All families have a secret in some shape or fashion. Perhaps your uncle is secretly an indie band member. Maybe grandma used to hide hitchhikers in the basement when she was out of town. Or maybe your family is hiding a deep history of betrayal, death, and mystery that all comes to light after a skeleton is unearthed under the cherry blossom tree. The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story tells the tale of the Shijima family, who will soon have their entire family history upended when the remains of a person are found on their property.
You play as Haruka Kagami, a young mystery writer who is wrapping up a book signing when her friend, Eiji Shijima, appears to give her some news. The remains of a body have been found on his family’s property and are currently plastered all over the news. Rather than wait for the media and police to piece together their own story, Eiji wants Haruka and Akari, her editor, to come to his family’s home to investigate.
Quickly, you’ll make the acquaintance of all of the current Shijima family members, as well as the two staff members living on the grounds. Everything appears to be normal until Eiji’s father, Ryoei, announces that he wishes to bring an end to the Shijima family’s tradition once and for all. But right as that’s announced, Ryoei appears to be poisoned and is taken out of commission. At that point, it’s up to Haruka to piece together what happened and who the culprit is.
The writing of each individual case is really well done, although, like a lot of mystery games, some evidence points can feel vague during the presentation phase. It’s not too hard to piece together potential scenarios and motives, but there are some times when you may need to make a guess if you’re not the heavily observant type. Another thing that may trip up some people is the fact that a large cast of characters is acted out by a small cast of actors. Of course, each character has their own mannerisms and appearances, but at the end of the day, they will have the same face and that could make it hard to differentiate characters across different timelines.
There is only one ending, although if you show the wrong evidence, you can see different scenes play out. Of course, these scenes do tend to play out the same, with the other characters contradicting your wrong guess with evidence and your character admitting that you’re mistaken before you are given the chance to try again.
Each chapter of The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story is focused on a particular case. You’ll bounce back and forth from the present day to past events involving members of the Shijima family. While some chapters may involve characters you’re already familiar with, others will involve a brand new cast of people you’ve never heard of or seen previously.
The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story is a mystery adventure FMV (full motion video) game where you collect evidence that appears during cutscenes. Once all evidence has been collected, you’ll be taken to the reasoning portion of the game where you’ll piece clues together to form hypotheses that can be used to present your case as to what happened and who the culprit is.
A majority of the game is video cutscenes that you can reverse, fast-forward, and pause at any point. As you progress through the game, you’ll notice text appear along with a button indiction, letting you know that evidence has been shown. However, if you don’t happen to hit the button the moment the evidence appears, you’ll still have it during the reasoning section. Truthfully, it feels more like the evidence is meant to draw the player into the scene, on the off-chance that they may not think that whatever’s happening is important.
Once all evidence has been collected, you’ll be taken to the reasoning stage. Reasoning is illustrated as a more internal process in the game, with the characters walking around in circles summarizing what has happened and what needs to be figured out. From there, you’ll see all of the scenes related to the case, as well as the corresponding evidence tied to each scene. If you didn’t happen to press the button for a particular piece of evidence, that’s fine, as the game automatically collects all evidence for you anyway.
From here, you will be posed questions and you’ll need to tie specific evidence pieces to each question. This portion is very easy, since all evidence is marked by a particular symbol in a particular spot on the hexagon. The questions also have these symbols, so you need to match the symbols in the correct spots to build up your hypotheses. You don’t need to uncover every single hypothesis, since only one path of logic is correct. In fact, if you’re a completionist and not quite good at piecing together mysteries, you may find yourself going down the wrong path of logic altogether with the abundance of hypotheses.
Once you have pieced together a majority of the hypotheses, the game will allow you to exit the reasoning stage. The only way from here to return to this stage is by presenting the wrong evidence and selecting to come back to reasoning.
After exiting the reasoning stage, you’ll be taken to the summary portion, where you can choose to explore your different hypotheses and get a feel for which evidence seems to be the correct path. Truthfully speaking though, the way that this section is handled feels kind of clumsy. Of course, this section could be useful for piecing things together, however, you can only explore one hypothesis at a time before having to go back to the beginning of the summary process. It feels like there could have been a better way to handle this section.
