Overall Score 73%
I think that games can be a difficult medium through which to tell a story. Very few developers attempt and fewer succeed in bringing together a robust narrative, meaningful plot-line and great gameplay elements. I can think of only a handful of games that I would judge have achieved this feat. In media such as print or film that require only a passive level of participation from the audience, this is obviously not a problem. Just as some games totally eschew a story for great gameplay, some – such as this week's review game Jisei - do the opposite. In Jisei, the story is favoured over complex gameplay elements. In fact there are not that many elements of Jisei that would classify it as a game. It's an absorbing piece of interactive fiction; an old fashioned whodunit that is presented in anime style.
The player assumes the role of an unnamed protagonist that would seem to have a supernatural ability to discern people's last thoughts and observations before death. He's an interesting character because he's shrouded in mystery and seems to be fighting an internal battle to come to terms with what his ability means and how he fits into the grander scheme of things. Perhaps late-teen or early twenties, he is at a naturally awkward time of life, but he is portrayed as confident in other ways and has a keen eye for detail and is a sharp judge of character. He is also a caffeine addict, which is why he is in the wrong place at the wrong time when a murder takes place at a coffee shop. He is implicated along with 3 others by an off duty detective after the body is discovered. The shop is sealed off from the outside world until police backup can arrive, which for some reason will take much longer than usual. During this time, the protagonist gains the trust of the detective and a certain amount of freedom to investigate the shop and its occupants. He begins collecting evidence and working to not only prove his own innocence, but also to ultimately identify the killer and motive.
As a game, truth be told, there is very little input from the player that is required. The player has the option to move between various areas of the shop and search for clues or talk to other characters. If a clue is available at the time and location being searched, then the player will find that clue 100% of the time. It's a bit different to some of those hidden object games that seem to be very popular at the moment. There is very little skill involved in deciding what to do and who to talk to. The player is encouraged to search everywhere and talk to everyone; there seems to be very little (perhaps no) limitation in terms of time or effort required to do this. The character takes notes automatically, and these are used by the player in the late game to make a deduction on who the real killer is. A few red herrings and false leads might see you barking up the wrong tree the first time you go through the story and that's all part of the fun of a murder mystery.
I have played through the game in it's entirety twice. The second time around I went out of my way to question the suspects in a different order and try a different approach towards the attitude of my character and the tone of his communication. In the end though, this just seemed to prevent some verbal clues from becoming available, and had no real impact on the outcome of the story. I don't think that there are any real dynamic elements here. Therefore, the replayability of the title is next to non-existent. Once you've solved the case, there's nothing else to play for, but doing so will unlock goodies like production sketches, music tracks and a rather eerie epilogue that sets the scene for a sequel just perfectly.
Jisei is presented beautifully. The artwork appears painstakingly crafted and although there are only a few basic animations to speak of, the character portraits will change facial expressions and posture as the narrative unfolds. NPC dialogue is accompanied by high quality voice-overs, whereas the player's avatar relies on closed captioning and the player's own imagination as to how he might sound. I like that; it really adds to the sense of immersion and gives the player a connection to the protagonist's world. The background music is superb. A variety of haunting and provocative tracks accompany the story, and just compliment the experience to a tee.
Three cheers for developers that make software that installs and uninstalls cleanly, and comes free of any annoying DRM – like Jisei! The game also has a multitude of save game slots of which I used but 2. I can't imagine why you'd ever need more than a couple, but there they are anyway. Jisei is not quite like an old “choose your own adventure” book, because there aren't any branching plot lines. Sure, you can make a wrong accusation and the playthrough can end in failure, but there still not really enough possible scenarios that you'd need more than a couple of save files.
Definitely an interesting title. The story will take roughly an hour to play through. I'm not sure that I can recommend it unreservedly. It seems to be a little lean on content for the asking price; I could go and watch a movie for about the same deal and the truth is that the movie would probably last longer. Still, the challenge of collating the clues and then actively deducing the killer gives the game a slight edge over a purely passive experience at the cinema.
Keywords: jisei review, sakevisual reviews, sakevisual games, jisei scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.