- Some passages are tense and fun to read
- Saburo can be Saburo again
- The mysteries themselves are fun
- Good ambient crowd noises
- Photorealistic Google Street View art isn't as fun as it sounds
- The music is half jazz, half annoying
- The script is a jumbled mess of translation errors and contradictions
- It's a period piece to the characters, but modern day to the rest of the world
- Realistic backgrounds and 2D characters do not mix well. Especially with real people also in the shot
Fans of either Jake Hunter or Tantei Jingūji Saburō deserve better than Alternate Jake Hunter, Daedalus or not.
Over a year ago, in my review of Jake Hunter Detective Chronicles: Ghost of the Dusk, I said “it’d be better if future Jake Hunter games were localized in the style of Sega’s Yakuza series. Just embrace the Japanese culture. Go all out.” At the time, Aksys Games was in charge of Jake Hunter, and their repeated attempts to anglicize the franchise left me wishing they’d either learn what they were doing wasn’t working, or a new publisher would take over. To my surprise, IP holder Arc Systems Works announced a few months later they were going to localize the latest entry, DAEDALUS: The Awakening of Golden Jazz themselves. Other than giving it the Alternate Jake Hunter name to tie it to Aksys’ work, they’ve given audiences a stricter translation, going so far as to give Jake back his proper name, Saburo Jinguji. It’s more or less what I wanted. However, now that the game is out, I don’t know how to feel. I should be happy that my wish was granted, but the game itself just isn’t good.
Alternate Jake Hunter is a prequel to the Tantei Jingūji Saburō series, as its known in Japan, and is ostensibly an 80’s period piece. It’s set during a trip to New York City Saburo made during his college years to solve his grandfather’s murder. Outside of the fact that neither Saburo nor his limited circle of American friends have cell phones, the time period really isn’t the focus. The audience gets a couple hints at a timeline here and there: a childhood picture of Saburo and his grandfather from 1976, Saburo admitting he’s still not old enough to drink in the US, and a conversation about his grandfather leaving Japan post-World War II, but they’re easy to miss. This mystery might as well take place in modern day.
Like many visual novel detective games, gameplay is mostly first-person investigation mixed with dialogue options. Players poke around different static backgrounds looking for clues, and then talk with persons of interest about what they know. Alternate Jake Hunter attempts to move the genre forward a tiny bit by giving each location a 360° radius for Saburo to explore. Except, instead of moving around each area, he only turns on a swivel, as if he were viewing the world through Google Street View. I understand the urge from developers to try new things and modernize the formula, especially now that the series has to be on HD platforms in order to survive, but the “keep your head on a constant swivel” approach is too distracting to be useful. Most important things are placed in front of Saburo anyway.
Another new mechanic is called the Orchard of the Mind. Inspired by his grandfather, Saburo keeps all the facts of a case in his head by visualizing them as branches growing on a tree. When the game explains the Orchard at first, it reads as an interesting way to add player activity to the game – each case ends with the player laying out the facts produced by the Orchard in the correct order. In practice though, the visual representation is too difficult to read. Letters cram onto branches to form a sentence that you really have to squint and stare at to follow, like a wayward book of children’s poetry. Selecting a branch will tell you what it says, but this is a situation where what might work for kanji, doesn’t work as well for English.
I’ve been critical of past Jake Hunter translations for a lot of reasons, ranging from lack of cohesion between titles, huge typos, and the aforementioned attempts to change the series to be less Japanese. Alternate Jake Hunter doesn’t make any sweeping changes that are easy to pick at, but it’s still majorly flawed in its own ways. One glaring error is the way most apostrophes trip up the script formatting, leading to several instances of “it’ s” and “he’ s” in the text. On a deeper level, it’s also hard to understand Saburo as a character. He’s not the gruff, cigarette smoking P.I. he becomes later on, but his mood oscillates between doing everything he can to solve a mystery, and deciding to go to bed because there’s no one else to talk to. Then, there are occasional conversations where he will ask women about their cup sizes. They’re rare occurrences, but every time they come up they’re uncomfortable to sit through and don’t track with the basic personality the story writes for him. It’s like the developers put those moments in as a cruel joke, just to make Saburo (and the player) look bad.
