The Silver Case review written by Jedediah.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
The Suda-sensory Mother Lode
The Silver Case, more than any virtual art piece I’ve experienced this year, is a product of its time. It is a reflection and speculation on the technological potential and cultural paranoia that partially defines the digital revolution and, more specifically, global internet culture from the late 90’s to the present day.
For those of us old enough to recall and those too young to really give a damn,1999 was a year of mass “stock up on water, canned goods, and adult diapers” paranoia. Throughout distant history and the days leading up to the second millennium, seers, psychics, academics, cult leaders, and even a linguist criticized for his pseudo scientific research predicted, for numerous dates throughout the year, the collapse of human civilization. The cause of our downfall: supernatural fireballs, man-made fireballs, and presumably the inevitable “freakshow” fireballs triggered by eating too many beans on New Year’s Eve (a cultural tradition I happened to celebrate that year). While most considered these prophecies as regularly-scheduled doomsday hype to be cautiously entertained but not taken too seriously, there was one potential catastrophe that citizens around the world were much more concerned with: the dastardly Y2K bug.
The deadly bite of the Y2K bug came in the form of a mathematical oversight, a programming shortcut (which saved time and money) that formatted and stored the year section of calendar data in double digits instead of quadruple (12/13/99 as opposed to 12/13/1999). It was a seemingly simple problem theorized to cause all sorts of moronic hell with computer systems’ date-based equations. So the moment the date hit 1/1/00, computer programs the world over had the potential of staging a global dunce-cap moment, collectively screaming, “Durrrrrrrrgggg did you mean 1/1/2000 or 1/1/1900?!?! 🙂 🙂 😛 😛 Math hard 🙁 Me sad now 😛 Me go poopy.” And because crucial systems such as water, electric, gas, and banking were all managed by computers, that meant, if the systems had crashed due to this error, millions of people could have had basic living privileges replaced by a three month membership to a wilderness boot camp.
Naturally, all this talk of a computer error having the capacity to catapult civilization back into the Bronze Age, combined with the aforementioned doomsday hype, prompted people to question our reliance on technology. Profiteers seized their opportunity to capitalize on fear and uncertainty. And grandparents the world over exclaimed “I told ya these damn, dumb contraptions would be the end of us.” Paranoia and distrust overtook portions of the public consciousness, as some took steps to prepare for the worst-case scenario.
This was the period, the environment, in which The Silver Case was developed and originally released. And somehow, Goichi Suda and Grasshopper Manufacture, through intention or coincidence, captured the uncertainty, paranoia, and technological potential of this moment, and infused it into their maiden project.
The year is 1999, in the fictional and contemporary Japanese city dubbed the 24 Wards. Social classes are defined not by profession or income, but by access to information. Murder is considered a disease, an ideology that can contaminate and inspire others to kill if not properly contained. Corpses begin appearing throughout the city, mutilated in a manner that matches the M.O. of Kamui Uehara, an infamous serial killer responsible for systematically assassinating key government officials several years prior. And so, with reading glasses equipped and expectations tossed and locked inside a padded room, it’s your responsibility as a chinchilla-faced detective to reveal the mystery of Kamui in linear-visual-novel fashion.
And what a surreal, convoluted yet captivating confident mystery it is.
Because this is a visual novel, the adventure consists of about 70% text that is complimented by the film window system, a minimalist visual tool that showcases characters and contextual scenery through small “windows” of various artistic styles and mediums (such as 2D and 3D artwork, and live-action FMVs); 25% exploration, which is comprised of moving your character on predetermined paths until you uncover an interaction point that allows you to progress the narrative; and 5% puzzle solving, which ranges from tedious Caesar Ciphers to simple item association.
Regarding the text (dialogue) and film window system, these elements, intertwined with the music, are the beefy heart and effervescent soul of The Silver Case. At its worst moments, the dialogue can seem long-winded; a little stilted, as though it were nearly a direct English translation from Japanese; and puerile, as a certain character, “Kickass” Kusabi, not only swears like a juvenile trying to posture his way out of an ass beating but also burdens you with the nickname “Big Dick.”
However, after the prologue and about midway through the first case, the writing begins to flow and Kusabi becomes a character you appreciate for his excessive, comedic candidness. For at its best moments, the dialogue is akin to an up-and-coming Tarantino channeling the punchy, abrupt prose of detective fiction writer Raymond Chandler. It’s a singular style within the gaming and visual novel space. And depending on your preference, it can be profoundly mesmerizing, if a bit unpredictable and hard to follow, especially when combined with the versatile visual cues of the film window system.
To detail the story any further would be like some dunderhead exposing the surprise erotic male dancer awaiting your signal to leap out of your girlfriend’s suspiciously large birthday cake — it’s still entertaining when she’s aware of what’s about to happen, but it’s a freakin’ joyous blast when when she’s completely taken by surprise. So I will say this: while the gameplay is serviceable but undeniably past its prime, the story is timeless. It’s prescient. It’s topical. And for a game originally released in ‘99, it’s almost unbelievable. It’s unbelievable that The Silver Case simultaneously represents the uncertainty and paranoia of its time period whilst foreseeing social issues, caused partly by technological innovation, that effect and impassion us in the present day. Issues such as widespread false information (alternative facts), and how the awareness of crime emboldens others to commit it are intelligently explored.
But most unbelievably, The Silver Case exhibits a confidence that’s largely been lost in the current age of gaming. It’s rare that a video game has the balls to say what it wants to say, how it wants to say it, the risk of offense or misunderstanding be damned. It can at times seem childish, mechanically archaic, and narratively confusing and elaborate. But if you remain an active reader, forming connections between themes and questioning events as you go, The Silver Case has the potential to make you believe that a surreal detective neo-noir gem from the late 90’s has more to say, more cultural relevance and creativity, than most games of the modern age.Score: 8 / 10
This being a retro Suda51 trip, I knew I’d appreciate it; I just never expected it to become one of my favorite games of early 2017.