Noir on steroids

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By Alexander O. Cuaycong
and Anthony L. Cuaycong

AS THE BRAINS behind such groundbreaking titles as Killer7, Killer is Dead, and No More Heroes, video game designer Goichi Suda offers a distinctive style. His creations are what conventional wisdom would term dysfunctional, far from a breeze to comprehend but made with such originality that it’s hard not to appreciate their quirkiness. The 25th Ward: The Silver Case is no exception. As the follow-up release to The Silver Case, one of Suda51’s first works, it presents the same dystopian setting and dark humor as its well-received predecessor.

The 25th Ward has you gripped from the outset. You’re charged with investigating a string of murders in an experimental city where organized bureaucracy has been done away with, and where life is supposedly idyllic. In aiming to solve the mystery that binds these deaths together and consequently catch the mastermind, you move back and forth between three seemingly disparate story arcs made up of five episodes each. “Correctness” has you following Heinous Crimes Unit detective Mokutaro “Jabroni” Shiroyabu and Shinko Kuroyanagi, his superior. In “Placebo,” you view events through the eyes of the Regional Adjustment Bureau’s Shinkai Tsuki. And in “Matchmaker,” you are reunited with The Silver Case protagonist Tokio Morishima.

The 25th Ward unwraps in typical visual-novel fashion; lengthy narrative segments over static visuals alternate with exploration phases. You travel between locations, talk to people and witnesses, examine areas, and look for any clues en route. Now and then, you encounter puzzles that require you to meet varied sets of objectives. It presents itself well in this regard, requiring you to invest in story and dialogue and then getting you to reap the benefits of your efforts through its involving atmosphere and sharp script. And with fleshed-out characters and challenging puzzles coming into play, you’re not wrong to envision a darker, grimmer version of Phoenix Wright.

On the flip side, The 25th Ward can get too clever for its own good. As a sequel, it naturally harks back to The Silver Case, but those unfamiliar with the latter are largely left to fend for themselves. It can be treated as a standalone release, true, but some exposition at the start would have helped all the same. Moreover, you are left to decide how you want to approach it through its three storylines, never mind that it is best appreciated taking each a chapter at a time.

Parenthetically, The 25th Ward can get clunky now and then, and, while far from game-breaking, its flaws tend to draw you out of the moment. For instance, a handful of puzzles become difficult to follow because of the cryptic writing. And with translation issues occasionally popping up, you can get stuck on a particularly hard one because you aren’t clear on what you need to do. Meanwhile, some narrative sections require you to exhaust every dialogue option available before you can move on. It’s as if you’re in a big enclosed space; you have freedom to move around as you wish, but you’re hindered from leaving it until you do everything you know is required of you — and some you don’t.

Nonetheless, The 25th Ward leaves a positive impression. It’s noir on steroids, engrossingly juxtaposing a futuristic look with a gritty setting to more than offset its blemishes. And the story provides immense replay value, with literally a hundred endings to be had. Once in a while, the tension can be drained by grammatical errors and imperfect controls (which are surprisingly more pronounced on the PC), but, for the most part, you’re hooked. You’re immersed in Suda51’s world, and it makes you worth your while to linger.

Video Game Review

The 25th Ward: The Silver Case
PlayStation 4 / PC via Steam

THE GOOD
• Interesting design and atmosphere, featuring outstanding writing
• Stylistic art design with music
• Eclectic mix of puzzles and story segments

THE BAD
• Overly cryptic puzzles that halt progress
• Translation errors
• Shoddy PC controls

RATING: 7.5/10