To be fair, it’s not always easy to tell if an issue has to do with the translation, or if there’s something going on with the original Japanese script. Some things seem loosely translated, or left as they were in the original game, such as the graphics that pop up at the beginning of an investigation that say stuff like “Search Phase: Daedalus’s Identity Evidence of Something.” There are also weird pacing issues that leave certain scenes feeling out of order. Sometimes Saburo will wake up in the morning, have a conversation with one person, and decide to go to bed for the day. Other times, he’ll return to a location several times a day to talk to the same person, and the text will read as if somewhere in the middle, a day had passed. This game is so linear, it almost always tells the player where to go next. Even when it doesn’t, it’s a matter of hopping around locations until the next logical event activates. The idea that I sequence broke the game without meaning to seems really unlikely here.
This is where I drop the other shoe, because this game’s flaws run deep. When I said before that this game is “ostensibly” a period piece and “might as well take place in modern day,” I think it’s because it does. Kind of. It goes back to the Google Street View environments I mentioned, which are designed to be photorealistic. Looking at them closely reveals a wealth of detail that would be incredibly difficult to replicate if the artists did not have direct reference photos to draw over. The only problem is that these reference photos were taken recently, not over thirty years ago, as the game wants people to believe.
City streets are full of modern cars and SUVs. Store counters so realistic, you can see the American Express logo and reminders that spray paint can’t be sold to anyone under eighteen. There’s even a location with “SAVE the DATE: 4-20-19” painted on the ground. The photorealism also clashes with the generic 2D character portraits that populate Saburo’s life. At times they’re so awkwardly angled to fit into a 3D space, it feels like eating dinner with cardboard cutouts. And that’s not even mentioning when there are real people in the background, and all sense of proportion is thrown into chaos.
I have to believe these choices are intentional to some degree, but I can’t figure out the purpose of any of it. In one sequence, Saburo travels to the fictional New York town of Silver Snow, and ends up looking at newspaper on microfilm. In the context of the story, he’s analyzing different issues of the local paper published over several months. In reality two of the pages are from the same issue of the Thursday, September 3, 1964 edition of the Nassau Herald while the third is either on or around the same date. The game is so committed to its photorealistic style, that all a player has to do is glance at the paper to realize that whatever they’re seeing, Saburo’s reading something way different. I have my doubts an article titled “Henry Cotton’s Future” has anything to do with an arrested serial killer’s big confession. I should also mention that on the same desk as the microfilm reader is what looks like a modern computer monitor and printer, but that’s almost overkill.
I’ve never seen a game content with being so jarring. The core mysteries at the heart of the story’s five chapters work well. Fans of the genre desperate for new cases to solve might get some enjoyment out of Alternate Jake Hunter. But getting the most out of it requires turning off your brain to ignore the visual contradictions altogether and taking what the text says as fact. Just focus on the words on the page, and not what’s beyond the edges. At that point, it’s hard to even call that reading.
Theoretically, there are some Jake Hunter fans out there that might appreciate this game. There’s a moment where players are expected to help Saburo fight a gang of thugs through dialogue options, like he did in the old games. It explains the origins of his relationship with his assistant, Yoko (Yulia in previous English translations). Some of the soundtrack even feels appropriately jazzy and laid back, when it’s not annoying. But, I would consider myself a Jake Hunter fan, and Alternate Jake Hunter left me disappointed. It can’t even make selecting dialogue options on a D-pad as straightforward as it should be. Using the touchscreen on a Switch is the better way to play.
I keep trying to find ways to sugarcoat this, but: Alternate Jake Hunter: DAEDALUS The Awakening of Golden Jazz is kind of bad. It’s as jumbled a mess as its name would imply, and hard to recommend to most people. This is the second time the series has appeared on HD consoles (the first, Prism of Eyes, hasn’t been translated), and it feels like all of the fun of the DS/3DS entries has been sucked out of the formula. Western publishers still haven’t shown global audiences why this series has stuck around in Japan for over thirty years. It has such an obvious hook – interactive detective stories are fun! – that it’s a shame no one’s given it the treatment it deserves.
Platform: Switch | Publisher: Arc System Works | Developer: Neilo Inc.
Release Date: 5/23/19 (PS4/Switch) 7/4/19 (PC) | Rating: T for Teen
This review was conducted using an original model Switch (both docked and undocked) and a digital copy of Alternate Jake Hunter: DAEDALUS The Awakening of Golden Jazz I bought from the Nintendo eShop. It is also on PS4 and PC. If you’d like to get in touch with me, you can leave a comment below or follow me on Twitter. You can also reach me via email at dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios(dot)com. For a look at what else I’ve published on Tilting Windmill Studios, you can look here.