The Silver Case is one of the early titles developed by renowned auteur Suda51 and his studio Grasshopper Manufacture. Unsurprisingly, the ticks and quirks that have come to define his recent output are present in abundance. Indeed, this is a profoundly strange game, and one that – for both better and worse – often feels like a student film.
Its story is told in two distinct strands. The first, Transmitter, concerns a police investigation into the escape and subsequent crimes of a renowned serial killer. The second, Placebo, follows a journalist reporting on that police investigation. The two strands intertwine at various points, making clever use of the dual format. To say any more about the story would be to ruin the act of playing, but needless to say, it goes in some very strange directions.
As you play through the game’s chapters, various images and videos pop up on the screen illustrating what you’re reading about. These illustrations take a number of forms, including sketches, drawings, anime clips, and live action video. The variety of styles keeps things interesting, but can occasionally make the plot a little tricky to follow.
Unlike most other games in the visual novel genre, however, you won’t be picking from dialogue trees or otherwise affecting the story. Rather, you simply watch the entire experience play out. This means that the story is consistent and focused, but also that there are numerous sections of the game in which you simply hold the X button while reading endless lines of text.
This style of gameplay clearly requires uniformly excellent writing, and it’s in this area that Suda’s early effort is most disappointing. There are countless exchanges in the game that make absolutely no sense thanks to some truly dodgy dialogue. Characters frequently go off on meaningless tangents, waxing lyrical about utter nonsense in an attempt at being symbolic or evocative, which instead comes off as confusing and boring.
What’s more, the characters themselves are overwhelmingly unlikable, especially at the beginning of the game. They treat each other poorly, trade in homophobic and sexist slurs, and generally do very little to endear themselves to you. In both of these cases, it isn’t clear whether this is a product of the original script or its localisation. Regardless, the effect is egregious.
These issues are only exacerbated by the title’s plodding pace. Story beats are doled out too slowly, leaving large gaps between important events, and making the entire experience overstay its welcome. Even more irritating is the way you’re made to watch a short cutscene every time your character moves from one area to another. What starts as a neat nod to noir tradition, soon becomes teeth-grindingly frustrating.
In-between the dialogue and imagery are a handful of first-person point and click style puzzle solving areas. Some of these are so simple as to be almost immediately forgettable, while others present a more hefty challenge. They often boil down to talking to a group of people in the right order, or completing a number puzzle.
Most of these sections break up the action in clever ways, bringing a much needed halt to the ceaseless textual onslaught. However, there are a few notable exceptions. One particularly annoying example late in the game sees you individually searching 80 separate and identical rooms in order to find just five items. It is, as you can imagine, the absolute worst.
However despite all these issues, the game is host to some admittedly memorable plot beats and imagery. These moments give a clear idea of what it was Suda was attempting to achieve, and indeed how he intended on achieving it. They also offer a fascinating insight into how he developed the style he would later be widely celebrated for.
The Silver Case is best enjoyed as an intriguing historical document: a statement of intent from a developer that would go on to bigger and better things. Removed from that context, however, it is difficult to recommend. An utterly glacial pace combined with often nonsensical dialogue means the experience is dull at best – and frustrating at worst.