Have You Played… The Silver Case?

Goichi Suda’s work is, I must confess, a bit of a black spot in my overall gaming knowledge. His work is something that I feel like I’ve been “saving” for some sort of non-descript “best time” to start exploring — and yet that “best time” has somehow never quite come around. And so it was that last night, feeling the impending doom of analysis paralysis approaching, I reached over to my game shelves and grabbed The Silver Case, the PS4 remaster of Grasshopper Manufacture’s first game, and decided to finally give it a go.

As I type this, I’m only a short distance into the game so can’t comment on its full narrative with any sort of authority, but I have already found the experience striking enough to be worthy of comment. As such, we may well return to this topic once I’ve played a bit more — but I did think it was worth penning some first impressions, as The Silver Case is a thoroughly interesting game that is worth exploring for those who enjoy their gaming life to be a little more on the unusual side of things.

The Silver Case

Marketing for The Silver Case is pretty vague about what it actually is. Sometimes it calls itself an adventure game, sometimes a visual novel, sometimes it simply places the emphasis on it being an interactive narrative experience of some description. The reality is that the game sort of defies easy pigeon-holing, because it’s presented in an unusual, distinctive and memorable way that features both the relatively passive storytelling of visual novels and the more active involvement of adventure games.

In fact, probably the closest comparison I can think of is that, at times, it feels very much like a mid-’90s PC game on CD-ROM. This is perhaps unsurprising, given that the original Japan-only PlayStation release of the game is from 1999; while the “multimedia boom” of the mid-’90s had kind of tailed off in favour of more well-defined (and well-designed) experiences, memories of games like The 7th Guest and The Journeyman Project were still very much fresh in gamers’ minds. While those games hadn’t quite managed to live up to their potential, there was obvious potential in the format.

The Silver Case is even vague about its own narrative perspective. While you enter your name at the very start of the game, it doesn’t become immediately clear that you are going to be an active participant in the story. Instead, you see the run-up to an initial case unfolding from multiple narrative perspectives, and it’s a little while before your character is introduced. This, as you might expect, coincides with the introduction of the game’s more interactive components.

The Silver Case

The Silver Case unfolds in a fictional Japanese city known as The 24 Wards. Although canonically set in 1999, the game very much has a dystopian near-future feel to it; following the titular “Silver Case” from 20 years ago, the city’s criminal element is managed by the various divisions of the Heinous Crimes Unit, with a strong emphasis being placed on the “disposal” of criminal elements — the complete elimination of them so that no-one ever has to come into contact with them or their work ever again.

In the opening “chapter zero” of the game, you are part of a team of special forces sent in to “dispose” of one of these criminals. Having shot at a police officer on the road, said criminal has taken refuge in a large transmitter building affectionately known as “Cauliflower”, and so it’s up to you and your team to assault the building, take him down and wipe him off the face of the planet. Things don’t go entirely to plan, and this kicks off a series of strange happenings that appears to be connected to the “Silver Case” from 20 years past, and the apparent return of serial killer Kamui.

Once the first main chapter of the game unfolds, the player character is, to a certain extent, freed of the bonds of the regimented lifestyle of his special forces unit — largely because they find themselves decimated on a subsequent mission attempting to apprehend Kamui. “You” are the only survivor, traumatised to such a degree that you’re unable to speak, and much of the game’s main “Transmitter” scenario unfolds from your own first-person perspective as you follow along with the Heinous Crimes Unit as they investigate Kamui’s return.

The Silver Case

As a non-speaking participant in proceedings, your involvement in scenes that involve characters interacting with one another is limited, but when it comes to actually investigating scenes, you play a much more active role. The game allows you to move around environments between predefined locations using controls similar to classic dungeon crawlers, and areas of the places you visit where there are events or things to interact with are marked with a floating “star” icon.

Sometimes the star represents something that happens, such as a character appearing and speaking with you, while at other times they are actual items to collect or devices to manipulate. The game is especially fond of presenting you with code-cracking puzzles — the initial “chapter zero” presents a number of Caesar cipher challenges for you to figure out, for example, while the first main chapter of the game involves cracking a code using the “Hit and Blow” or “Mastermind” rules.

Interestingly, the modern rerelease of The Silver Case features a “magnifying glass” icon on all the puzzles that simply solves them for you, so if you want to just enjoy the story without spending time figuring out various brainbenders, you can. There’s seemingly no penalty for making use of this feature, so if you do find yourself truly stumped you can always make use of it to keep the story flowing along; alternatively, if you want to enjoy the experience of figuring things out for yourself, you can continue to do so.

The Silver Case

So far the most intriguing thing about The Silver Case is the way it is all presented. Making use of a system that Suda and Grasshopper described as “Film Window”, the interface is highly dynamic rather than taking a simple visual novel-style “main image and text window” approach.

Dialogue appears at various places all over the screen, appearing as if it’s being typed onto an old computer terminal — and in a nice touch on the PS4 version, your DualShock controller glows with the same tint as the “computer screen” for each chapter. Speaking characters are highlighted with squares that appear with exaggerated animations. The still images are occasionally complemented with CG or full-motion video sequences. The game never sits still, and this helps add to the sense of confusion the player (and the player character) is undoubtedly supposed to be feeling throughout.

This is further contributed to by the strange happenings that the player character witnesses in the various cases. So far in my playthrough, it’s not at all clear if the player character has actually been seeing these things, or if they are hallucinations — but either way, they’re deeply unsettling, and handled extremely well through the “Film Window” interface.

The Silver Case

In many ways, The Silver Case can be argued to be stretching the definition of “game” to a certain degree. There are certainly long periods where you don’t do anything but read dialogue and see things unfold, though visual novel fans will be well accustomed to this. But even the more “adventurey” components feel just a bit… weird. In a good way. And it’s quite remarkable to think that this game originally came out in 1999, whereas we tend to think of post-modern deconstructions of established genres — like the adventure game — as being a much more recent thing.

I suspect The Silver Case still has plenty more to offer beyond the point I’m at — I’ve only cleared the prologue chapter and the first main “case” in the Transmitter scenario — but I’m already thoroughly intrigued. If you’re looking for something very, very different from pretty much anything you’ve played before then The Silver Case is well worth checking out. I will certainly be continuing to do so in my own free time.

The Silver Case is available now for PC via Steam, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.

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Pete Davison
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