Title: Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed on)
Release Date: May 14, 2021
On May 14th, Nintendo released both of the Famicom Detective Club games and they are both as historical as they are wonderful. Both games were part of a series that released only in Japan in the late ’80s for a Japanese-exclusive Famicom add-on known as the Family Computer Disk System. It was a floppy drive that plugged into the bottom of the Famicom game system (known in the States as the Nintendo Entertainment System) and allowed slightly higher-end games to be played through the usage of 5.25 floppies.
Considered one of the earliest visual novels (that wasn’t pornography [long story]), the Famicom Detective Club games were the brainchild of Yoshio Sakamoto, who later went on to create the Metroid series. Now, with the help of development team Mages, both games have been rebuilt and redone with beautiful art, full voice acting, and a slew of quality of life features.
For this review though we’re focusing on the one released first in the ’80s, The Missing Heir.
In Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir, your character wakes up at the bottom of a cliff with absolutely no memory of who they are. Remember, this game came out before this was a cliche, so don’t get mad at it. Over time you discover that you’re a detective who was in the middle of investigating a high-profile murder case when you “accidentally slipped” off of a cliff and “stumbled” to the hard ground below.
Getting back your memory requires you to have a lot of information handed to you and is such a remarkably convenient device for exposition, I can see why the trope has lasted through the ages.
You’re investigating a family in which the wealthy head of the household had a family gathering to deliver her will. Once the will was read to the family, she was found dead elsewhere in her home shortly after. Everyone insists it was heart failure and yet absolutely no one believes it was heart failure.
Despite the game being almost 30-years-old, it has held up remarkably well. All of the backgrounds have been completely redrawn with little artistic flourishes, like hair and branches blowing in the wind, and many characters are now brought to life with full-screen animations when they first walk in the room. If they get a little cutscene you know they’re important to the story. I’ve compared it a lot to detective shows of the ’80s like Columbo where suspects were bombastic and over the top and evidence was obvious and the whole thing was just fun.
Tell me this gentleman isn’t suspicious.
I love this story because every character is absolutely rubbish at keeping secrets and yet everyone has them. They’re all the informational equivalents of the old “how do I hold all these limes” guy. And if you see something that might be evidence, you’ll know it because not only will you get a close-up image, you’ll get more musical fanfare than Link opening a treasure chest.
Also, note that an off-screen character audibly gasped when I found it. Nice. Way to be secretive.
But that’s the real charm of these games. Every single person you meet could have been the killer and every single person is an absolute idiot. Every single person also seems likely. If the ending revealed that every person in town surrounded her and stabbed her like so much Julius Ceasar I’d fully have accepted that.
The game is also fully voiced and done so remarkably well. Despite not knowing Japanese, I could close my eyes and feel the emotion in the character’s voice. Guilty people wavered and trembled in their lines.
The music is also fully orchestrated. However, you can switch that back to the original chiptune soundtrack which is totally atmospheric. Honestly, I haven’t heard chiptune music this creepy since Friday the 13th’s NES game.
My only real complaint is the price point. The Missing Heir is $35 by itself, although you can also purchase it as a combination with Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind for $60 total. While historical for diehard Nintendo fans like myself, who’ve never been able to enjoy the originals because of the language barrier, it’s an eight-hour-long visual novel with no replay value. The story is static without the ability to lose or go about things in different ways. It also exists on the Nintendo Switch, a system that is awash with visual novel games that are longer, have replayability, and average about $10 a pop. I genuinely feel that it’s going to greatly limit the audience that would have played this game.
Beyond that though, there is a ridiculous amount of love put into this game. The translation is top-notch, the music is completely reborn via orchestra and the art is absolutely gorgeous…even if I’ve noticed that some of it is oddly reminiscent over scenes from unrelated video games.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.