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Around the time the Nintendo DS was released, there was a text-adventure game titled Sprung. Unfortunately, it was a terrible game that made the genre look bad, and it should rot in the ground. The following year, Nintendo released a point-and-click adventure game called Trace Memory. While it's not critically acclaimed, it was the first good game for the genre on this two-screen handheld. It's a solid game with an engaging story, and it made great use of every feature on the DS. Afterwards, Capcom brought over the fabulous Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and since then, the Nintendo DS has become an ideal system for the adventure genre due to the handheld's features.
In 2007, the developers of Trace Memory, Cing, released another unique adventure title. It was released in January, a few days after the second Phoenix Wright game. While Phoenix Wright 2 offers more of the same, this title offers a fresh experience, much like Trace Memory. This is the story of Hotel Dusk: Room 215.
You play a middle-aged, jaded protagonist named Kyle Hyde. He is a former NYPD (New York Police Department) officer who moved to Los Angeles sometime after shooting his ex-partner, Bradley. Thanks to his old man's connections, he now works for the company Red Crown as a salesman. One day, his boss assigns him to go somewhere and obtain some items for a client. Destination: A run-down hotel called Hotel Dusk.
He has to stay for the night in order to find the necessary items. At the counter, he meets Dunning Smith, the sleazy owner of this lovely place. After registering, Dunning gives Kyle the key to room 215, also known as Wish. According to Dunning, people who stayed in that get their wishes granted overnight, hence the room's name. Later on, he meets the other hotel staff along with the people who are staying for the night. One by one, he winds up helping them out with their personal problems for reasons even he is stumped about initially. Most of these people are complete strangers too. As it turns out, several of these people have some sort of connection to Kyle's own problems, which he has had no answers to after three years. He thinks it's too much of a coincidence, and continues to further investigate everyone. This will be a long night.
The story is fairly cliché, following a certain formula. There are also some pacing issues with conversations dragging on longer than it should on simple things. Most of the time, the conversations get nowhere.
Despite the story being fairly cliché with a sluggish pace, it's very engaging. The game is split into 10 chapters, each of them fairly short. Most of the time will be spent talking to the characters to get to know them, and the gist of their personal life. From chapter 2 and onward, Kyle will be interrogating each character to get answers he wants for personal reasons. As you progress, it turns out that some characters have connections to one another while others relate to Kyle's own agenda. It certainly keeps the gamer interested as the player puts together the pieces together.
A good plot wouldn't be possible without a solid cast of characters. Each character, no matter how much they may annoy you, have personality. With a bulk of the cast being adults, the localization group has done a great job of giving everyone their own expression (in terms of words), and made everyone distinct and unique. They were not too shy on being a little vulgar either, like most adults. They are somewhat cliché ranging from a flirt to a spoiled-rich boy, but the execution is well done.
I found Kyle Hyde to be a very interesting protagonist. He is a lone wolf in his thirties who gets irritated easily while being blunt and rude to others. The audience can easily relate to him since he thinks and speaks in a similar way we would normally think. It's quite funny how he states the obvious when commenting on some objects when observing. I would've made the same comments as him most of the time. One example is him commenting on a toilet. "There is a toilet in the bathroom. What a big surprise." Little things like that impress me.
The gameplay is good, though there isn't too much of it. The game is less puzzle-oriented than Trace Memory. Instead, you will be spending a lot of time walking around the small hotel, backtracking frequently to talk to characters. During the conversations, you are given choices during some portions of the conversation. They affect the ending you will be getting (more on that soon), and picking the bad choices can sometimes lead you to a game over. Occasionally during the conversations, you have to give the person a proper item in order to progress the plot. Sometimes, giving the wrong item also leads to a game over. Unlike Trace Memory, where it's technically impossible to lose, you can easily make mistakes that will lead you to a game over. A lot of mistakes are very simple things too. At least you have the option to retry and start from the last checkpoint.
Aside from chatting with the characters, you spend a fair amount of time investigating certain scenes from the game looking for clues, and getting certain items. Most of the time, it's fairly easy to find a certain something, but occasionally, you need you dig deep to find the answers.
Occasionally you will have a puzzle to solve. Most of the puzzles are easy with obvious answers. Some puzzles can be tricky, making you think outside the box. The puzzles make very good use of most of the DS' features including, the sleep function. The puzzles are usually straightforward, but there are quite a number of clever ones, especially some towards the end of the game that made me think deep. Overall, Trace Memory's puzzles were better crafted, but there are some good ones in Hotel Dusk too.
Also featured in Trace Memory is Kyle summarizing each chapter in his head, and you go through a bit on trivia on the chapter's events. The chapters are short enough for players to easily remember the events, but it can be helpful if you took a break, and picked it back up a while later. There is also a chapter summary in the Options menu if a player wants to go read the previous events.
There are about 12 endings in the game, giving it a lot of replayability. As mentioned earlier, the choices you make steer the direction of the ending like in visual novels. Of course, some endings are better than others, and unfortunately, I got one of the normal ones, but it was nice. The choices to getting certain endings aren't obvious either, so you are encouraged to play numerous times and pick different choices.
Graphically, it's quite a mixed bag. I do love the black and white, hand-drawn style of every character. It gives the game a lot of style and elegance, and each character has a good array of expressions. Some scenes used that style in still shots to give it the noir feel. The 3D part of the game is messy, mainly when walking around the hotel. The investigation portion has some detail, but it's nothing special. Sure, the hotel itself is a mess, but the 3D graphics lack some polish. There are also less pre-rendered images (as seen in Trace Memory) which I sorely missed during investigation portions. Instead of beautiful pre-rendered scenes, we get average 3D graphics.
Another problem is frame rate. That's not a problem when moving around, but it shows when doing investigation, and again in one particular minigame. When you move around with your stylus as you want to select an item or change angles to get a different viewpoint of the scene, the frame rate gets choppy. It makes everything feel choppy. Cing can do a lot better, as seen in other 3D DS games.
Like graphics, the music is also a hit and miss. Most of the songs you will be hearing as you go through the hotel corridors are generic, upbeat songs. The dialogue music is nothing special either. I did like the music when the dramatic bits kick in, making those scenes more intense. There was also a very nice piano piece that is played during the final chapter. In short, most of the games music, while fitting, isn't very interesting, save for the darker tunes.
The sound effects are proper, each fitting with the scene or actions: from footsteps to opening doors to impacts from an item. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Controls on the game work fine. Given that you have to hold the DS sideways, it can be a bit awkward, at least for owners of the original DS such as I. I quickly got used to it and it began to felt natural afterwards. Moving around with the stylus on a 2D map is quite simple, and when you can talk to someone or check something, the corresponding options on the bottom light up.
The problem is that the control can feel unresponsive or inaccurate at times, primarily during investigating something. The choppy frame rate affects the game as well, when trying to tap on a small item which you have to highlight then tap. Sometimes that causes you click on a nearby object or nothing at all. Some minigames or puzzles can get unresponsive when you do something to the object, but that's infrequent. Do not get me started on the bowling minigame though. The controls are terrible on that. Controls are fine overall, but it has some issues.
I greatly enjoyed Hotel Dusk, and I respect Cing's work even more. The story was engrossing, getting me engaged from start to finish, and the 2D styles on the characters and environments gave the game some charm. It's unfortunate that the game suffers from minor, but annoying technical flaws with fairly little gameplay. It's not perfect, but I highly recommend the game if you are in the mood for a solid story with a good array of characters. Those who expected this to be an action-packed detective story will be sorely disappointed. It's a story of one man who is searching for answers while being pulled into the midst of everyone els's problems.