We don’t often hear about Japanese indie games over here, unless they’re already so popular in Japan they’re seeing things like remakes or adaptations elsewhere. There has been an uptake over the past several years or so, with visual novels and games made with tools like RPG Maker finding more supportive audiences. PLAYISM is one publisher bringing official localizations of these games to us, and one of its latest titles is straight out of an online indie games publication called Game Magazine.
The game is The Case Book of Arne, a part visual novel, part detective mystery from developer group Harumurasaki. The title has been running in serialized form since 2017 on Game Magazine, and was recently picked up by Kadokawa for a manga adaptation. Now it’s on Steam for just a few bucks, and it’s a good time if you’re into the whole manga/visual novel/doujin space and not above content made with RPG Maker (you shouldn’t be). The Case Book of Arne is a charming and super well-localized paranormal mystery that lets you have a hand in solving the caper.
As The Case Book of Arne is mostly storytelling, there’s only so much detail I’m willing to go into for the spoiler-averse. You’ll be playing as the unlikely team of Lynn Reinweiß, a young noble girl with a strong case of cabin fever, and Arne the former king of the Vampires. Both of these characters find themselves in unique situations, and some seriously spooky events in the human world lead to the two pairing up to solve the mystery. With Arne’s vampiric powers and Lynn’s tenacity, you as the player will figure out who or what is behind several inexplicable murders.
I’m not gonna lie, The Case Book of Arne is not going to be the most polished RPG Maker game out there. There’s really no attempt to hide that (not that there should be), so there is an immediately noticeable low-budget feel. You’ll mostly see this in the character sprites, which lack detail or presence in a way that makes them stand out like little toys on a more impressive-looking playset. But the portrait art and occasional full-screen CG stills look great, mixing a softer anime style with supernatural and occult colorings and imagery. The music kinda whips too!
The visuals are what they are, but the writing and localization are top-notch. Each character (introduced by a hilarious stats card) has a well-established personality and role in the story. It’s easy to remember who is who because of their distinct voices in the text, and of course the twisty scenario manages to incorporate those characters meaningfully in various ways. When you get a list of possible suspects at the end of part one (of three), you know just based on dialogue scenes you’re in for a fun ride.
When it comes to finding clues and navigating around the world, The Case Book of Arne doesn't really care about that. The staging areas are small and uncomplicated, and icons tell you where to go and where to look. Like I said, this is just as much a visual novel as a mystery, and you’re using your brain to help crack the case, not your Gamer Skillz. That said, there are a few sequences in which you use Arne’s limited powers of transformation to do things like evade a guard, or sneak around Lynee’s family mansion.
These parts are more cute than intense, although at least one awkward chase scene can be a pain in the butt. Luckily if you mess up you just get to try again, and the game even lets you skip after a few tries if you want. This is supposed to be a story and not a challenge, and that’s fine. The lack of roadblocks keeps the pace going smoothly.
Occasionally, you’ll get to participate more directly in the investigation. Sometimes you’ll be prompted to put the clues together with multiple choice options, and other times you’ll actually stage a crime scene of sorts (also effectively multiple choice questions, but they look cool). Again, no fail states here and if you really need to just pick until you get it right, that’s there. But while you can’t lose, it does feel nice that the game trusts you to pay attention, or to make certain deductions based on the story’s events rather than beating you over the head with the clues.
Over the course of its three episodes, I had a great time with The Case Book of Arne. It’s definitely a small scale project, so if you’re expecting something with more polish or fidelity you’re barking up the wrong tree. But the game is full of personality and charm, and it’s super, and I mean really, well-written and localized. This is a great, little paranormal mystery with a couple of very fun leads, and while you’re mostly just along for the ride it’s neither lengthy, obtuse, or frustrating. It’s also a fun peek at one of Japan’s indie game scenes.
- Excellent localization
- Fun interactive segments
- Great portrait art and music
- Some of the "gameplay" is awkward
- Character sprites aren't nice to look at
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review