We don't know about you, but we've never really got into the whole mobile phone games thing here at Everybody Plays. We've dabbled in Simpsons: Tapped Out, Cut The Rope and Disney Tsum Tsum, but on the whole, mobile games seem to be either horrendously dull, or horrendously gimped in order to make you spend real-life money.
Over in Japan, however, it's a very different story. With a penchant for on-the-go gaming, there's been many a chunky, solid, and some would say "proper" game released exclusively on mobile phones - and one such game is The 25th Ward: The Silver Case, an episodic visual novel from one of the games industry's biggest oddballs, Suda51. Released exclusively in Japan back in 2005, a combination of server shutdowns and technological advancements saw the game basically fade into obscurity, as flip phones gave way to smart phones, and the game was left all but inaccessible, never to be played again. But following on from the success of the recent remaster of it's predecessor, The Silver Case, The 25th Ward has now been given the remake treatment itself, bringing a cult hit game back from the dead, with everything designed to fit a widescreen TV, rather than a tiny mobile phone.
The sequel to last year's The Silver Case, The 25th Ward: The Silver Case takes place several years after the events of the original game, in the new, supposedly utopian district of Kanto, the titular 25th Ward. As the story opens, a string of suspicious suicides have been taking place in one of the tower blocks, and to put it bluntly, the whole affair reeks of a cover up. The word on the street is that Kamui Uehara, a criminal-mastermind-come-God-figure who played a big part in The Silver Case has returned, and his immense 'criminal power' has been infecting people once more, like a virus, building up inside you until you go crazy and commit a murder. There's also a coroner with an appreciation for snuff films, a guy who cares way too much about the proper way to eat deserts, and one heck of a long trek to a toilet. Needless to say, The 25th Ward is a bit of weird game, and the odds are you won't understand everything that happens along the way, but it at least adds plenty of intrigue to the experience.
Split into three separate stories, each running parallel and dealing with a different set of characters' perspectives on the murders in question, The 25th Ward spends as much of its time shining a light on what life's like in the 25th Ward as it does progressing the story, telling a really dystopian tail of a world where citizens become test subjects in the governments' crazy schemes. 'Correctness' follows the 25th Ward's Heinous Crimes Unit, a sort of special police force that focus on dangerous criminals and their contagious criminal power, while 'Matchmaker' tells the story from the perspective of the Regional Adjustment Bureau, a shady government organisation who try to preserve the 25th Ward's utopian ideal by making deadly 'adjustments' to anyone who steps out of line. The final storyline, 'Placebo' checks back in with Tokio Morishima (from The Silver Case, and DS tie-in Flower, Sun and Rain), now living on a houseboat in the 25th Ward's harbour, with his pet turtle Red. Suffering from amnesia of sorts, he works to regain the memories he lost with the help of a mysterious online contact known only as '/'.
Like its predecessor, The 25th Ward: The Silver Case is a visual novel, with a heavy focus on story-telling - only much like Danganronpa or Virtue's Last Reward, there's a fair amount of interactivity here too, with decisions to make, corridors to stroll down, and the odd spot of code-breaking thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, though, navigating The 25th Ward can be a bit of a headache, thanks to the rather clunky interface. By spinning a little tetrahedron in the corner, you generally have a choice of 'look', 'talk', 'move' and 'items' to help you get around. However, progressing to the next scene can be a bit of a shot in the dark sometimes, as you'll need to interact with certain characters multiple times with the talk command - or indeed the look command - before you can progress. There's no discernible difference between 'look' and 'talk', either, with some conversations only progressing when you click one or the other, and some requiring a combination of the two, so you'll often find yourself simply spamming them until the characters start repeating themselves. This often extends past the 'look' and 'talk' commands too, as it's not always particularly obvious what you're meant to do next, besides simply working your way through every option and hoping you stumble on the right path.
As for the puzzles, they mostly revolve around finding a password or code, and repeating it back, parrot fashion some time later, via a similar tetrahedron dice-alike input wheel. In fact, The 25th Ward is one of those games you'll want to play old-school style, with a pen and paper handy - or at least taking liberal screenshots - so you can make a note of any and all the important bits of information that come your way in conversations. With no way to get a refresher of what's already been said, and no way to refer back to all the codes and such you've been given along the way, if you weren't paying attention, you could well be scuppered. In our experience, it's all too easy to get given a seemingly innocuous set of numbers in a conversation, with next to no fanfare, only to find you really need them when you hit a numbered keypad a little while later.
If you can stick with it's occasional nonsensical ramblings, and give the story time to get going, The 25th Ward: The Silver Case is quite a mystery that unfolds. It's undeniably niche, and can be a bit too obtuse or awkward at times, but its hardly a bad game either - just a bit of a marmite one. If you're in the mood for a dark and gritty visual novel, and can appreciate Suda51's flights of randomness, then The 25th Ward: The Silver Case will likely be right up your street.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4