"An intriguing system and an exciting setup ... [can't] save the fact that Blindman is a complete and utter mess."
Last year, as part of RPGFan's twentieth anniversary, we ran a feature
on localizations our staff would like to see. One of my contributions was a desire for any title in Nippon Ichi's Hayarigami series to make the journey westward, particularly hinting at the recent port of 2014's Shin Hayarigami to mobile devices. No less than a day after our feature ran, South Korean studio i-play announced that Shin Hayarigami would be released episodically in English, and its first chapter, Blindman, was mere weeks away.
However, in true horror fashion, this turned out to be something of a Monkey's Paw wish. i-play's grasp of English is tenuous at best, resulting in a glaringly bad script that was roughly on par with Google Translate. I was able to get the gist of what was going on, but I soon put the game down in favor of something a little more coherent. Over the summer, i-play announced that they had hired an editor and Blindman would be updated with a full retranslation on August 20th. Still eager, I started a fresh playthrough.
Set in fictional Village C, Prefecture S, Hojo Saki is a detective with the Special Law Enforcement Unit (SLEU), a team of wash-out detectives shoved off to manage cold case archives the rest of the police don't have the time or wherewithal to deal with. SLEU officers usually bide their time pushing papers, until their everyday routine is thrown into disarray when local professor/convicted killer Sekimoto Sojiro, during his trial, announces he has key information in the unsolved 'Blindman' serial murder case. He offers to share this knowledge on the condition he is released into the custody of SLEU, under the supervision of Saki. Something of a Hannibal Lecter figure (sans cannibalism), Sojiro's penchant for mind games makes for an uneasy alliance with the no-nonsense Saki.
Shin Hayarigami's big selling point is its Inference Logic system, in which the player helps Saki come to conclusions by attributing keywords to different suspects. Depending on what hypothesis you come to, each case may conclude mundanely with a perpetrator in custody, or it may take on a supernatural bent. Blindman himself is purported to be an urban legend; the vengeful ghost of, er, a blind man who gouges out the eyes of his victims to take for himself. It's an intriguing system and an exciting setup; unfortunately, neither of these can save the fact that Blindman is a complete and utter mess.
The bulk of the episode is a standard visual novel, and although its retranslation makes it easier to understand, it's still a poor localization filled with bad grammar and stilted dialogue. Some lines are just baffling, such as a man with a luscious head of hair being called "baldy." Later, that same man, a cowardly pragmatist, is called an impulsive opportunist for his hesitation to take action. There's also a number of uncomfortable ableist slurs that really should've been avoided. The script definitely needed another pass, but the source material is also incredibly poor. Suspects flutter in and out with little rhyme or reason, and frequently Saki and the rest of SLEU engage in meetings that are intended to be profound yet end up circular and non-additive.
Every few scenes, the game mixes things up with the Liar's Art system. Blindman's in-game tutorial describes this, verbatim, as "a 1-on-1 conversation, you have to get the information or evade situation wisely through disguise acting as the main character." Reading between the word salad, I got the impression this would be a Phoenix Wright-esque showdown in which I'd present evidence to one-up a person who was withholding information, or that I'd try not to let any evidence slip while convincing someone I was being genuine. In fact, it's not that at all. Liar's Art is a sequence in which your adversary makes a number of statements, and you're given ten seconds per question to select a response out of three potential answers. Depending on your answer, a gauge in the corner fluctuates between "Doubt" and "Trust." Selecting some of the answers requires Courage Points, an expendable (and regularly replenished) resource, though these don't guarantee a positive result. In the end, whether or not your adversary doubts or trusts Saki has little bearing on the plot: a few scenes may differ, but the character ultimately takes the same actions no matter what.
Though hardly a compelling experience, what bothers me the most about Blindman is its attitude towards its vulnerable characters. Many of the suspects you encounter are victims themselves, including a battered sex worker and a man with a debilitating mental illness. Saki and her colleagues treat each of them with disdain — your dialogue choices to deal with the sex worker are to blame her for not reporting her abuser or suggest her abuse makes her a prime murder suspect, while the prospect of the mentally ill suspect's confinement to a psychiatric hospital is called a drain on taxpayer money. Furthermore, the Liar's Art sequence with the latter suspect sees Saki deceive him while he lacks mental capacity, and even includes goading him to commit suicide as a "positive" choice. These attitudes are abhorrent, and seeing them espoused by those who are ostensibly Shin Hayarigami's heroes left a bitter taste.
No matter what choices you make, the episode ends with a deus ex machina, and your Inference Logic only changes the final few scenes. When that time came, I'd long stopped caring about Saki, Sojiro, Blindman, or anyone else. From what I gather, Shin Hayarigami doesn't have the greatest reputation among longtime series fans in Japan, and evidently for good reason. Thanks to i-play, those of us in the West can finally see that reputation for ourselves.