If you had told us in January that the FMV Murder Mystery was going to be one of our most memorable events on Switch this year, we would have been looking at you like you were one of The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story’s main murders. suspects. Directed by Koichiro Ito (screenwriter) Metal Gear Hard V) and producer Junichi Ehara (Nier: Automata) at Square Enix, it somehow eluded our attention for a while, like a smart killer stalking the night, but we’re thrilled that we’ve finally caught this culprit.
The Centennial Case revolves around Haruki Kagami, an author of detective novels, and Eiji Shijima, a scientist who studies the process of cellular aging. After a skeleton is discovered at Eiji’s ancestral home, he asks Haruka to go on a journey with him to investigate the mysteries surrounding his family while he searches for a fruit passed down in his family that can stop the aging process.
Things quickly go awry at Shijima Manor, resulting in Haruka (and by extension, the player) becoming a homicide detective. These murders do not only take place in the present; through creative storytelling devices—such as Haruka reading about a murder that happened a century ago—cases from different decades are played out like episodes from a Netflix drama with above-average production values. The revelations of these historical crimes provide the context for the main narrative with a beautiful, blood-stained bow.
We won’t spoil more than that. All the excitement here is about solving mysteries and solving murders for yourself – trust us.
Centennial Case features a small cast of Japanese actors and actresses in several different roles. For example, Nanami Sakuraba plays both 28-year-old Haruka Kagami in the present and 17-year-old Yoshino Shijima from another time period. An actor playing the victim in one decade may very well be the culprit in another, and that’s true of the entire cast. All actors brilliantly cope with their roles. We never got confused about who is who.
[Author’s note: my wife is Japanese and knew the whole cast quite well. Square Enix surprised her at the impressive amount of talent they had wrangled together here.]
The game cycle of The Centennial Case consists of three phases. The incident phase demonstrates the events surrounding the murder. At this point, dialogue options would appear that let us choose Haruka’s answer, but it had no noticeable effect other than keeping us engaged in the story. Often there were also hints to collect hints – pressing the “X” button, but this was the most distracting for us from the story. A lot of the more visible clues passed without a clue that rewarded us for our close attention. Luckily, we could pause, rewind, or skip forward at any time.
And notice, we did it because the killings that are being committed are savage. One of the first cases features a monster that would have been appropriate in an episode of Scooby-Doo. Resourceful killing devices and distractions abound to distract you from uncovering the real culprit. It’s all a bit campy at best, especially since the actors play straight forward, although we found – rather ironically, given the detective work at hand – that it takes a slight suspension of disbelief to head off some dubious jumps in logic.
However, at the next stage, our main criticism arose. After the incident happens, Sakuraba’s character – whether it’s Haruka or someone from another decade – must piece together the clues in the hypothesis stage. It looks like a simple matching mini-game in which we had to drag and drop prominent clues from the right side of the screen and place them on a hexagonal grid. Symbols decorate each tile to make things easier, and we could rewatch all the scenes at our leisure, but the process had all the charm of a tedious puzzle. We usually had an idea of what happened and who the suspect was, but we still had to drag tiles for 20 minutes before we could jump to a conclusion.
After that, we entered our favorite phase, the decision phase. Here, a dramatic musical score builds tension as Sakuraba’s character speaks to the assembled suspects, uncovering clues before declaring the killer. We had to make a choice from the formed hypotheses in order to draw a conclusion about what happened. Sometimes we found the description of the hypotheses too vague, with some choices almost indistinguishable from others, which led us to make an unfortunate mistake.
When a mistake was made, humorous or admonitory scenes would appear before the game took us back to the hypothesis phase. Luckily, we could rewind to where we screwed up. There are no alternate endings or diverging paths – we needed to reveal a single line of reasoning to advance the plot. It added a bit of tension to our choices, so that when we made the right choices, we felt like absolute geniuses.
Our reward, which we adored, was when a villain (only one in each case) stole the limelight, once revealed, to give an overly dramatic explanation of his motives, feeding us more mysteries that we craved answers to. After each decision phase, we couldn’t wait to move on to the next incident just as much as we can’t help but watch. another episode of a popular television series, despite being bored in the Hypothesis Phase.
The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story feels more like watching a murder mystery drama than playing a video game, and the gameplay often kills the pace of the story. While we enjoyed it anyway, you’ll have to ask yourself how fun it is to watch a decent Japanese series with mediocre interactivity. As for us, we won’t let another Square Enix-developed FMV murder mystery escape our attention again, although we certainly hope they redesign how we uncover the culprits.