Famicom Detective Club: One of the first visual novel series resurrected on Switch

Way back during Nintendo’s big showcase of upcoming projects, one of the games revealed was a remake of Famicom Detective Club (“Famicom Tentei Club” for the weebs that had gotten ready to write me an aggressive comment).

Not many people knew about these and, honestly, they weren’t really given the attention they deserved. Even though they were the brainchildren of Yoshio Sakamoto, the designer who’d later go on to create a little series titled “Metroid.” Maybe you heard of that one.

Not many people in the States were aware of these games outside of a few Smash Bros. fanatics that remembered the main character of the third entry, Ayumi Tachibana, being a trophy or the fact that Smash director Sakurai once stating he wanted Ayumi to be a playable fighter.

This was because not only were the games only released in Japan but they were released on a Japanese exclusive add-on for the Famicom, the Family Computer Disc System. A literal disc drive that plugged into your Nintendo system allowing it to play certain programs stored on floppy discs. So even if you were big into finding ways to import games in the ’80s, chances are this was still out of your reach.

The Famicom Detective Club was one of the first mainstream “visual novel” style games that weren’t softcore pornography (seriously, look into the history of visual novels…it is…skeevy), and the story holds up really well — even if the graphics don’t necessarily. Here’s gameplay from the original.

Luckily, video game developer and record label Mages worked with several people from Nintendo’s staff who worked on the originals to completely restore and upgrade these games with higher-end visuals and a fully orchestrated soundtrack. Though, with the soundtrack, you can switch back to the original chiptune version at any time. I think it would have been cool if in the character bios you had the option to see how they looked in the original but this is still a lot of work to make these playable.

In the releases, Nintendo dropped two different titles that you can either purchase separately if you go digital or packaged together if you get the excellent physical edition. Either way, you get remasters of both Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir and Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind.

They didn’t stop the upgrades at still visuals though. Minor animations like flowing hair, clothes flowing in the wind, and swaying trees add life to the world, and major animation changes like almost every character being introduced dramatically add a bit of spice to these moments.

One thing I’d definitely recommend though is playing the game with sound. Unless you’re taking your time with the game and playing it at the pace that one might casually read a book, you’re still going to miss out on a lot if you’re playing with the sound off. Not only is the music wonderfully creepy (even when it has no right to be), the voice acting practically gives away guilty parties. While finding a mark on the floor might be interesting with the sound off, watch this video with sound on and tell me I didn’t just stumble upon the clue of the century.

Given the time these games originally came out, this has all the dramatic storytelling beats of ’70s and 80’s cop dramas. I haven’t been able to tell evidence or witnesses this important since watching Columbo with my grandma in the late 80’s.

Characters dramatically gasp when you discover something they didn’t want you to, even if they’re not on camera. Music and sound effects create dramatic stings. It’s fun and reminds me of why shows like the aforementioned Columbo as well as shows like Murder She Wrote aged so well. There’s something endearing about trying to solve a mystery surrounded by clumsy suspects who keep a secret in their heads as well as they keep water in their hands.

This is not to say all information comes easy though. My one problem with this game is the fact that you will have to ask the same thing multiple times to get the information you want. Sometimes you’ll have to ask the same question three or four times in a row to get all the information on a topic out of a character’s mouth. Sometimes the answer to one topic will result in new information with a different topic and you won’t realize it until you asked. There’s not always any sort of indication on this so occasionally you’ll just have to trial and error your way through a lot of conversations.

If I had to compare this game to anything more recent, it honestly felt like the scenes in a Phoenix Wright game that took place outside of the courthouse where you’re talking to suspects and gathering evidence and there’s something oddly relaxing about just focusing on the one side of it.

The only thing I’m disappointed in is the price. On one hand, getting two games for $60 normally feels like a steal. But at the same time, these are 30-year-old stories on a system drowning in visual novels where most of the visual novels average about $10 and last a lot longer than the 8ish hours it’ll take you to beat each of these. Especially given the fact that there isn’t really any replayability. You go through the game, discover whodunit and that’s it. You can’t lose and there are no multiple pathways; it’s a static story. They’re good stories but playing these games a second time will just feel like watching a rerun.

Both games are standalone with little to tie them together. If you’re looking to play them in any sort of order, play The Missing Heir released first. The Missing Heir focuses on your character waking up at the bottom of the cliff, having forgotten everything including who they are and then finding out you’re a detective who was in the middle of investigating a high-profile murder when you “slipped” and fell off a massive cliff. The Girl Who Stands Behind is more of a horror mystery where you’re investigating the grisly murder of a high-schooler in relation to a mysterious ghost girl who keeps being seen standing behind people in the school.