There are so many excellent visual novels released these days. It is fairly hard to maintain track of which is the more fascinating one, but with 428: Shibuya Scramble, there is a certain old-school charm to it because of its use of real-life actors to advance the story. This is, furthermore, a relatively old game released almost 10 years ago in 2008. Does it still hold up well after all these years?
After laying dormant for years, Spike Chunsoft has ultimately brought this cult-classic visual novel to the Western market and they deserve some praise for it. This was never officially released in English, so the localization announcement received many praises among fans. The reason is understandable: it is a tricky localization because of the story deeply rooted in Japanese culture and traditions. It is also prominently set in real-life locations around Japan with references to them that can scarcely be understood unless you have lived there or visited Japan.
428: Shibuya Scramble’s story revolves around a kidnapping and offers multiple twists on the story as you determine the fate of five diverse characters. Your actions endure consequences and the choices you make will frequently lead to a bad ending, but this is where the game manages to shine because bad endings are virtually essential to experience the undoubted potential of 428: Shibuya Scramble. Despite offering multiple endings, the game makes it easier for you to jump from one character to the next because the fate of the characters ties together completely in the game. It gets linked in such a way that picking a specific choice for one of them will lead to the story changing for the other. This is often used in gameplay to prevent a bad ending or dead-end faced by the character.
The game primarily takes place in the Shibuya district, which constitutes a notable part of Tokyo in Japan. You will start by controlling a young detective Kano who is on a mission to resolve a new case. It is a mysterious case revolving around the kidnapping of a girl who has a twin sister. The kidnappers demand ransom and select a location to deliver the money. The game begins with this scenario as the twin sister waits patiently to hand the kidnapper money while the police place detectives around the scene to capture the kidnapper. However, just like a typical mystery visual novel, things don’t go as planned and choices get made with a wide-reaching consequence.
The five playable characters in 428: Shibuya Scramble each offer their own unique perspective on the story. In addition to playing as the unproven detective Kano, you also experience the life of Achi, a wandering street punk who happens to discover himself in an identical situation. There is more craziness added with freelance reporter Minorikawa who has to cover this incident to save her magazine from going financially bankrupt. The story keeps twisting and turning by introducing characters like Tama, a young woman stuck in a cat mascot suit, and Kenji Osawa, the father of the kidnapped girl.
It is a bit hard to describe 428: Shibuya Scramble because much of its charm is in how a situation plays out. This is wholly a visual novel where the gameplay segments boil down to picking up the choice that your character will make, and figuring out how to escape from a bad ending by going back and playing out each scenario differently. The branching narrative used here is relatively complex and will frequently make you question things, but the option to go back in time makes it easier to start again. A flowchart is accessible at any time which is nice but its UI is often confusing to navigate.
This is not a typical modern visual novel. There is plenty of text for you to read as almost every scenario gets a detailed explanation in written form, just like a movie script. Real-life actors replace the traditional animation or 3D graphics so this often feels like you are playing an active movie with static stills to create your own story segments. It is a fun interactive experience but the writing feels a bit hard to get into in the beginning. It will take some time to fully grasp the concept and once you do, it is honestly pretty fun. There is a vast sense of mystery surrounding the characters, and it will be gradually unfolded with the story making progress further into the game. Considering how old this is, I won’t be surprised to hear that other games like Danganronpa and Zero Escape were deriving inspiration from this one.
There are many references that need better explanation and the game achieves this by giving you the choice to highlight them leading to a thorough explanation of what they can mean in the context of a particular situation. It can range from description of a location, keywords or abbreviations for the police to something that is local to Japan’s culture. The writing in 428: Shibuya Scramble deserves a praise because of the tricky localization and niche appeal of this product. This is not a visual novel for everyone, however, if you like a good mystery and interactive story that additionally boasts some likable cast of characters, this game is going to remain the perfect choice for you.
428: Shibuya Scramble Review (PS4)
Game Reviewed on: PS4
Game description: A kidnapping on the streets of Shibuya brings together a hot-blooded detective, hard-hitting journalist, former gang leader, the head researcher of a big pharma manufacturer and a part-timer stuck in cat costume for a series of events each more unexpected and outrageous than the last.
Final Score - 8/10
428: Shibuya Scramble takes some time to get into but once you start uncovering the mystery of its overarching plot, its unique story-telling and a well-developed cast are more than enough to recommend it for fans of Japanese visual novels.