Released: 2011

Genre: Adventure

Publisher: Namco Bandai

Developer: From Software

The Background

From Software had been trucking along for years before Demon’s Souls. A workhorse studio, it pumped out mediocre to average games across all genres, from the mecha Armored Core series to the first-person, rock-hard RPG King’s Field games. It was this series that inspired Demon’s Souls, a PlayStation 3 exclusive that was released to little fanfare in 2009 – indeed, Sony decided against publishing the game outside of Japan, leaving it up to third parties. It was a misguided decision in hindsight, as Demon’s Souls was a success with critics and gamers, a blend of the hardcore trappings of King’s Field with a new style of action-RPG gameplay spearheaded by director Hidetaka Miyazaki.

Work soon began on a sequel, although not one directly connected to the story and world of the first game. Miyazaki returned as director and producer, refining the basic gameplay and ideas of Demon’s Souls and introducing them to a new audience on Xbox 360. Many UK PlayStation 3 owners had also missed out on Demon’s Souls due to the European release taking many months longer than the American, so for many Dark Souls was their first step into this strange new challenge.

DARK SOULS 4The Game
That’s the thing that everybody remembers about the Souls games, the first thing that gets brought up in conversation: the difficulty. Most readers of this magazine will agree that games today are too easy, holding your hand every step of the way and rarely testing the skills that you’ve built up over decades of sitting in front of a screen and pressing buttons. Dark Souls says to hell with that, and aside from an incredibly sparse few lines of tutorial text telling you what the buttons do, you are on your own. Dark Souls laughs at the concept of objective markers, and outside of some extremely vague and veiled hints from NPCs, you will have to explore and make your own way in this world. Add in the fact that there is no map, and you have to scour, learn and memorise every corner of Lordran like the good old days when we drew pen-and-paper maps of the original Metroid.

Lordran is a bleak, empty land, populated only by mindless undead and horrific demons all looking to kill you. Dark Souls is defined by its simple but wonderfully responsive combat, where each button press corresponds to a swing of your weapon and carefully observing your enemy and attacking when able is the only sure-fire route to success. Swinging wildly will quickly get you killed, even against the most basic of enemies. Every fight is a threat in Dark Souls, and you need to be attentive and focused at all times.

Of course, death is inevitable, and the game’s approach to it is another one of its elements of genius. Die and you’ll be sent back to the last bonfire you rested at, a checkpoint system of sorts. Resting at a fire refills your health and Estus Flasks (health potions, essentially) but also respawns every single enemy in the world, aside from defeated bosses. You can’t clear out an area and be done with it – every time you rest, the bad guys come back. Die and respawn, and your collected souls will be left at the spot you perished. Souls act as currency and experience, spent on items and to level up, and losing a huge batch is never fun. You have one chance to get back to your corpse and get your souls back, but die again before you do and they are gone forever. It’s a brilliant mixture of risk and reward that always leads to extremely tense moments.

But lots of games are hard, and a lot of games play well. Dark Souls is exceptional because of its artistic elements: the atmosphere, the lore and story hidden in the world, the stark beauty of a landscape housing a dead society. Few games have ever created a feeling of isolation and loneliness like Dark Souls (again, inviting comparisons to Metroid). The story of the world you venture through is left largely unexplained, but hinted at through various means, be it item descriptions or the mutterings of a deranged merchant. This minimalistic approach to storytelling adds to the mysterious nature of the game, and dedicated fans have managed to discern a huge amount of lore and backstory from the subtle hints given – just like the rest of the gameplay, if you want to know what’s going on, you have to work for it.

DARK SOULS 6Why It’s A Future Classic
This is the real reason why Dark Souls will live on, sure to be remembered in decades to come. Most games feel like entertainment, Dark Souls feels like a piece of art, fully conceptualised by Miyazaki and his team as a whole, designed to function both as a great game and a means of conveying emotion, bringing a player down through isolation and failure before building them back up as they learn, grow and get better. Some won’t have the patience for a game like Dark Souls, and that’s fine – it’s not for everyone. But for those with the patience and fortitude to persevere, those that see games as challenges to be explored, mastered and conquered, Dark Souls is a true modern classic in every sense of the word.

The Background
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

 

The Game
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.

428: Shibuya Scramble

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.

428: Shibuya Scramble