Afterward, you’ll be taken back to the real world, where you must present your argument to the other characters. As your character describes the actions of the victim and murderer, you will present your hypotheses along the way. There are two types of presentation: presenting evidence to a group of people and making statements to one particular character. When presenting to a group, if you choose an incorrect answer, you’ll get a game over and be given the choice to either go back to reasoning or be given a hint. If you choose to receive a hint, your score at the end of the chapter will be lower. Although, you also get a lower score if you make mistakes. When you are making statements to individual characters, you won’t get a game over, however, wrong statements are still counted as mistakes.
The fact that the game will give you the option to go back to reasoning, while understandable if the player still has hypotheses that they haven’t collected yet, is a bit tedious. If you see no need to go back to reasoning, then you’ll have to navigate through that section to end it, and then be taken back to the beginning of the cutscene. It would have been better to offer to take the player right back to the beginning of the scene, along with the offer to go back to reasoning.
As mentioned earlier, The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story has some vague evidence points, which can end up in the player easily making a mistake. If you don’t really care much about your score, then this is a moot point. But for those looking for a perfect run, it may take some trial runs to figure out the full story.
The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story is not difficult, in the case that you can complete the game even if you’re absolutely bad at mystery games. Forming hypotheses is easy because the questions and evidence are marked with specific symbols that make it easy to match. And while you do game over by making mistakes while presenting evidence, it’s easy to go back and restart the scene.
At the end of each case, you’ll receive a score based on how many mistakes (if any) you made during the presentation stage. The fewer mistakes made, the more points you receive. However, this score doesn’t appear to really matter, outside of just making the player feel good or bad about how they did with a particular case.
The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story is an FMV game, which is something that is fairly rare in the industry. All scenes are acted out by a small cast of actors, with many of them taking up multiple roles to build out the cast of characters in both the past and present. There are some splashes of 3D animation that pop up as well, usually during the reasoning and presentation portions of a case, where different hypotheses are acted out.
The text for the game pops up when the line is spoken by a particular actor, which can mean that some lines pass by rather quickly. With the option of rewinding, pausing, and fast-forwarding, the player is able to review anything that they feel they may have missed. The player can also review past chapters and cases by navigating to the menu and viewing all evidence, hypotheses, clues, characters, and cutscenes.
Acting and Cinematography
In terms of acting, the actors in the game are pretty good. Of course, there is a bit of corniness in some of the acting, whether it’s reactions feeling a bit over the top or too subdued. But nonetheless, this game brings a lot the charm to the table. When it comes to the actors playing different characters, they each tend to have their own typecast. But they display subtleties with each character that make each character stand out in their own way.
The acting paired with the cinematography takes this game to another level. Each scene is shot wonderfully and really adds to this being a full fledged project. It would have been easy to phone it in, and thankfully they didn’t. The scenes are lit well, the camera captures everyone in a way that is flattering to their character, and more importantly, the way that the scenes are shot do not take the player out of the game.
Soundtrack and Translation
The soundtrack is fairly standard, with lots of traditional sounding Japanese music paired with beautiful piano pieces. In fact, it tends to drift off into the background in a way that makes it not as noticeable compared to the other aspects of the game. But when listened to on its own, each track is nice in its own right.
The translation for the game is fine, although there are some hiccups when it comes to grammar and even a particular spot where German text is displayed rather than English. Outside of the sudden German text, there isn’t really anything that would take the player out of the moment and make the mystery game unplayable.
It’s not every day that you come across a full fledged FMV game. Pair that with the fact that there are a lot of heavy hitters involved with the creation, with director Koichiro Ito (Metal Gear Solid V), producer Junichi Ehara (NieR: Automata and Babylon’s Fall), and cinematographer and scenario director Yasuhito Tachibana (Netflix’s The Naked Director), and you end up with a fun mystery adventure game. While some portions of the game feel a bit clumsy, the writing and acting more than make up for the mild stumbles in gameplay.