428 Shibuya Scramble Review

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Unscramble the mystery

428 Shibuya Scamble feels unlike most other modern games. It is a simple, stripped back, narrative-led experience – which in itself is a rarity on PlayStation 4 – but it is also a game that feels completely out of its time. A big part of that is probably down to the fact that this is a re-release of a 2008 Wii game. 428 sees the player experience a ten-hour period of time through the eyes of five protagonists, as they live out their day in the busy Tokyo district of Shibuya.

Starting at 10:00AM, each portion of the game is presented in hour-long time slots, up until the climax at 8:00PM. Each of the heroes must play through to the end of their hour in order to proceed to the next chapter. A kidnap of the daughter of a wealthy scientist develops into a major world-changing event, rather than simply the simple ransom case it initially appeared to be. You take control of a Police Detective, a reformed Street Punk, the aforementioned famous Scientist, a energetic journalist and a down-on-her-luck marketing mascot – all of who must come together to avert a series of disasters.

The writing is genuinely funny, with a lot of attention having been paid to the localisation

The story starts off simple, but more and more plot twists and strange story developments give you plenty to chew over. The writing is genuinely funny, with a lot of attention having been paid to the localisation – this was in fact a pet project of a new Spike Chunsoft employee, who vowed to get the game translated for the Western market, no matter how old the game had gotten. The characters are all very likeable, and playing through their various trials and tribulations really makes you want them to succeed, and to find out how their story ends.

Gameplay advances using mostly still photographs, scrolling speech and narrative text, as well as some short video sequences. The five playable characters can be switched between on the fly as their storylines all progress simultaneously. Each one-hour block contains a series of decisions for each character, which can either help progress their story, unlock new scenes or outcomes for other characters in their own story, or result in one of many premature “bad end(s)”. For instance, if one character keeps getting harassed by a loan shark during their hour, then it might require another character to cause a distraction earlier in their respective hour, to keep that loan shark out of the picture.

This can all be kept track of by using the Time Chart. This cobweb of events shows the narrative flow for each of the starring Shibuya citizens, and where they have reached roadblocks that need to be overcome or where choices would have branched out. During conversations and the general text of the game, red words can sometimes be found, which then allow the player to “jump” between characters. This is often absolutely necessary in order to get through a previously blocked path, but can be hidden in less-than-obvious places. Players will need to use character jumps at the right time, as well as making the correct decisions, in order to move forward – finding the correct combination is very satisfying.

It is not always clear what action would help with your progress, so the player must make use of clues which can be found within the text of the game, making the right (or wrong) choices based on what you uncover. Some clues can provide insight, whilst others are red herrings or useless fluff. There are extra hints that you can choose to activate if you are feeling stuck, and these will point you more directly in the right direction. Sometimes however, experimentation and trial & error are preferable – partly because sometimes unexpected decisions have surprisingly positive results, but also because there are trophies for receiving all eighty-five different endings on offer in 428 – be they successful or unsuccessful ones!

The story is suitably strange and has some really peculiar twists

The story is suitably strange and has some really peculiar twists – as one would expect from a Japanese thriller. A certain degree of patience is required when playing a game such as 428 – this is by no means a non-stop action rollercoaster. There is A LOT of reading to be done, for only a relatively small percentage of actual interactive elements. This is a more thoughtful and laid-back affair than your general PS4 fare. In that same sensibility, everything is presented in a very simple – albeit clean and stylish – package. Hi-res photos and quirky music (including a selection of songs from real-life Japanese Popstar Aya Kamiki) round out the presentation, but there is nothing next-gen about this title. It should come as no surprise to those who were unaware that this game is over a decade old.

7

428 Shibuya Scramble is a slow-moving but thoroughly enjoyable visual novel. Playing through the game definitely feels like you should be reading it all on your Nintendo DS along your daily commute, rather than when sitting in your lounge on a 4K screen - however its humble origins and less-than-lofty ambitions should not detract from a very fun and unique title. 428 definitely won't be high on the wish list of many console gamers, but those who are yearning for a compelling mystery to sink their teeth into, with a few added wrinkles such as the time chart and character jumping to make things more interesting. There won't be millions of players scrambling to pick up this title, but fans of a good old-fashioned text adventure will be pleasantly surprised.

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