The august of last year saw the release of Chase: Cold Case Investigations, a game made by the former members of Cing, the team behind the DS classics Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and Another Code: Two Memories (known as Trace Memory in the NA). The publishers were quick to market this game as the spiritual successor of Hotel Dusk. Now, I was a fan of Hotel Dusk, it’s sequel and, well, everything made by Cing during their active years. So naturally, I played Chase as soon as I got my hands on it.
You’ve got a lot to live up to, kiddo.
I found that while there were many elements that were present in the original games, it didn’t feel like it deserved to be marketed with such heavy emphasis on the games made by a competent team ten years ago. So I decided to take an in-depth look at the game, and dissect the reasons why I couldn’t shake the feeling of being a victim of the crime of misdirecting advertisement.
Fans of the 2007 hit DS game Hotel Dusk should recognize the immediate surface-level similarities between the two games: The lead duo looks very similar to those of the Hotel Dusk’s, the character of Shounosuke Nanase especially being a splitting image of Kyle Hyde from the Cing games of old.
(Last Window) Why would you go back from perfection?
But while the ex-cop Hyde’s adventures focused on exploring the environment of a run-down motel, and the characters who stay there, Chase is more of a straightforward thriller, where a cop duo from Tokyo Police Department’s Cold Case Unit is trying to make sense of an unsolved case of an explosion from five years ago. We follow the enthusiastic rookie investigator Koto Amekura as she struggles to work alongside Shounosuke Nanase, her jaded senior who’d rather grow into his chair than do his job. Speaking of characters, let’s talk a bit more about them. Their art, specifically.
(Chase) The art is good on the eyes in the still frames…
Character design follows the same guidelines from ten years ago, everybody looks realistic but not too much. It looks really, really nice. They have that cel-shaded, cartoony style, which makes them look like they popped out of a webcomic. The shading adds a lot of depth to the characters and there are no
Here’s where my monochrome jimmies begin to rustle. The characters in Hotel Dusk were constantly moving, thanks to the excessive rotoscoping that used the likenesses of real-life actors and their movements, and the animation that shaded the models with ephemeral auras and shadows. These characters were constantly full of life, expressive, and felt like they belonged to the musty hallways that were faded and partially colorless themselves.
This is why Chase pales in comparisons. There clearly wasn’t enough budget to make high-quality animation, so instead, we get cheap digital animations. The characters move, yes, but the expressiveness and character aren’t there. The team uses Live2D-technology to animate the characters, so they look like their facial features act independently of each other. It’s rigid and cold and distancing.
One thing that attributes to this as well is the camerawork and the overall cinematography. Chase takes a very different approach to portraying their characters in conversations. For the sake of comparison, one could say that Hotel Dusk is like a graphic novel, and Chase could be thought of as a TV-series.
Let me elaborate. While comic books might be an obvious point of comparison to a game which characters look like they do, that’s what I’m referring to. If you look at the screenshots, you will notice that the characters face each other vertically. This is because Hotel Dusk was played in a sideways, “book” position. In the dialogue scenes, the characters are positioned on the two screens facing each other. Their portraits take up most of the space and are framed in gratuitous medium shots. This lets the characters express themselves more freely, using the actor’s body language, hands and facial expressions in concert to create a wide range of emotions. The dialogue box takes around third of the screen, but is transparent, giving the characters even more space. This emulates the type of conversation usually found in comic books. You can have two characters talk to each other, give them space to express themselves, without having to cut away to focus on just either one.
(Hotel Dusk) The comparison comes across, especially in the screenshots.
Now, back to Chase. How do the dialogue scenes play out? Well, first of all, there is noticeably less space for the characters to express themselves. The devs combat this by adding pans and dramatic close-ups during pivotal moments, but the characters are mostly confined to vastly more limited space of the upper screen of the 3DS for the duration of the game, more or less constantly framed in close-ups or medium close-ups, with only their head and shoulders filling the screen. To achieve these shots, the camera bounces between several points of view, which is what I mean when I’m talking about the tv-like quality of the game.
A close is a powerful picture size in cinema because human actors are good at portraying a wide range of emotions on their faces at close distances, but it isn’t used to its full extent here. In Chase, a lot of detail of the face is lost, and what’s there gets filtered through digital rendering (And they also do that thing where they try to simulate breathing by moving the character so slightly it’s barely noticeable which I always find annoying.)
Lower screen is used mainly for text boxes. Who doesn’t love it when the text is directing your attention away from the action? Not to mention it gets in the way of the crime scene photos the game throws at you from time to time.
These investigation segments consist of you tapping at the screen until the game says you’ve tapped the screen enough times to find the things the game wants you to find. This is the only time Chase lets you do anything close to game-like. And while the original Hotel Dusk was no stranger to hand-holding either. But at least the puzzles worked towards an effect. It made you feel like you were an active agent, a part of the world who could achieve things that had consequences. Even if those things were doing jigsaw puzzles or emptying a laundry basket.
(Hotel Dusk) It makes sense in the context.
More than that, Hotel Dusk implemented a system into the conversations that made the long exchanges between characters more interesting to the player: you could interrupt the other character who was speaking to interject. There was no reason to do this since it basically always led to new information. The sequel game, Last Window expanded upon this, and characters would get pissed at you if you interrupted them for no reason. The game would also periodically ask you to choose between two dialogue options. choosing something that would set the other character off would cause them to lose their temper, which added a good amount of tension to the interrogation scenes.
In Chase, you get a life bar similar to Ace Attorney games, sending you back to the beginning of the scene if you mess up too much. The dialogue has familiar choices as well, but they rarely test your knowledge of the characters’ psychology like in Hotel Dusk. Instead, it asks you to remember the information given to you just a few minutes ago, including the main character’s names.
(Chase) Detective Nanase is not on the top of his game.
That’s not to say Chase isn’t unenjoyable, or that it shits all over the legacy of Cing. The soundtrack, for instance, follows the same smooth jazzy flows of Kyle Hyde series, and lose to Hotel Dusk only in the number of tracks. The cinematography, too, is competent, even though it doesn’t flatter the character models in a way that the earlier games did. There are even few instances where both screens are used for impressive cinematic effects. My biggest gripe with Chase is that there is nothing to connect you to the game and the characters through the mechanics or the art style.
I fear that the real problem here is the lack of resources and trust from the publishers. The cliffhanger that the game ends on hints at a sequel, but it’s been half a year already, and there is no news pointing towards part two. It might well be that the publisher has pulled the plug on the project due to the lack of interest and is trying to sweep it under the rug.
The sole reason I’m bringing up chase so late after its release is to keep the conversation about the game going. If you’re a fan of adventure games, you should definitely buy Chase, because despite all that I’ve said, it’s got a solid soundtrack, a story that, while lacking many elements from the previous games, has a lot of heartwarming moments, and by god do we need more of those in our games. If this was meant to be a prologue to a longer series, a lot of the gripes I had with the game could be fixed in the future episodes.
If you would like to see the next episode of the game, please support the developers for dishing out the 6€ it’s currently selling for. If nothing else, just for showing support to the team. It would also help a lot if you’d share this post with people who enjoy this sort of content, and spread knowledge about this promising but endangered series from people with an impressive but small track record.