3DS
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Game Info:

Jake Hunter Detective Story: Ghost of the Dusk
Developed By: Arc System Works Co.
Published By: Aksys
Released: September 28th, 2018
Available On: Nintendo 3DS
Genre: Visual Novel, Adventure
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
Number of Players: Singleplayer
Price: $29.00
(Amazon Affiliate Link)

Thank you Aksys for sending us your game to review!

Ah, the murder mystery classics - rife with fedoras, cigarettes, and private investigators with a knack for narration in the first person. It’s an entertainment medium made famous and codified in film noirs. You know what I’m talking about. The seedy heroes, the seedier ruffians, and the story’s curious ability to deliver thrills in a surprisingly demure manner. It is kind of ironic how morally grey the heroes often are in a genre that’s popularly screened in black and white. Their plots usually acknowledge man’s sinful condition yet tend to do so with a resigned sigh. For over twenty years, the Jake Hunter murder mystery series has delivered this kind of storytelling quite well to the Japanese populace. Only recently have these video games started moving into our corner of the world. Thing is, a ‘murder mystery’ by nature might lead to rabbit holes we’d regret following.

Jake Hunter Detective Story: Ghost of the Dusk is labelled as a visual novel, so I’d naturally expect the game to spin a good story. Good thing then it came out swinging. We follow our title character to his favorite little joint, where he planned to celebrate another closed case over a few drinks. He barely downed his first few shots when a frazzled college kid bursts in. Based on his muddy shoes and leaf-littered hair, Private Detective Hunter smelled trouble. It seemed the shaken kid and his fellow college buddies were engaged in classic college tomfoolery when they happened upon a rundown, supposedly haunted building. They predictably dared each other inside. Mere moments after, they discovered a man - a dead man. One faint eerie cackle later and they were running scared. Upon hearing this, Jake retraced the kid’s steps. Indeed the mansion was creepy. The corpse laid there as reported, but soon Jake would find that one strange death wasn’t the only thing haunting such a forsaken place.

By virtue of a murder mystery, I can’t discuss details. One must preserve all its twists’ integrity, but I can give my overall impressions. The narrative is told in first person from our hero’s point of view (surprise, surprise). Cliché you say? Well, I say the game used this narrative tradition quite well. If a story-driven experience doesn’t nab its players on the spot, the game’s main draw dies. However, I’m happy to report that my interest didn’t waver from this game. It read like a good book. In fact, it was so engrossing, I resorted to setting clock alarms for myself just so I wouldn’t lose track of time. All I could think was, ‘What’ll happen next? What’ll happen next?’ It kept me right on rolling. That is until I got close to the end. The plot stumbled a bit there for me. It’s not that the final twist wasn’t good. It was. The pacing is what got off kilter. You know that feeling you get when someone is slowly explaining a point you already understand? Yeah, that’s what happened to me. It was near climax time. I already concluded the ultimate secret of the house, so I naturally suspected the ending was just around the corner. Well, wouldn’t you know it? It took an hour and a half to wrap up. The piling dilemmas lengthened and lengthened to the point of ridiculousness. It ended well once I got there, but I’d rather it wasn’t hampered with so much needless pandering.

Jake Hunter Detective Story: Ghost of the Dusk
Highlights:

Strong Points: Solid Mystery Story, Good Writing, Engaging Music, Illustrative Visuals
Weak Points: Near Zero Gameplay, Foreign Voice Acting Sounds Funny, Investigation Controls Need Fine-Tuning
Moral Warnings: Mild Language, Murderous Acts, Alcohol, A Few Inappropriate Jokes

With the developers so focused on delivering a juicy case, it’s no surprise the gameplay seemed rather neglected. In fact, other than it being on a 3DS, I would hesitate to even call it a game. The main way you interact is by constant multiple choice, and this multiple choice had no wrong answers. You can select who you want to talk to, what you want to inspect, or where to go. However, if you don’t follow the strict train-track this story is soldered to, you’ll be given the gentle brush off until you do it ‘right’. Even in investigation or interrogation modes, incorrect decisions have no consequence. You just keep trying until you get the scripted answer. Kinda sounds like the game is playing you, doesn’t it? That’s not a good feeling. Most gamers enjoy a sense of agency, like their decisions matter. Where is the joy of succeeding if failure isn’t allowed? Even games without ‘Game Over’s have lent players enough leg room to win on their own - not simply because it was scripted. That’s the key element that separates videogames from other entertainment forms. Movies, television, and books are passive activities. Games are proactive. They invite the audience to manipulate its world. It’s what makes games tick. Ghost of the Dusk, sad to say, is thus missing a vital organ.

