Publisher: Koch Media/Spike Chunsoft
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
In 1998, Chunsoft released Machi – a “sound novel” that followed many people who pass one another in Shibuya, Tokyo. Playing from various perspectives including those of a gangster, a politician, an actor and a conman, the various tales came together in one tale. Released for the Saturn, PlayStation and PSP, the game became one of Japan’s most beloved adventure games. A decade later, Chunsoft would create a spiritual successor to Machi in the form of 428: Shibuya Scramble, a thriller that returned to Shibuya and adopted a similar gameplay style, featuring multiple character perspectives and a variety of different endings. This time though, a new cast of characters would become entangled in an unfolding crime in Tokyo’s busiest district.
Initially released for the Wii by Sega in 2008, 428: Shibuya Scramble scored a perfect 40/40 in Famitsu. The game was ported to PS3 and PSP in 2009, and later to iOS and Android in 2011, but all of these releases were confined to Japan only. The English translation of the game was a pet project of the game’s localisation producer David Kracker, and was ported by Dutch studio Abstraction Games. Kajiya Productions handled the English script for the game. Versions for the PC and PS4 were released in September 2018, this time in both English and Japanese.
428: Shibuya Scramble allows you to follow multiple characters over the course of a single day in Shibuya. Initially, you follow police detective Shinya Kano as he watches the scene of an arranged ransom handover in a kidnapping case. The game soon expands to include the perspectives of former gang leader Achi Endo, freelance journalist Minoru Minorikawa, research scientist Kenji Osawa and Tama, a temp worker trapped in a cat costume. Each character’s story is written with a different stylistic emphasis – Kano’s police drama contrasts heavily with Tama’s comedic misadventures and Osawa’s horror story – and their paths all cross in unexpected ways as they experience an event that could change the course of world history.
The game is unlike most visual novels released in English, as the game is presented as text over photographs of live actors, with music and ambient noises to help set the scene. As you read, some terms will be highlighted in blue and allow you to read additional information on locations, characters and more, while words highlighted in red allow you to jump to an appropriate point in another character’s story. The interactivity comes in the form of a puzzle, which is best described as like trying to play five interconnected Choose Your Own Adventure novels at once. When you pick a character from the menu, you’ll follow their story and encounter occasional points at which you need to make decisions, before eventually being stopped for one of three reasons. The best outcome is that you’ve made it to the end of their chapter. Sometimes, you’ll reach a Stop sign, which requires you to jump in from a link in another character’s story.
However, the most common reason is that you’ll reach a bad ending, of which the game has dozens. These are the consequences of a wrong decision having been made somewhere, and range from tragegy to comedy – your character is as likely to be murdered in cold blood as they are to simply pack up and begin a new life as a fisherman. What complicates matters is that a bad ending can be caused by events from outside of your character’s story – frequently, a seemingly inconsequential decision made by one character can have dramatic unforeseen consequences for another. For example, early on Tama must choose one of two potential customers to target with a sample of the diet drink Burning Hammer. One of them is Kano’s partner Sasayama, who will hand it to him later – causing Kano to experience a severe physical malfunction and a bad ending. The goal is to ensure that every character’s actions work together, which sounds complex but is made easier by the fact that consequences always stay within the same chapter.
Why It’s A Future Classic
Really, we’re just playing catch-up because of the belated English translation – in Japan, 428: Shibuya Scramble is already acknowledged as a classic. Back in 2017, Famitsu readers voted it the second best adventure game of all time, behind only Steins;Gate, and ahead of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Danganronpa and its own predecessor Machi.
428: Shibuya Scramble deserves its place amongst those icons of the genre. While the puzzle element of the game is satisfying in its own right, and the real world setting makes it easy to relate to, what makes the game so enjoyable is the writing. The game is a real rollercoaster ride, with comedic and sentimental moments playing out against the backdrop of a high stakes criminal investigation with real stakes that only increase as the day plays out. Character traits like Achi’s sub-genius utterances or Minorikawa’s hilarious bluster make the main cast easy to warm to, but the supporting cast are unforgettable too, from the banana-toting detective Kajiwara to the impossibly smooth taxi driver Kimizuka. If you’ve ever loved a visual novel, 428: Shibuya Scramble will be up there with your favourites – and if you haven’t, this is a perfect way to get acquainted with the genre.