Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles


Review by · July 10, 2008

I am always wary of Japanese video games with overly Americanized localizations. Even with the majority of bases covered in terms of dialogue, there are always ways in which the game screams “I’m not American.” Take Revelations: Persona for instance. Sure, the English text set the game in the Anytown, USA city of Lunarvale and followed the adventures of students from the local public high school, but in what local public high school in the US do students wear uniforms? The game was clearly Japanese and I wasn’t buying the US localization. Thankfully, times have changed, and Persona 3’s English text fully embraced the Japanese nature of the game. Unfortunately, Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles suffers the same fate as the aforementioned Revelations: Persona in more ways than one. Not only is the Americanization incongruent with the Japanese aspects of the game, but half of the game was chopped out of the US version. Man, I thought the days of Japanese video games being hacked up for US audiences were long past us.

Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles is part of the Tantei Jinguji Saburo series of Japanese visual novels that have been running since the days of the 8-bit Famicom (NES.) Jake Hunter/Jinguji Saburo is a hardboiled, Marlboro smoking, cognac drinking detective with a compassionate side and a gravity-defying hairdo that would make Wayne Static of the band Static-X proud. The Japanese version of this DS offering contained six cases for Mr. Saburo to solve, but the US version only contains three cases. This would not be so bad if the cases were longer than two hours apiece. Even for the budget price of $19.99, six hours of playtime with zero replay incentive is a rip off. Granted, Trace Memory was only a 5-7 hour game as well, but that game was so good in all aspects that I did not feel ripped off at all.

The first case was straightforward murder mystery case that held no surprises. The second case was a kidnapping case that started slow, but became more interesting toward the end. The third case involved a missing motorcyclist, the murder of a rival motorcycle club’s owner, and old grudges from the past. Though it was the most interesting case of the three, it was too little, too late. I thought all of the cases were pretty shallow compared to meatier detective stories found in video games such as Hotel Dusk: Room 215.

The dialogue in the game was mostly free of spelling and grammatical errors, but it was stale and read rather dryly. Characters showed zero personality, and it was difficult for me to accept the game’s Anytown, USA setting when I saw, for example, the steering wheel of Jake’s car on the right hand side and various locations, such as police stations, hospitals, cemeteries, campsites, etc. with prominently Japanese signs. All things considered, though, even a Persona 3-quality localization that embraced the Japanese-ness of the game would not have saved the storylines from their short and rather shallow nature.

Visual novels are not noted for their gameplay, but at least they generally offer Choose Your Own Adventure style storytelling so you can feel like you’re influencing the story a little bit, right? Not always. EVE: Burst Error, for example, was as linear as visual novels got, only had a single ending, no CYOA-style decision making, and the only task players had to do was click on menu options to talk to people, move to places, and occasionally use items. However, what saved that game was its incredible story and memorable characters. So what does that have to do with Jake Hunter? Well, the gameplay I just described for EVE: Burst Error was all there really was to Jake Hunter’s gameplay as well. Every action was menu-driven, and even if you made an incorrect decision, the game allowed “do overs,” so you were basically led by the neck to do everything in the exact way the game wanted you to. At least the menus did not get too cluttery and the interface allowed use of the buttons, stylus, or both.

The graphics were largely unimpressive. The backgrounds looked a tad washed out and lacked detail. The character portraits were much the same. Character designs were largely forgettable, though it’s interesting that they had more of an American comic book look than a Japanese anime look. Occasionally, some semi-animated cutscenes punctuated vital plot points, but those were also largely unimpressive. Given the sharpness of graphics in other DS visual novels like the Phoenix Wright and Apollo Justice games, Jake Hunter looked, well, washed out.

The sound was also mostly innocuous and forgettable. As with other games in the series, the soundtrack consisted of piano- and horn-driven lounge jazz and occasional synth pieces. I hardly took any notice of the music, though the more active music in the third case was much better than the lazier pieces in the first two. Still, there was nothing there that would compel one to buy the soundtrack. There were also very few sound effects and zero voice acting. The quality of the sound itself was pretty mediocre sounding like unimpressive 16-bit MIDI. I know that the DS does not have the best sound chip, but games like Contact have proven that crisp, high quality sound can be coerced from it.

If you didn’t already figure it out, Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles was a complete disappointment. Since there is no dynamic gameplay to fall back on, the visual novel genre is driven 95% by story, and the stories were below average in this game. Even if you love visual novels and want to see the genre given more due in America, skip Jake Hunter and spend your $19.99 on Hanako Games’ visual novel Fatal Hearts for PC instead.

Overall Score 69
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Neal Chandran

Neal Chandran

Neal is the PR manager at RPGFan but also finds time to write occasional game or music reviews and do other assorted tasks for the site. When he isn't networking with industry folks on behalf of RPGFan or booking/scheduling appointments for press events, Neal is an educator, musician, cyclist, gym rat, and bookworm who has also dabbled in voiceover work and motivational speaking.