DS Fanboy Review: Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles

Alisha Karabinus
A. Karabinus|06.19.08

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DS Fanboy Review: Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles

In a platform game, it's important that you be able to actually move from one platform to the next. Action game? It's similarly important that you be able to fight and move, in order to progress through the game. Few people would argue those points -- so why is the text in a text adventure often less than great?

Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles could have been a great game. The potential is there, and there are a lot of great little touches. Unfortunately, the localized script is sloppy, and that, combined with the missing cases, makes this much more a miss than a hit.

Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles offers up three cases, each like a mini-novel -- though some cases were cut in favor of a budget price -- and they're all unlocked from the beginning, and you can undertake them in any order. That sounds good, right? We like making decisions ... but unfortunately, it seems as though some key decisions weren't made in either the development or localization of this title, and the result is lacking.

Part of the problem is that Jake Hunter seems to be struggling with a lot of decisions. Oh, not the detective himself, but the game; for a text adventure, there's not a great deal going on, and there's less interaction than noveling in this interactive novel. Even the character art is somewhat schizophrenic: the bottom screen overlay and the other art for Jake reveal him to be a craggy, busted figure -- perfect for the noir detective. But in the conversation screens, he's ... well, a little less noir and a little more like the generic, sulky hero of a low budget action film.

The character himself also comes across as the world's worst detective. Perhaps it's a cultural issue, but it's sure a good thing you're there to (sort of) guide Jake, or he'd be lost in the woods. Everything seems so confusing to him, and he's in such awe of the police -- despite the fact that they've come to him for help -- that it's a wonder he ever gets anything done at all. This is a far cry from the Sam Spade types who have always been the centerpiece of noir fiction -- the snappy, decisive fellows who never stop rolling forward, and who are never afraid to take action, as ill-advised as it may seem.

But Jake's mannerisms are all purely hardboiled. Need a hint on what to do and where to go? Hit the left shoulder button to light a cigarette and take a moment to think. As the smoke swirls, your thoughts will clear. If the entire game were as clever as that one little thing, Jake Hunter would be fantastic.

But every other problem with the title pales in comparison to the issues with the script. If you're going to spend hours reading -- if that's the entirety of the game, as it is here -- then the only thing the team has to get right is the text, and it couldn't be more wrong. The writing is flat and soulless, and not in the cool noir style, either. It's simply bad, without any compelling hooks or characters, and the frequent typos just make it worse. If there was more to the game, they wouldn't stand out so much, but since Jake Hunter is just about reading, it's like playing a first person shooter without any working weapons. And it's a shame, too, because the base stories are interesting. They are just presented in the worst way possible.

The gameplay -- or what little there is of it -- is no great shakes, either. You have some actual choices you can make, which is nice, but you're handicapped in other ways. Exploring a location? Get ready to stay there until the game decides you're done, which often means talking and re-talking to the same people. What's the point of offering dialogue choices that seemingly affect the outcome of your interactions if you're dragged along such a restrictive path otherwise?

It's not only your movement that is restricted, either, but also your interaction with people and items. While it's perfectly understandable that there are limits -- you can't exactly open up the possibility of any action at any time -- it feels artificial here. For example, in one case, you have the victim's cell phone ... but you can't even do anything with it until you're well into the case, despite getting it near the beginning. Roadblocks like these don't make sense in any way; it doesn't work in the logical sense of a detective story (it's her cell phone!), it doesn't make sense with the character of Jake (he's a detective with the murder victim's cell phone!), and it just makes it feel like the already-short game is being lengthened for no good reason.

At the end of each "day," you'll suddenly find yourself compelled to return to the office to mull over your leads. This leads to an excruciatingly dull quiz mini-game, in which you're questioned over the very simple facts you learned. Throughout, Jake reacts dully and seems unable to recall even the simplest things. Apparently, he has all the memory of a matchstick. Not much of a gameplay hook there; instead, it's mostly annoying.

Still, the biggest problems in the title are the characterization and story. When Phoenix Wright is a little befuddled by his situation or how to proceed, it's a gameplay hook, sure (gives you something to do), but it makes sense -- it's a comedy. The gameplay is tied in so well with the story and characters that it doesn't seem like we're being artificially railroaded through to a decision. Jake Hunter's similar confusion, and attitude in general, seem completely out of place with the history of noir. A real hardboiled detective would never moon about, wondering why the homeless guys won't warm up to him. He would take decisive action. Is it often formulaic? Yes; that's part of this sort of mystery, and sometimes, the formula is good. But instead of sticking to that, Jake Hunter is instead all over the place, and the result is a character who seems to have very little personality unless he's smoking.

What this game desperately needed was not just the effort of the localization team to translate it; errors aside, they had a lot of work to do. But after that was done, the game clearly needed someone to go over the story itself, to mold it into English, to breathe some life into the characters, and to offer a little cohesion. Perhaps then, Jake Hunter could have lived up to its potential. Instead, the game is imminently skippable.

Aksys, we too hope to see the visual novel gain more of a foothold here. DS owners have proven that they'll sign on for that type of gameplay. Unfortunately (fortunately for us?), we've been spoiled by some very great examples of it, and this sort of slipshod, unfinished, trimmed-down game won't fool us -- even at a lower price point.

Final verdict: 3/10 -- Considering that Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles was high on our list of most-anticipated titles, we're especially disappointed with the poor execution and the wasted potential.

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