Kaisuke Tanasaki is not one of gaming's most well-known directors, but he oversaw some of the DS's most intriguing narrative-led titles in the form of Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and Another Code/Trace Memory. After developer Cing's closure in 2010, Tanasaki-san is back with some of the same team under Arc System Works to release Chase: Cold Case Investigations – Distant Memories. Whilst it's a little more restricted than previous games by Tanasaki-san, it manages to largely capture the same sense of charm, intrigue and mystery that permeated those retail releases on DS.
As a short narrative experience (around two hours in length), Chase: Cold Case Investigations is a visual novel that focuses on two detectives, Shounosuke Nanase and Koto Amekura, who are part of a cold case unit within a metropolitan police department. As the game explains in the introduction, a cold case is one which has been left unsolved due to a lack of substantial evidence. Primarily playing from the perspective of Shounosuke, it is up to the player to uncover the mystery behind a mysterious explosion at a hospital that occurred five years previously, under a new accusation that the person who snuffed it during the incident was murdered. Thus, your investigation begins.
Make no mistake, Chase: Cold Case Investigations is quite a linear affair due to its evidently smaller budget. There isn't the option of exploration or point-and-click adventure mechanics found in previous Cing games. Instead, this title focuses largely on its narrative and keeps things set in Shounosuke and Koto's office. A large part of the story is delivered through interactive cutscenes and with a focus on interaction between characters, with proceedings moving at a leisurely pace. Even though there's no recorded dialogue, you can feel out the personalities of everyone you meet, especially the two leads. Shounosuke is a bit guarded and grizzled, but you get the sense there is quite a bit of empathy underneath the surface, even if you could make a drinking game based on how many cigarettes he lights up. Koto is more sparky and upbeat, allowing for a bit of friction - and occasional light humour - between the two.
But it's mainly through solving and sleuthing that the game finds its interactivity. You enact detective procedures by examining different sources of information to drive the mystery further. Some of the more interesting moments involve looking at crime-scene photos and pinpointing interesting evidence with your stylus to gain a deeper understanding of the case at hand.
The other main aspect of solving the case comes in the form of interviews with potential suspects. In order to get a clear picture, you'll interview several suspects and be given dialogue choices in order to get information out of them. There's an Interrogation Gauge that depletes with each wrong answer you give during an interview, and if it falls to zero then it's game over.
Unfortunately it's the approach to these multiple choice segments that causes the game to fall a little short. Whilst the overarching narrative and characters are engaging, the choices you're required to make often lack depth. A little too often, choices are binary and come down to simply remembering the right information about a case (although there are some more emotional responses available at times). Occasionally it's plainly obvious to anyone what the right answer is.
For example, there's one instance where you need to ask about someone's daughter and the only other option concerns a male character! And if you do get an answer wrong during an interrogation, you are often corrected by Koto and returned to the same question, rather than continuing on; for this reason the choices don't feel as dynamic as they could be. When the only penalty for a game over is starting again near the same spot, the stakes don't feel so high.
Luckily the overarching narrative is interesting enough to keep you pushing forward. Seeing the same story being told from different perspectives maintains intrigue in the case, and suspicions in all suspects involved. There's also a touch of realism to proceedings as you're required to interview potential murderers multiple times and re-examine evidence in a new light. Although some of the narrative twists will be foreseen by those who have experience of detective stories, there are a few curveballs included as well.
By the end of the game, it's clear that this is meant to be part of something larger. Arc System Works have been smart in keeping a narrow focus on a singular case to begin with; it's likely that if the title succeeds commercially, we could see further sleuthing instalments involving Shounosuke and Koto. Let's hope they get the chance to follow up their leads a little further.
Although its branching narrative system could have more depth, Chase: Cold Case Investigations has an undeniable sense of charm and keeps players' attention through its characters, anime art style and subdued jazz-noir soundtrack. If the series is allowed to continue and introduce a deeper approach to multiple choice and interrogation, then we could see something truly special.