"Because of humorous mystery games like Phoenix Wright, you may have forgotten that murder is a serious business. Jake Hunter is here to remind you of the harsh reality. Under the name Jinguji Saburo, the private detective has been solving crimes in Japan for over twenty years. Rebranded for North America, Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles revisits three of his earliest cases. Unfortunately, you'll be following his footsteps rather than stepping into his shoes. A lack of real i..."
Because of humorous mystery games like Phoenix Wright, you may have forgotten that murder is a serious business. Jake Hunter is here to remind you of the harsh reality. Under the name Jinguji Saburo, the private detective has been solving crimes in Japan for over twenty years. Rebranded for North America, Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles revisits three of his earliest cases. Unfortunately, you'll be following his footsteps rather than stepping into his shoes. A lack of real interactivity, along with the game's shortened length, builds a wall around this iconic character.
Jake certainly possesses some qualities of a gritty P.I. His imposing square jaw looks like it could take a punch, except our hero is more likely to be dishing out the punishment. He crashes exclusively at his office, making it appear his life revolves around work. And his best friend is also his mentor, a grizzled police veteran. Jake, however, also flashes a glamorous side. He's a good-looking, thirty-something guy, and the ladies seem to like him. Perhaps none more so than his attractive assistant Yulia, who's equally comfortable pouring her boss' coffee as accompanying him on a case. He sometimes parties at night, and then works through the hangover the next morning. And of course he smokes, a posterboy for the cool effect of cigarettes. In fact, you control when he lights up his next Marlboro; it helps him conjure up his next move.
Timing Jake's nicotine hits is about all you can manipulate, though. As an older adventure game, this title utilizes a menu-driven system, and that includes the shadow of false choices. There's always an array of possible options, but you're really only allowed to perform one action. Early in each case, Jake can either accept or decline the investigation, but it will loop around until you answer in the affirmative. If you try to bail on an interview before it's over, Jake stops and prompts you to keep digging. No matter how you dodge in a knife fight, he finds some way to emerge victorious. You can even willfully name the wrong culprit during the endgame, and Jake will simply ponder the error and provide you with another chance. There's really no way to lose here.
As a narrative, Detective Chronicles works simply because it features interesting storylines and characters. A combination of murder and missing persons kicks off each adventure, but these are simply a path to larger enterprises: smuggling, blackmail, drugs, and gangs. Suspects are plentiful, each with layers of motive. All three cases are unlocked from the beginning, but they're clearly meant to be played in order. That way, you get attached to the mannerisms and relationships between Jake and his supporting cast before the finale. In that last case, people from Yulia's past are continually drawn into the crime, and you can discern the consideration displayed between the assistant and her boss.
It's something you can miss just from the static, two-dimensional character artwork. The expressions don't change with the events, but otherwise, I appreciate Detective Chronicles lean towards realistic designs. (Well, except for Jake's mile-high hair.) The private eye will encounter some unsavory people, from streetwise thugs to dirty, downtrodden homeless men, but a lot of his time is spent interviewing average-looking professionals and receptionists. There's no light-hearted veneer or outlandish giveaways to the culprit's identity.
Even so, appearance is sometimes your only basis for vicarious detecting. Jake doesn't really collect or analyze clues; he simply pounces on a lead, unraveling it until it provides another avenue to investigate. It leaves you relying on hunches to race Jake to the mystery's solution. Not until the final episode does it begin to include minor distractions in the form of simple brainteasers, and these aren't directly tied into the case. It's more like you have to solve a riddle before an ornery witness will divulge their information. These are so simple, too, that you can brute force through them without much thought at all.
With cases that won't take longer than ninety minutes each, there's no overlooking the overall length of the title either. Detective Chronicles was actually a trial balloon, a condensed version published by Aksys Games to test the viability of the franchise on Western shores. It worked well enough. The next release, Jake Hunter Detective Stories: Memories of the Past, is a full localization of the franchise's DS debut of Tantei Jinguji Saburo. Memories covers six cases, including the three already seen in this initial offering. So despite its cool lead and crimefighting appeal, Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles has become a glorified demo.
Community review by woodhouse (March 16, 2009)
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