It's rare to get a second chance in gaming.
Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles came to the DS in America last year. It was the long-awaited English language localization of Tantei Jinguji Saburo, a long-running and popular series of murder mystery games that got its start in Japan over two decades ago -- fans here in the States were excited, spirits were high.
But then the game came out, and spirits weren't so high any more. Detective Chronicles did introduce the Jake Hunter character and world to English-speaking players, but it did so lifelessly -- the translation was spotty and full of errors, and in his review
our own Daemon Hatfield said the game just lacked personality. Not the kind of praise and fanfare you hope for when you've waited over 20 years for a character to finally arrive.
Well, Aksys Games still believes in Jake Hunter. Jake Hunter Detective Story: Memories of the Past
is the character's second chance, and it's serving two simultaneous purposes. First, it's updating and re-introducing the character and all of the content that the first release, Detective Chronicles, contained. A new translation, a fresh film noir take on the world, the whole nine yards.
Second, it's supplementing all of that redone content with buckets full of new material, too. There were three cases in Detective Chronicles, but Memories of the Past has doubled that to six -- including an all-new case written specifically for this release. And there's a whole other set of comic relief adventures called Jake Hunter Unleashed, which are shorter, funnier mysteries played for laughs. And there's unlockable artwork galleries, and animated clips, and developer commentaries . . .
Jake Hunter Detective Story: Memories of the Past is like the ultimate Special Edition DVD boxset release of a project that didn't get the justice it deserved the first time around. It's packed, it's polished, and most of all, it's fun.
If you've never played a detective/mystery/investigation style of adventure game before, it's basically like having an interactive episode of CSI: or Law & Order. Jake Hunter is a private eye, and customers come to his office offering him unsolved mysteries to get to the bottom of -- you then take control of Jake as he visits crime scenes, interrogates suspects, tracks down evidence and eye witnesses and, ultimately, cracks the case.
The way that all plays out as gameplay is basically a long, mostly linear progression of descriptive text and dialogue windows you cycle through using the DS touch screen. There's not a lot of active action, here. There is a lot of reading. Jake Hunter isn't the kind of game that will appeal to high-energy, no-patience players that prefer to skip through cutscenes and talking to get to a game's next big explosion or boss battle. It will appeal, though, to fans of thoughtful, more methodical designs like Capcom's Ace Attorney series.
There's no real way to lose in any of the core Jake Hunter cases, as the game will never allow you to leave a scene without having asked all the right questions or seen all the right pieces of evidence. So it really does feel, in the end, like an episode of CSI: or Law & Order. There are even breaks in the narrative every twenty minutes or so that, if this game were adapted to the screen, would be the perfect places for commerical breaks -- but, as this is a portable video game, they serve instead as great chances to save your progress and pick up the story again later on.
One interactive element that's always available, though, is supporting Jake's addiction to nicotine -- even in the middle of conversations with important non-player characters you can hit the L Button to have our hero flip open his lighter and blaze through a fresh cigarette. It's a simple mechanic, but it sells the character well. And the writing that gives you insight into his thought process every time he takes a puff is always spot-on, sometimes even pointing you to clues and inferences you might not have otherwise noticed had you not decided to have a smoke.
Each Jake Hunter case (and at several "inference points" during the middle of each one, too) wraps up with a kind of quiz game to make sure you were paying attention. You can't just hammer the A Button and skip past all the dialogue and discussion -- you have to be able to remember the details at the end, or Jake's out of luck. Names of witnesses, key details. Jake puts them all together at the end, and the plotline finishes with a well-rendered, animated cutscene.
Now, that's a big thorough description of the core game of Jake Hunter Detective Story: Memories of the Past. But, as this is a packed-to-overflowing super Special Edition re-release, that core content's only the beginning. There's a ton of extras here, too.
The Jake Hunter Unleashed episodes are hilarious. You see an example of their art style just above -- all of the edgy, hard-boiled, gritty atmosphere of the core cases is thrown out the window for Unleashed, which recasts the grim and serious Jake as a cardboard-cutout Looney Tune hamming it up for the audience.
Each Unleashed episode (there are five total) is its own self-contained mystery, though they play a lot more quickly than the serious cases do -- but their comic-relief intent isn't the most interesting alteration, actually. The gameplay changes in Unleashed. I just got done telling you that you can't really lose in Jake Hunter's core game, because the dialogue trees keep you pretty locked in and don't allow you to miss anything. For Unleashed, that's thrown out the window too.
You can absolutely lose in the Unleashed episodes -- and you probably will, frequently. You get to make your investigate here, interrogate people, all that stuff. But then, at the end, you have to "Deduce" the full explanation for what happened when, what the motivation was, whoddunnit and more -- without making a single mistake. If you make even the slightest miscalculation or incorrect inference, your partner character flips out and attacks you anime-style and it's Game Over for little Jake.
You can save your progress before going into the Deduce rundown, so you don't have to start back over from scratch each time. But still, it's pretty harsh.
The whole Memories of the Past package is rounded out nicely with unlockable art galleries, commentaries, bonus animated shorts and more. And these extras don't feel just tacked on, either -- you access them by inputting passwords, and you can only get the passwords by paying attention to clues found in the core cases (and some in the Unleashed episodes, too). It's a subtle, stylish way to do unlockable content that I've never really seen employed before. Much cooler and much more in-line with Jake Hunter's tough-as-nails character than any kind of "Achievement Unlocked!!!" notification at the end of a solved case would be.
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