The controls in Ghost of the Dusk are super easy. Push ‘A’ or touch the screen to make your selections. You use the d-pad to scroll through the text as well. The fact that you can scroll backwards if you missed/forgot a piece of dialogue is a very useful feature. I really appreciated it. I can even think of some of my past games where that would have come in real handy. The one area where the controls failed for me though is in investigation mode. During investigation mode, you examine rooms by tapping objects of interest on your screen, or directing the search reticule around with the d-pad. The reticule will turn deep blue if it’s above something important. Two issues arise from this setup, unfortunately. ‘Tapping’ won’t indicate whether an object in question is significant. You’ll just get the standard ‘nothing to see here’ statement over and over again that way. On the flip-side, scrolling around on the d-pad is no less frustrating. The reticule you direct will start to move slowly then rapidly zoom to the opposite side. The result is that, more often than not, you’ll overshoot where you wanted to click. Deciding which method you prefer then falls into what annoys you less. Would you rather tap around blindly for results? Or just try not to continually bypass your targets? I feel that the problem could have easily been avoided.

Jake Hunter Detective Story: Ghost of the Dusk
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 74%
Gameplay - 10/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 69%
Violence - 4.5/10
Language - 5.5/10
Sexual Content - 4.5/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

As a visual novel, Ghost of the Dusk certainly looks the part. Background pictures and character still-shots illustrate the story in their soft pencil strokes and watercolors. The artists even found ways to animate these freeze frame characters in cutscenes. These sequences, though nothing groundbreaking, were a pleasant surprise. Reviewing Ghost of the Dusk also presented a category I never had to extensively evaluate in a game before: writing. So much of its immersion rides on its text that the game would tank if it was weak. It’s great then that the writers didn’t slack off. I compared this to a book earlier for a reason. The descriptions expressed good imagery. The dialogue rarely got slow and fit each individual personality. The only fly in its ointment were the occasional misspellings. These typos weren’t terrible, but they jolted me out of the story once in a while. However, what drew me into the plot emotionally was the music. The score covers swanky smooth jazz, to heart-pounding percussions with tense strings, and everything in between. All that combined with the visual shots were enough to elicit the proper moods. I can’t say the same for the vocals though. I hoped this American import would feature English speaking actors, but the Japanese voices were unchanged. Now, don’t take me the wrong way. I respect Japanese people wholeheartedly the same way I respect all peoples. Everyone is an equally and wonderfully made bearer of God’s image. I’m sure the original actors did a good job too, but for me (who knows only five Japanese words and isn’t accustomed to its sound) it sounds funny to me personally, especially when the characters never move their lips. I ended up giggling inappropriately at sobering moments. I could mute in-game voices, but cutscene voices turned out to be permanent. For some, having the original Japanese voices is a boon. If that’s you, I’m very happy to report that Ghost of the Dusk kept it. As for me, I wished I had the option to mute it all together - if just so I could stay in the proper story tones.

Stories of this type aren’t usually written with families in mind. Violence wise, a murder mystery requires - you know - murder. Lots of creators, though, tend to use that as a license to show over the top carnage. I mentally prepared for the worst, but to the game’s credit, the violent content stayed pretty low key. It’s not gory, overtly yucky, or even that bloody. Sure, there are moments of blood in it. One picture shot of a murder scene skirted the edge of nasty, but most unhappy surprises are described for us in text. The rest is left to the imagination. Also, a cherub’s baby-butt is uncomfortably displayed on the lower screen for nearly the entire game. The last of our ethical issues are in our characters. Now, our protagonists aren’t bad. Their priorities are in the right place. They’re smart, work with the police, and enjoy healthy relationships. However, Mr. Hunter is a prolific smoker (in fact it’s used as the game’s hint mechanic). He and several others have spewed the occasional a**, bas***d, hell, and God’s name in vain, and some enjoy their booze a tad too much. Jake never got drunk, thank goodness, but still. Then there exists one bar customer who likes cracking inappropriate jokes. Notably, he insinuates Jake Hunter is a homosexual. (Jake isn’t actually gay though.) The bartender is clearly disturbed by this rumor yet tries to act accepting, and Jake, though annoyed by the falsehood, doesn’t bother to correct the matter. It didn’t outright implicate homosexuality as a good thing, but implying it’s simply ‘okay’ is just as problematic. I also was expecting unscrupulously dressed women to enter at some point. To my pleasant surprise, though, only one very minor character had some cleavage. The rest were dressed sensibly and tastefully. For as dirty a business as homicide cases can be, at least this one had the courtesy to limit its potential filth.

Jake Hunter Detective Story: Ghost of the Dusk, is indeed a story through and through. What it lacks in gameplay (by which I mean near zip), it makes up for in solid plot and presentation. The fun doesn’t even have to stop after ‘The End’. This game packs three bonus mysteries from the series’s past games to boot! The Japanese voice acting may sound silly to some (though I heard some will fully appreciate it). The investigation controls might be a tad wonky, and the main story’s ending dwindled, but for what it’s worth, I had a good time. Really proactive gamers should probably give this one a pass, though. The game is so disengaged with its players, it doesn’t really feel like your’e ‘playing’ at all. However, those satisfied with plot-driven entertainment should like it. If you seek something a tad more interactive than a book you’ll certainly get your fix. Keep in mind, though, that Jake Hunter is a fair bit edgier than Detective Pikachu, and his cases are more CSI than Scooby-Doo flavored.

About the Author

Hannah Colvin

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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