Wow, this is sure different.

So, 428: Shibuya Scramble is a visual novel. Right out the gate, that lets us define a few things, as well as some terms of the review. This is not a hybrid visual novel, or a visual novel with another game attached to it, or just an RPG with lots of storytime. This is a full on, straight up visual novel, which means we can't really come at this from the usual angles.

What can we talk about, then? Well, even without giving spoilers, quite a few things. Let's start with the most standout of the gimmicks and tricks 428 has, and one you probably already noticed. The graphics. They're not 3D rendered, they're photographs and video clips. Even at a glance, this makes the game stand out sharply in an era where this hasn't been done unironically in years.

Of course, there's a reason it stopped being done unironically, and it was because of how a lot of the old FMV games had, quite frankly, terrible acting. The good news is, 428 sidesteps that issue entirely. Because the game is a visual novel, characters are almost entirely acting in the form of photographed poses, which are, quite frankly, a lot easier to make convincing.

This is also helped by the game's actual premise; a kidnapping mystery in slightly-outdated Tokyo, with no crazy supernatural shenanigans, no powers, not even really any special effects. Without having to make the unreal look right, they just have to worry about selling the actors as their characters. And while that's still no small task, it's a much more...straightforward one.

That kidnapping mystery angle also plays into one of the few gameplay tricks 428 tries its hand at. You don't just keep your camera on one person, one point in time, or even strict linear progression, here. 

Rather, the game is broken up into hour-long chunks of activity. Inside of each hour, you have a set of characters you can follow the story of, and your goal is, plain and simple, to get to the true version of that hour, the one that leads you towards solving the mystery. Character interactions interweave, with one story almost inevitably going awry unless you see someone else's life to influence it.

A simple example of this is in the very first hour-chunk of the game, which sits as the tutorial area. Kano, the detective, will on his own path go after a suspected associate of the kidnapper, arrest him, and spend hours interrogating him...Only to realize he barked entirely up the wrong tree.

But if you go play as Achi, that very same suspect, you can change that. By having him stop to toss some trash in his hands before he goes to talk to a pretty girl, he ends up taking just long enough that Kano gets eyes on the actual suspect. A butterfly effect filters out, as you keep having to go back and forth in different iterations of both mens' experience of the same hour to get them both to the end without running into any of the countless Bad Ends.

Now, this isn't the first or only game to have done this. It's a mechanic I've heard of several times. But it's the first I've played to do it, and inside of the mystery element, it works really well. You end up meeting characters, then getting to play as them and discovering how different they are, or getting to see elements and later figure out just the right person to be in the right place to set things down a better path.

And when it all comes together, and you get that perfect path from A to B to C where everyone is in just the right place at the right time and all the coincidences and decisions and everything all line up...It's as sweet as candy to see it all work.

But, nothing works perfectly all the time. And that brings us to the game's flaws.

Probably one of the biggest ones to stick out, is how this is originally from almost a decade ago. The photos themselves don't stand out too terribly, since they seem to have kept the high quality originals instead of just the 640x480 versions from the Japanese-only Wii release from back then. But you can see a lot of little things that just, don't, mesh anymore. Flip phones abound, old logos are still on things they shouldn't be, that sort of thing.

This is all kind of inevitable with any piece locked in time, but seeing it so unintentionally, in what's being presented as a new release, still sticks out.

And some of the translation is...Wobbly. I get that a lot of Japanese language puns just aren't going to translate, but there were a few times where I was left feeling like I was getting the jelly donut version of what the character had actually meant to say.

Now, that said...These aren't overwhelming flaws, if you're into the genre. And while the core writing isn't going to blow your mind with its wordsmithing or anything, it's still a really solid presentation of a really interesting mystery.

The real core question, as with any visual novel, is whether it's what you're looking for. These tend to hit a bit of a different audience than the usual Western mainstream gamer...But hey, if you like the sound of it, 428: Shibuya Scramble is certainly a well executed form of the craft. Give it a whirl.