and emotional drama that was a pleasure to experience.
Finally, we have the Placebo arc. Written by Masahi Ooka, this arc revisits Tokio Morishima six years after the events of The Silver Case and four years after the events of Flower, Sun, and Rain. Suffering from amnesia, Tokio spends his days living out on his boat with his pet turtle Red at the port in the 25th Ward. Hired by an unknown individual, Tokio gets to work in his investigation of a mysterious woman known as the 'Goddess'; the number one chat room girl on an exclusive site known as Quarter. Tokio is assisted in this endeavour by his old hacker friend Slash, a returning character from The Silver Case as well.
While both the Correctness and Matchmaker arcs have elements of computer interactivity within them, the Placebo arc focuses on that as the main plot device for most of its story. In a similar fashion to the original Placebo arc from The Silver Case, Tokio is once again a physical semi-recluse as he rarely ventures outside of his boat during the course of the story. Instead, like in the original game, his journey consists of him checking his e-mails, chatting with Slash on instant messenger and checking certain websites on his internet browser. He's also able to interact with his pet turtle Red like in the original game which is a nice touch.
Tokio's story is fairly bizarre at points, but nowhere near as abstract as the Correctness arc. He retains most of his personality traits from the previous game but struggles to remember certain elements of his past. Most of Tokio's story involves him attempting to resolve his amnesia problem which, in turn, leads him down a dark rabbit hole of repressed memories and experiences. In my opinion, Tokio arguably feels like the most relate-able character in the game. As I mentioned earlier, his story sees him struggle to find his sense of self-identity with a past that he cannot remember while also attempting to solve an on-line case that quickly spirals out of control. Although there are abstract elements in here as well, the Placebo arc as a whole feels satisfying to experience and wraps up the game's narrative nicely. The epilogue chapter, Yuki, is also a nice nod to the present day as it's set in 2017. It feels more like a bonus feature or perhaps even a hint of what is to come. If SUDA51 is intending on making another game in the series, then I'm definitely keen to try it out.
There is, however, a significant downside to the narrative. In the game's final secret chapter, Black Out, The 25th Ward sees the cast of the Correctness arc meet up at a certain location to resolve a final plot thread. While initially fun to experience, the game then decides to up the ante by allowing the player to choose from a list of one hundred possible endings. Although most of these are joke endings, the insane amount of options is quite frankly overwhelming.
In going for the Platinum trophy, players will need to sit through and explore all one hundred endings in order to unlock the secret true ending. Although I'm sure SUDA51 meant this as a nod to other modern games that have multiple endings, the sheer number of options is just crazy. To put it in perspective, I spent almost a third of my entire play-through of the game just replaying the Black Out chapter. It's an interesting chapter, but it quickly grows tiresome after a few revisits.
In regards to the game-play, The 25th Ward once again utilises the Film Window interface from The Silver Case to present its story and interactive elements. Players are treated to a smaller screen with 3-D rendered backgrounds that set the stage for each scene. Being a visual novel, The 25th Ward presents its dialogue and character interactions through text-boxes and still images; in a similar fashion to the original game. However, one major difference this time around is the change in player interactivity.
While The Silver Case had a small command window where players could rotate a wheel to select movement, item and save options, The 25th Ward instead opts to use a multi-sided die that changes according to the situation at hand. With this die, players can select to move, use items, speak with other characters or interact with certain people or objects. Puzzles are a returning element from The Silver Case, although most of the puzzles in The 25th Ward are somewhat easier to solve. Most puzzles in the game are usually associated with a door of sorts; in the Matchmaker arc, players are given a device known as a 'Catherine Nano' in order to jack in and solve the riddle. This device is a nod to Flower, Sun, and Rain in which the protagonist of that game is able to jack into any door or lock using a similar method. The 'HIT' puzzle solve ding from Flower, Sun and Rain is also used the same way in The 25th Ward which is another nice callback.
Although The 25th Ward does simplify the movement options, it's a generally welcome addition as it helps players more easily choose their movement options with directional choices instead of having to meander about looking for which way to exit a room. The save feature is also removed from the command menu, having been added into the options menu which feels more natural.
As mentioned earlier, there are a select few points in the game where the narrative and game-play elements take a decidedly unique turn. These take place in select chapters of the Correctness and Placebo arcs, involving an element of RPG-style combat with menu options and damage notifications. Although different, they thankfully don't overstay their welcome and are used in a manner to continue the narrative while also feeling fun and entertaining. As a role-playing game fan, I found myself enjoying these nods to the genre very much.
Music-wise, The 25th Ward is brimming with personality. Although most of the tracks are noteworthy, the tunes I've selected here are Bergamote, Sandalwood and ZERO. The Bergamote track is best described as a deep chill lounge tune with some nice bass to help set the mood. This song plays during certain down times of the Matchmaker arc. It fits well within the more relaxed and intimate settings of the story arc which is a welcome change of pace from some of the heavier action-oriented scenarios.
Sandalwood follows a similar vein to Bergamote in that it too plays during quieter scenes in the Matchmaker arc. However, it deviates from its predecessor by having a more sombre and hopeless feeling to it. It's not a depressing tune by any stretch but one can't help but feel a sense of longing for something that's missing. Sandalwood resonated with me quite deeply and I'm grateful for the experience.
Lastly, there's ZERO. Playing late into the Placebo arc, this tune is best described as a sense of nervous hope. The fast-paced piano helps set the tone as Tokio goes to face his destiny. It's a beautiful song that nicely wraps up his story arc and leaves the player feeling hopeful for the future while also being understandably nervous about the unknown.
I have to commend Masafumi Takada on composing such a beautiful score for The 25th Ward. Although he composed most of the original soundtrack for The Silver Case, I feel that his music has ascended to a new level here. Granted, Apricot Square and Kusabi are still some of my favourite tunes to listen to, but The 25th Ward has helped solidify my respect for him. I'm not sure if Akira Yamaoka or Erika Ito helped compose for the soundtrack of this game like they did in the remaster of The Silver Case. Regardless, The 25th Ward has an absolutely stellar soundtrack that is well worth a listen.
Overall, The 25th Ward: The Silver Case is a great visual novel and sequel to its predecessor. Filled with a compelling story, well-developed characters and a pumping soundtrack, The 25th Ward takes large strides in the right direction and left me feeling satisfied for the most part. Masahiro Yuki and Masahi Ooka are both in their element here as they tell compelling narratives with both new and familiar characters respectively. SUDA51 does a good job with the Correctness arc as well but some of the more abstract elements knock it down a notch for me compared to some of his fellow scenario writers. They manage to pull off similar abstract elements in a slightly more grounded, emotional and resonating way.
While playing through The 25th Ward, I did have a significant hiccup in the form of the game crashing upon starting the Yuki chapter of the Placebo arc. This happened twice in a row at the exact same spot but was thankfully resolved by restarting my PlayStation. While a somewhat minor incident, I do feel that it should be noted that there are some potential issues that may occur during one's experience with the game.
On a similar negative vein, I'm not very fond of the one hundred endings that the game has to choose from. While I can appreciate the humorous jab SUDA51 was going for, it quickly changes from funny joke to boring chore as one can expect to sit there for hours holding the cross button to fast-forward through the text-box dialogue in order to make it through the list.
With all that said, The 25th Ward: The Silver Case is still a fun and compelling visual novel game that I would encourage fans of The Silver Case and Flower, Sun and Rain to pick up. Its great story, strong cast, refined game-play and wonderful score all merge together to create a quality product that deserves more attention.
Rating: 8 / 10
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