It’s been 7 years since we have been graced with a CING-style game on a Nintendo system. They went bankrupt and disappeared after Hotel Dusk and Another Code R didn’t sell huge numbers, and their final game Again: Eye of Providence got unfair reviews and slander from press who didn’t understand visual adventure games. Sound familiar? Yeah, shit journalism can actually damage companies. CING is still dead but some key members of the team are back, including the Director of Hotel Dusk. They’ve joined Arc System Works who are credited as the developers of this game, with Aksys Games stepping in to publish. Chase: Cold Case Investigations has hit the 3DS eShop as a budget episodic visual novel, in an attempt to bring their highly atmospheric stories back into the mainstream.
Shounosuke Nanase is a bit like Kyle Hyde. Cocky, aloof, lazy, but with a caring side, and he’s always thinking. Koto Amekura is his assistant, doing her best to gather research, ask questions, and decode Nanase’s distant facial expressions. Individually they don’t seem like they could solve a crossword puzzle, let alone a cold case. It’s their banter however, that really sparks up the investigation and takes the plot to interesting places. Their Japanese names aren’t the result of a lazy translation, because this game actually takes place in Japan. A case that went cold 5 years ago has been re-opened after the office receives a mysterious phone call.
There is almost no gameplay in Chase. It’s entirely text-based with the occasional object to poke on the touch screen. Unlike Hotel Dusk there is no movement whatsoever, and no mini-games or puzzles. I didn’t really have a problem with this until I actually beat the game and realised there was no gameplay. The story just took over my head with engaging text and graphics and I didn’t care about anything else. You have the option of making wrong dialogue choices sometimes, but nothing really has a consequence and the worst Game Over you can get will send you back 5 seconds. The story is just a comfy ride really. The plot is extremely unique and unfolds in an interesting way, with great writing for every character. They did an amazing job bringing out the personality in everybody and it made me think a lot about their behavior, and how that relates to the crime in the story.
To make up for the barebones gameplay, the music is absolutely outstanding. It is the same composer as Hotel Dusk and it feels like he has improved his skills a lot in the last decade. The music is VERY similar, with that trademark comfy baseline returning to provide a home for mysterious melodies. There’s a brand new “thickness” in this music with more melodies overlapping each other. It creates a very heavy atmosphere that makes this case feel like the most important thing in the world. There are some new rhythm parts that add a bit of spice, almost like they combined the jazzy hotel vibe with cop drama music. It gives Chase a perkier flavour than the somewhat depressing Hotel Dusk.
The art style is classy but expressive, with the characters taking up the entire top screen and text on the bottom. Their facial animations are quite detailed which makes their attitude always easy to read. I think this is the best art and music that CING staff have ever produced, but the downside is there’s not enough of it. With only a handful of characters and 2 hours of story, there aren’t many different graphics and music tracks. It also doesn’t use 3D, which bummed me out initially, but some graphics are stretched over two screens so it makes sense to keep it consistent.
Yeah that’s right, the story lasts 2 hours. That was when the €5.99 / £6.00 / $5.99 US /$9.00 AU price made sense to me. It’s unfortunate but seems to be a necessary evil for this game to exist at all. When scrolling down the end credits I noticed that the dev team was very small, with most of it being the Aksys localisation team (thank you Aksys for bringing this outside Japan). The lack of gameplay is probably because they don’t even have gameplay programmers. Where those people went when CING disbanded, is a mystery. Why Nintendo didn’t save the company in the ultra-successful Wii and DS era is another mystery to me. Not their problem, sure, but letting go of talent is such a shame. This company is just oozing with unanswered questions and it leaks into the very scenario of their games.
The story in Distant Memories ends in an interesting way, but without fully resolving itself. That’s not a spoiler, just the nature of an unfinished game. It seems to be an episodic test-game to gauge the market before they commit to more. I really hope people support it, because I would love to live in a world where a comfy new CING adventure arrives on the eShop every year. There is nothing else like it. Chase’s story is just too interesting to go unfinished, and it seems like they are trying their best to become relevant again. If you haven’t played Another Code or the Hotel Dusk games before, Chase could be a great way to sample this style of game. You’ll probably feel ripped off if this 2 hour game is the only thing you buy all month however. I’ll personally cherish it forever, but it’s a bittersweet release. At least that music will stay in my head for a long time. Despite the shortcomings and different text-heavy approach, Chase offers a high-quality story with a strong atmosphere.