If you’re not very familiar with Famicom Detective Club, that’s probably because it’s only ever been available in Japan. Until now that is. Nintendo has finally brought the legendary duology from the eighties to the Nintendo Switch. The Missing Heir & The Girl Who Stand Behind have been localized with English text, giving us the chance to finally explore first-hand what the games are all about. Put on your detective hat and let’s solve these legendary murder mysteries.
|Buy if||Not for you if|
|– Visual novel games are your thing|
– Detective games are your thing
– You appreciate a good sound track
– You like solving mysteries
|– Patience is not one of your virtues|
– You skip through dialogue
Mild spoiler warning if you click through the slideshows in this article.
Famicom Detective Club is the first game scenario written by Yoshio Sakamoto. The game designer, who’s worked for Nintendo since the early 1980s, is most known however for his key role in the development of the Metroid series. He’s also a producer for the current re-release of the games, which feels like a full-circle moment.
The games were originally released for the Family Computer Disk System, a peripheral for the NES. Back then however the NES was called the “Family Computer” in Japan, most commonly known as the Famicom. The peripheral used floppy disks, which enabled better sound and cheaper games. The Missing Heir released in 1988 and The Girl Who Stands Behind in 1989, by which time the Family Computer Disk System had become obsolete thanks to the improved technology of game cartridges.
Get a feel of the original here:
A first remake of Famicom Detective Club came in 1998 for the Super Famicom (or as we know it the SNES). The remake included only the second title, The Girl Who Stands Behind, but featured new graphics and sound. It also allowed players to review information they had gathered on characters throughout the story. The game was still only available in Japan, but fans did release a translation patch themselves in 2004.
Both titles in the Famicom Detective Club have been ported to the Game Boy Advance in 2004 as separate games. It was also the first time a Nintendo game got rated 15+ because of the murder and smoking. The Missing Heir later became available as a download for the Wii, Wii U and Nintendo 3DS, where The Girl Who Stands Behind got a disk release for the Wii and 3DS. Its Super Famicom Remake made it to all three platforms.
Already in 2019 Nintendo announced it would bring a Famicom Detective Club remake to the Nintendo Switch. Under their supervision Mages brought new graphics and music to the games. On top of that, they introduced voice-acting to the duology. The games are sold both individually (depending on your region) and as a bundle, and in Japan even physically in a collector’s edition. For the first time ever the game has now been localized in English, but not the voice acting. Personally I always leave voice on Japanese and play with English subs, which probably counts for most of the (potential or existing) fanbase. However I think it’s a missed opportunity; they could likely reach even more people with an English dub. Nevertheless I’m grateful that this iconic piece of Japanese gaming history has become available to a broader audience.
Famicom Detective Club is essentially a mystery visual novel, and of course a detective game. It’s the perfect joining of mystery, horror and a dash of comedy. I’ve enjoyed my fair share of point-and-click detective games in the past, but Famicom Detective Club doesn’t truly fit that genre for me. The focus definitely lies on the dialogue, not on solving actual puzzles or scanning your surroundings for clues. But don’t think all you have to do is spam A and skip through dialogue. The difficulty lies in understanding people and finding clues about what questions to ask next.
Your actions in the games are limited. You can call/engage someone, talk about specific subjects, examine your surroundings or objects, travel to other locations, and on some occasions you’ll be able to take or open things. When eg. a new subject or location becomes available, it will be highlighted in yellow. In The Missing Heir you’ve lost your memories, adding the action “Remember”. After finding certain clues, hitting “Remember” is often needed to draw conclusions and advance the story. In The Girl Who Stands Behind the action “Think” serves the same purpose, but has been renamed since you don’t need to recover your memories there. There’s also the option to quit and save at any time, but the game will auto-save at certain events.
Yes, I just said the Famicom Detective Club doesn’t revolve around puzzles, but they are not entirely absent. In The Missing Heir there are moments where you are asked to complete deductions based on your research so far. This will actually require you to type the answer the game is looking for. Which is scarier than just selecting the correct answer from a list right? So: pay attention! That being said, the game automatically stores important information in your notes which you can consult at any time. During “the finale” of The Missing Heir you get to solve the only classic puzzle in the games. I was very anxious to uncover the mystery, and right when I thought I would learn the truth: the puzzle hit. I actually liked that it came right at the end and added even more suspense.
In the Girl Who Stands Behind also requires you to make deductions. Each time you’ll have to answer with a name. Don’t panic just yet! The game has a nice overview of everyone you’ve interviewed. You get to select the name and, if available, will even see a picture of the person. Although this is definitely easier, some of the names are a bit alike (on purpose) and it could be hard for someone who’s not used to Japanese names. There was a little more point-and-click action in this one, but it’s still not the focus of the game at all.
