Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir & The Girl Who Stands Behind Review
While people are waiting for Zelda and Metroid remasters to get announced, Nintendo dropped on us that this is the year they were bringing the Famicom Detective Club games to the world. The Missing Heir & The Girl Who Stands Behind, first released in the late 80s on the Famicom (NES) and never saw a release here, making this remake the first time there’s been an English translation of the games. Not only that, but they’ve been given a visual overhaul and full voice acting. Now it’s time to find out what we’ve been missing out on for all these years. It’s time to don the deerstalker and start an investigation of my own.
So to start with, Nintendo has made the Famicom Detective games available either separately or bundled together. I will cover both games within the one review; the games both play the same and share the same pros and cons. The story and characters are different between the games (outside of the Detective agency). If you can only get one game, then The Missing Heir would be the place to start. Be prepared that I won’t be going too far into the actual plots besides the early premise; with the story being so much of the game, it’s best to enjoy it fresh.
The Missing Heir introduces you as a Detective. Waking up from an amnesia-inducing accident, you can’t even remember your name (although you get to name them). It’s up to you to solve the murder of the CEO of a corporation while trying to uncover what you had learnt before losing your memory, especially as it may have nearly gotten you killed. It’s a race to find the titular ‘missing heir’ as the village is haunted by what appears to be the newly deceased CEO. The Japanese village murder mystery drama feels like a Midsomer Murders episode, replete with twists and turns and don’t forget the drama.
The Girl Who Stands Behind (TGWSB) is a prequel to the events of The Missing Heir, where you get your start with the Utsugi Detective Agency. Instead of a Midsomer Murders vibe, TGWSB feels more like a high school murder mystery/ghost story. A teenager is found dead after investigating a supernatural ghost story at her school. Her best friend (and future co-worker Ayumi Tachibana) wants to help you find what she uncovered and who would kill for it. A seemingly unrelated case from over a decade ago could shed some light on the mystery unravelling before you find out there is much more to this ghost story.
Without having the original games accessible, it’s hard to tell if it is simply as authentic as possible or if something has gone wrong. I suspect it is more likely developer Mages has stayed true to the original games. This will likely divide how audiences will receive this game. For purists who want to experience this piece of Nintendo history for what it was, the game underneath all the fancy new visuals feels like a throwback to another era of point and click games. You can have the music as it was, even though the rearranged music does a great job of updating those tunes. For people wanting to experience this piece of Nintendo history remade for a modern audience, you’ll find out quickly that under the flashy veneer, the game underneath is an unintuitive relic of the past.
The awful truth is that these games are a slog to play. Even if you enjoy the ‘ol murder mystery’, you need to engage with the game to see it through.
At first, ‘The Missing Heir’ comes across as a point and click adventure, where you need to select the following option to move the dialogue or scene along. The next option is highlighted in yellow to steer you in the right direction. This changes slowly at first; it stops being straightforward; sometimes, you’ll need to examine/look or move to another location to trigger the story. Then you need to reselect the same dialogue options several times, and you have to examine the surroundings for no reason other than to make time pass by. Sometimes you need to pester people until they refuse to talk to you or leave. There is no indicator you need to do this, especially when it seems like a bad outcome. Sometimes the game will play around with the options. One option generally takes you to the save screen, except when the story wants it to be something else.
I had to constantly remind myself that these games are just over 20 years old throughout both games. For their time, it must’ve been wild having games like this on the limited hardware. In 2021 they’re frustrating to play, so prepare to spend way too much time trying every dialogue option, every selectable option. You’ll be looking at every possible point of interest and hoping you’ll hit whatever obtuse combination of actions to trigger the next piece of dialogue. Want to guess what happens after that sweet moment of victory? You will likely be doing it all over again. The thing is, there is only occasionally a logical flow to each scene. For those moments, you forget all the crap you just endured to get this far, maybe, just maybe you’ve gotten over this weird difficulty spike. Then you begin to feel like a detective again briefly; you’ll make progress through the scene and unravel some more of the mystery. And then it’s over, you’re stuck again, with the game throwing a new obstacle your way. When you think you’ve worked out the strange actions the game demands from you, it changes the rules, and you’re back to butting your head against the brick wall that is the Famicom Detective Club.
The visual update that Mages has given the two games manages to completely update the look while still retaining the style of the original release. Each character manages to feel like they are traditionally animated while also showing signs of being 3D. The animation is usually limited, with the occasional scene becoming surprisingly fully animated when needed.
Along with the visuals, there is rearranged and original BMG music for both games. For The Girl Who Stands Behind, an additional Super Famicom track is also an option. The Super Famicom track is from the remake, which makes this the second remake for that game. I enjoyed switching between the BGM in each area, the rearrangement is a good update, but then it’s not hard when the originals sounded so good already. The game is also fully voice acted. It’s entirely in Japanese, but you can select the language of the text. You can turn off the voice acting if you want or don’t want your protagonist to have a voice. I enjoyed listening to the voice tracks to add some extra emotion to the dialogue.
While I’ve had plenty of negatives to point out, the thing is, I still don’t dislike the games. Even though the twists were usually easy to guess, I still really enjoyed the story. Your detective isn’t a blank slate – they’re a part of the story, especially in Missing Heir. The interactions with the variety of characters throughout reveal a range of personalities. This leads to some surprisingly entertaining moments that briefly derail the more serious story. The remakes visuals and sounds all help too, they never seem to erase the original work but serve to update it while respecting the original designs. For all the frustration of playing the game, Mages has done a commendable job of bringing this series to the Switch.
I hope that this remake/revamp is the precursor to a new follow-up sequel being announced. There is still a place for the Famicom Detective Club. The Missing Heir and The Girl Who Stands Behind look and sound great thanks to the remake, but unfortunately, the game portion is an unintuitive, obtuse slogfest. Both games work well as murder mysteries; the story and characters are a highlight. Players who want to play the games as close to the originals as possible will get a kick out of this piece of Nintendo history, while it might frustrate everyone else. Regardless, it is nice to see Nintendo give a classic game such a lavish update.
+ Mages have made these games look and sound great
+ The murder mysteries are entertaining to uncover with interesting characters
- The game underneath really needed the same kind of update
- Progressing scenes are an exercise in frustration, with arbitrary choices over logic