Out of all the games Nintendo could remake from their expansive archive, the “Famicom Detective Club” series was an unexpected yet delightful surprise. Despite dating back to 1988 and 1989, designed for the Japan-exclusive Famicom Disk System, these mysteries hold up so well they feel brand new. Clocking in at an average of seven hours each, these games are a quick, gripping reminder of why I love visual novels.
“Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir” and its prequel “Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind” are murder mysteries to be solved by the protagonist, an unnamed teen detective-in-training, with help from their assistant Ayumi Tachibana. The gameplay is standard for point-and-click visual novels: gather evidence by speaking with characters and search for clues by hovering the cursor over locations associated with the crime. Most of the game consists of choosing the correct prompts to elicit information that may finally unravel the mystery.
It’s deceptively simple: click on a prompt, listen carefully for clues and choose another prompt until it’s time to travel to the next location. The challenge lies in the dialogue prompts, which must be chosen in the correct order, and the cleverly hidden objects the player must find to further their case. There are little to no hints, and I was genuinely stumped multiple times in my own playthrough. It’s the appearance of simplicity that makes both games so wonderful. The focus is entirely on expertly crafted stories full of twists and turns that surprised me through the very end.
Although both games fall under the same genre for story and gameplay, they have different atmospheres. “The Missing Heir” feels very much like a traditional detective story with slight paranormal elements. There are surprisingly gory images for an early Nintendo game and a disturbing legend surrounding the story’s events, but the game is a classic mystery at its core. “The Girl Who Stands Behind,” on the other hand, felt truly spooky and maintained a more ominous, horror-inspired atmosphere throughout. The legend at the center of the prequel’s narrative is far more prominent, seeping into every encounter. Despite slight differences, the stories are equally gripping and will leave the player with their jaw on the floor at their conclusions.
Good visual novels are a combination of great writing, animation and voice acting, and “Famicom Detective Club” has it all — plus wonderful music. Although the game’s voice acting is entirely in Japanese (with English subtitles), the voices and facial animations are so expressive that English speakers will still feel totally immersed. The game is not fully animated except for important cutscenes, but action and emotion are effectively shown through character portraits that smoothly transition between lines of dialogue. The games also carefully balance tense, sad and terrifying moments with comic relief through well-characterized sidekicks.
Unfortunately, each game has a steep price of $35 (with a $10 discount if both are purchased), even though they are quite short. Although I encourage players to check out both, “The Missing Heir” would be the best game to start with. It’s far more rewarding to play the prequel second, as it reveals connections and exposition referenced in “The Missing Heir.” The first game also includes a surprising change in gameplay during the finale that the second game lacks, so those who desire variation may find it to be more interesting.
Whether you’re hooked on crime stories or haven’t yet found a mystery to shock you, “Famicom Detective Club” will have you constantly second-guessing your predictions. Although the story makes these games shine, the accessible gameplay, stylish animation and ambiance-appropriate music are just as impressive. Although I’m not sure why Nintendo decided to remake these obscure, Japan-exclusive visual novels, I hope they continue to release more hidden gems like “Famicom Detective Club.”
Daily Arts Writer Harper Klotz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.