Advancing the story
In Famicom Detective Club you try to solve mysterious murders. As a junior detective you will mainly focus on asking the right questions to the right people. What can be difficult is that you will often have to ask someone the same question multiple times in a row until they give you the information you want. Or you might have to re-examine someone you are talking to, after which you’ll draw a conclusion. Most of the time it’s obvious and the game gives plenty of subtle hints, like indicating someone seems nervous or might be hiding something. Maybe they even gave a weird reaction to a specific question. But there were a few occasions where I just tried and re-tried every single option available until I did the right thing to advance the game.
The Missing Heir
You wake up and are greeted by someone standing above you, who looks worried. Turns out you fell from a cliff and have lost most of your memories. Back at the accident site, your assistant Ayumi finds you. You’re a detective at Utsugi Detective Agency and have been looking for your long-lost parents for a couple years now. When Ayumi asks you for your name, be mindful that this will be used as the character’s name throughout the game. For full immersion you might want to choose a classic Japanese name.
You recently started working on a new case in Myoujin Village, where the head of the rich Ayashiro family recently passed away. Butler Zenzou doesn’t believe his master’s passing was natural and hired you to investigate. On top of that the entire village seems to believe the Ayashiro family is cursed and that the late Kiku will rise from the grave. You start a quest to find not only the murderer, but also the rightful heir of the Ayashiro Corporation. The mystery grows larger as more family members wind up dead…
The Girl Who Stands Behind
Although The Girl Who Stands Behind is the second game in the Famicom Detective Club duology, the events take place a couple years earlier. You’ve just met detective Utsugi, who offers you a job while you continue searching for your parents. Utsugi assigns you the murder case of high school girl Yoko Kojima, while he works on the old Kaneda case that’s about to expire. You meet Ayumi at the scene of the crime, because she’s Yoko’s best friend. She tells you that they have their own detective club at school, where they solve rumors together.
Yoko had been researching the Legend of the Girl Who Stands Behind on her own. She’d been acting weird before she died, indicating she uncovered something about the rumor. You start investigating and learn that 15 years ago Shinobu, a female student at the same school, went missing. That’s when stories about a blood-covered ghost in the school started. Turns out Shinobu is involved in the Kaneda-case, which detective Utsugi is trying to solve. Yoko must have learned who the killer was and paid for it with her life. You have to solve the old Kaneda-case to learn who murdered Yoko. Can ghosts be real?
The brand new art is amazing and really suits modern visual novel games. To my surprise the visuals are a lot more dynamic than I expected: characters actually talk, change expressions and move around. There are even scenes where you’re actually running. Apart from actual moving images, other methods make the story come alive as well. The manga-style picture in picture shots (see below) don’t only look nice, but are a nice addition to the pace of the scene. I do have one remark: The game is supposed to be localized in English. That means that texts in images should be translated as well, but that’s not the case. Notes and names of stores remain in Japanese. There’s also a short news broadcast that is not translated, which is a pity.
Last, but definitely not least, Famicom Detective Club has its music game down. Not only do both games have a “Music-Only”-mode where you can just vibe to the tunes, but you can even change the music to the original 8-bit tracks in the settings. If that’s not a testament to how iconic the music is, you’ll just have to take my word for it. The music of course changes with the scenery and sound effects accompany twists and turns in the story. Across the two games the music seems similar, but isn’t exactly the same. The tracks are absolutely catchy and I wish they would become available on Spotify already. The new voice acting is also very much on-point and I’m glad they took the effort to include it. It adds to the immersiveness of the story, even if you don’t understand Japanese.
Famicom Detective Club works really well on the Nintendo Switch. The stories are engaging and keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end. The addition of horror elements, but also comedic moments, can really change the mood in the game and liven up the pace again. Which is very welcome in visual novel games. The new visuals with the remastered sound and newly added spoken text really bring the game into the 21st century. Although the story obviously takes place in the past, it has generally aged well. I did struggle when asked to call someone on speed dial: I don’t know how that works on an old phone!
If I had to pick a favorite, it would be The Missing Heir, because in the end every mystery is solved. The Girl Who Stands Behind however fails to give a rational explanation for the ghost sightings. That leaves you thinking about whether ghosts can be real or if you missed something in the investigation. And I prefer to sleep peacefully at night… In any case I definitely recommend you pick up both games if you like this genre, they’re some of the best I’ve played so far.
The next slideshow contains some funny and cruel visuals I wanted to share, but massive spoiler warning for these!