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Game Review

by Rebecca Silverman,

The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story


The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story
Popular mystery author Haruka Kagami is surprised when her medical consultant Eiji Shijima invites her to his family home – to solve a mystery. A skeleton was recently discovered buried under a sakura tree on the family's property, and Eiji wants Haruka's help figuring out who the body was and what it might have to do with the Shijima family's troubled history. Haruka, along with her editor Akari, agree to go, but when Eiji's father Ryoei is poisoned, Haruka realizes that there's much more going on than Eiji has told her. Using mystery novels from 1923 and 1973, Haruka begins to piece together the terrible history of Eiji's family.

Are you a murder mystery buff? Then The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story should go on your “to-play” list immediately. Borrowing heavily from the traditions of Golden Age mystery novels (roughly equivalent to the time between WWI and WWII), this is a game that both challenges and respects its reader-players, offering enough clues and red herrings to give you a chance to solve – or be fooled – by its writing.

The story occurs across three periods: 2023, 1973, and 1923. We begin in the modern world with the main character Haruka Kagami. Haruka is the young author of a series of very successful mystery novels. To write her fair play mysteries as accurately as possible, she has a doctor she consults regularly, Eiji Shijima. At a book signing, Eiji asks Haruka to accompany him to his family home for a once-a-century family ritual. In part, this seems to be because he's been estranged from his father and brothers for some time. Still, he's also concerned (and curious) about something that recently made the news: a skeleton was discovered under a cherry tree on the family's property. Eiji wants Haruka's help figuring out the truth about the body – and whether or not his family's been up to something for many years. Haruka agrees to go, along with her editor Akari, but shortly after the entire cast of characters is introduced, Eiji's father, Ryoei is poisoned, and a landslide traps everyone at the Shijima estate. As everyone begins to panic, truths about the Shijima family's medical research begin to come to light, and Haruka is handed two manuscripts: a novel written by “Yoshino Shijima” in 1923 and a novella set in a club called The Scarlet Camellia from 1973 – with a young Ryoei Shijima as a character.

As you can guess from the time periods, these two documents provide background information Haruka needs to solve the present-day situation. As she begins to read the first piece – part one of the 1923 novel – Akari suggests that she picture the characters in the book as people she knows, which sets up one of the most interesting and important tricks in the game. Unlike traditional visual novels, The Centennial Case is an FMV (full motion video) game, meaning that all cut scenes are performed like a film. The same handful of actors plays all of the characters in this case, with Haruka's actress taking on the role of Yoshino and the narrator of the 1973 piece, Iyo, while everyone else also plays multiple parts. Rather than a money-saving measure, this turns out to be something worth paying attention to – who you see in what role (or who you don't) is an exciting gameplay element. The use of FMV also makes the lengthy cut scenes feel like watching a movie, which may make this more palatable to players who don't necessarily enjoy the reading-heavy aspects of visual novels. Unless you turn on the subtitles, there's little-to-no need to read anything, which the English dub helps with.

There is more watching/reading than actual gameplay in five of the six chapters (plus the epilogue) that make up the story. For the most part, the gameplay consists of paying attention and then using the clues you pick up to develop hypotheses in “reasoning mode.” As you go through the cut scenes, the text will sometimes pop up on the screen; clicking on those pieces will turn them into physical clues for later use. Reasoning mode consists of three parts: a brief discussion, using clues to answer questions on a honeycomb grid, and then going over hypotheses. When you're satisfied with your reasoning, the game moves to the stage where Haruka/Yoshino/Iyo presents her findings to the assembled cast. There are hints available in both the honeycomb section and in the presentation if you come to the wrong conclusion, and other characters will also point out the flaws in your reasoning if you choose an incorrect answer. Chapter five is the only one that varies from this basic formula; that chapter functions more like an old point-and-click game or perhaps a modern hidden object game, with puzzles to be solved and rooms to be searched. It's a nice break, and guides exist in various places online if you get stuck.

The game is available on numerous platforms, including IOS/Android, PC, Switch, and PS5. I played the Android version, and if your hand-eye coordination is as rotten as mine (I have dysgraphia), I'd recommend playing on a PC or console. The bit where you must physically drag clues to their space on the honeycomb grid was a significant challenge for me, even with a stylus. On the plus side, the game played well on my phone, which is what's politely called a "starter phone;" the only issue was that in hypothesis scenes that used simply CG, the phone couldn't keep up with the rendering, leading to trails of afterimages. In this version, you download each chapter separately, which helps keep space free if you don't have much memory to spare. As I mentioned, there is an English dub and an original Japanese language track, and both are solid; I mostly preferred the Japanese simply because I don't love it when lips say one thing and words another. The acting is a little hammy at times, but not so much that it takes you out of the story, and the costumes for the sections set in 1923 are wonderful. Music is unobtrusive but not spectacular, although it must be said that it does its job.

The Centennial Case loves its Golden Age roots. A tutorial notes that, except for one specific plot point, the mysteries all adhere to Knox's Commandments, and the timeline for the story's important events includes the publication dates of several influential mystery novels, from Edgar Allan Poe to Arthur Conan Doyle to Ellery Queen. (Needless to say, Edogawa Ranpo gets a mention, too.) The game follows the fair play mystery guidelines, and you can solve every piece of the puzzle with the information given. There are no branching paths (unless you count mistakes, which do halt the game), although there are several ways to solve a few of the mysteries. It's an immersive, enjoyable experience for the mystery fan, and I absolutely recommend it if you're itching for a chance to play detective.

Overall : A-
Graphics : B+
Sound/Music : B
Gameplay : B+
Presentation : A-

+ FMV works better than expected, very much a fair play mystery, where you have to pay attention to everything. Nice costumes.
Can be a little hammy at times, Android version requires a decent amount of hand-eye coordination that not all players will have.

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