As someone who loves hack-and-slash sword fighting action with a burning passion, I’m a big fan of Japanese game developer Goichi Suda, better known to his fans as Suda51. So when Rocket Chainsaw’s illustrious editor offered me the chance to review to The 25th Ward: The Silver Case, I was keen to check it out.
‘Oh boy!’ thought I, ‘this is a sequel to the first game Suda51 made, the Japan-only Playstation title, The Silver Case, I can’t wait!’.
This, dear readers, is the story of one reviewer’s decent into madness, brought about by making foolish assumptions about the kinds of games a creator can make. Before I stepped into The 25thWard: The Silver Case, I had no idea what I was in for, or what the original title was.
First, some backstory. The Silver Case was released in 1998 in Japan and kicked off the career of Suda51 and his studio, Grasshopper Manufacture. It is the type of game that back then often got called ‘AVG’ or ‘adventure game’ (not to be confused with the Western adventure game as made by studios such as Sierra and Lucasarts), but which these days is more familiar under the name ‘visual novel’.
The sequel is a bit of a story in itself. It originally came out on Japanese mobile gaming platforms in 2005 and was released episodically over the next year or so. In that sense, the game appeared around the time Suda was gaining notoriety for his more action-based titles, specifically Killer7 on the GameCube and PS2. The new PS4 version is a complete remake of that original, maintaining its story, but overhauling the visuals and mechanics.
Going in, I had no idea about any of this. To me, this was a hot new game from one of the coolest game makers in the industry. After the underappreciated Killer Is Dead and the weird Diablo-inspired Let It Die, I was ready to see where Suda would go next. I was… not prepared for this.
While I’ve never been a huge fan of the visual novel genre, I’m always willing to give new things a try, sometimes in the hope that maybe they’ll change my mind or be a different experience to what I’m used to. I like to take myself out of my comfort zone occasionally.
The more I played of The 25thWard, however, the more the chosen style of game became a frustration. Not because it was difficult— this is a visual novel so 90% of the time you’re just pressing X to proceed— but rather because the story it was telling was so compelling and interesting that I felt that it was actively harmed by the format. When major events happened, I felt disconnected from them, as though I wasn’t fully allowed to be part of the action.
It’s also hard, sometimes, to figure out who I actually was in terms of my in-game character. Early on, the game sets up that you’re a rookie joining the Heinous Crimes Unit that most of the characters belong to (think Section 9 but with a licence to kill and you’re somewhat there). Almost immediately after establishing this, the game follows another major character for some time, and it’s hard to know if you’re still with that character, or if they’re on their own.
There was, however, a particularly nasty moment that almost made me stop playing entirely. At a certain point, the game throws a number of hitmen at you. These are presented as JRPG-style battles, with you making choices from a menu. Each hitman has a custom option on this menu that you’re expected to choose to defeat them (As with a lot of visual novels I’ve played in the past, the game is more about illusions of choice rather than actual choice). At one point, you’re accosted by a female hitman, and your custom option is ‘get horny’. What happens next isn’t clearly explained by the game, but the implication is that, well, the character you’re playing as rapes the hitman.
The overall story at this point is how this character is transforming from a somewhat hotblooded wet-behind-the-ears detective to a cold-hearted killer. It does this by— and I’m not making this up— putting him through a series of questionable moral choices that turn him into Agent 47 from the Hitman series. That’s not even actually a joke— he loses his messy hair completely and his tie changes from blue to red.
The real problem with this particular moment is that the game blows it off almost as a joke; just another step in the process of this character’s transformation. There’s no real attempt to suggest that what happened might have been terrible, and the moves on almost immediately with the joke RPG parody sequence that makes up this part of the game.
From this moment, it became much more difficult to want to keep going further into the The 25thWard. I persevered, however, for the sake of this review but I could never get that moment out of my head. Perhaps if the rest of the game had been more substantial, with real, actual gameplay rather than endless screens of text and still images, I might have been more inspired to keep going and find out where it was heading. Instead, it felt more like a chore.
In the end, however, I found that The 25thWard is perhaps better in concept than execution. The setting itself is actually pretty well thought out, and there’s definitely something to be said about the idea of cops being able to kill with impunity. While the game certainly does want to meditate on such ideas, it’s all so poorly written out that it never has the impact it goes for. That’s even when setting aside the choice of visual novel as a genre to wrap these ideas up in.
I can’t recommend The 25th Ward: The Silver Case to anyone. Even if you’re the hardest of hardcore Suda51 fans, you’re going to have a rough time here. The visual novel format takes too much away from what is (to a point) a really cool and interesting story, and the mishandled rape scene makes the rest of the game a repugnant drudge. This is a game for somebody, perhaps, but it is not the game for me, and I would not recommend it when there are so many genuinely great Suda51 games out there already.
- Intriguing premise
- Nice music
- Dull visual novel mechanics
- Poorly written story
- Simplistic visuals