With Square Enix at the helm, The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story immediately caught my eye – and it’s not just because it looks like a visually stunning full motion video (FMV) game at first glance. The plot revolves around the theme of eternal life and takes players back and forth through past and present events in a non-linear fashion to try and solve a bunch of murder mysteries.
That premise alone already piqued my interest from the very beginning, so when I had the opportunity to play the game for a review, I knew I had to take it. But while it all sounds fab on paper, does the 14-hour-long game actually deliver?
Table of contents:
THE CENTENNIAL CASE: A SHIJIMA STORY VISUALS
The live-action mystery game essentially tasks you with putting on your detective cap as mystery novelist Haruka Kagami. There had been odd deaths surrounding the Shijima family for a century now, so you hastily accept an invitation to the private estate’s Cherry Blossom Ceremony to get to the bottom of all these murders once and for all.
The production value here is really top-notch, given how each scene plays out like an actual movie. There are tonal shifts as the story unfolds between past and present, and there were plenty of times when I felt like taking a screenshot of everything just because the scenes were just that breathtaking.
The acting, while mostly stellar, does fall by the wayside sometimes, especially since the vibe can ping-pong from serious to campy pretty abruptly. Watching the cutscenes play out felt like I was watching a cheesy theater group at times, with the actors delivering overly exaggerated performances akin to anime shows (tip: stick to the original Japanese audio and don’t bother with the English dub). Thankfully, the story is intriguing enough to keep me going (which is just too good to spoil here).
THE GAMEPLAY OF THE CENTENNIAL CASE: A SHIJIMA STORY
Of course, while the narrative is as engaging as murder mysteries should be, the actual gameplay here feels incredibly tedious. For every chapter, you’ll watch an approximately hour-long scene where you’ll have to gather facts you can later use to form a hypothesis as to the murder that takes place. This comes in the form of hexagonal grids you’ll have to piece together to gather your thoughts until you come to a logical conclusion.
Ideally, going through all of the tiles should help solidify your claim when it comes to finding the culprit, but it’s an unfortunate slog to go through every tile and find where it goes in the grid (each tile can only go into one particular grid, so it eventually becomes a matter of trial and error). It doesn’t help that successfully placing a tile in the right position will trigger a recap or reenactment of the hypothesis, which only prolongs the already-dragging process.
What’s interesting here is that not all hypotheses are viable – there will be plenty of red herrings that can throw you off-course, which definitely spiced things up for me. There were times when I felt like I was absolutely onto someone and was ready to pin the murder on them, but then the game throws a curveball and I’m right back where I started.
After gathering your conclusions, you’ll have to present your facts to the characters to find the culprit. This is where it gets more intense – they’ll often challenge your claims and you need to find the right rebuttal to ward off the naysayers. Making a mistake won’t end the game – you’ll simply return to the tedious hexagonal grids again with a few points taken out of your overall score at the end of the chapter. The answer isn’t always the most obvious thing, and the game doesn’t hold your hand when it comes to the conclusion unlike other mystery games I’ve played of late – and I absolutely loved the challenge.
WHAT’S THE APPEAL?
Unfortunately, while I did enjoy the cutscenes and the mysteries (and the soundtrack!) way too much, the tedious process of finding the culprit was just too much of a slog. There were also dialogue choices you can pick during cutscenes, but they don’t really make any kind of impact on the story, so it’s an odd addition to the game that really makes no sense.
To top it all off, a certain chapter towards the end switches things up with its mechanics and makes the game even more convoluted – it frustrated me so much that I almost rage-quit right there. I mean, I get that the chapter was trying to simulate a so-called “boss fight” to make the ending more climactic, but I just feel like it was executed poorly. Not everyone is going to have the patience to power through, and it’s a shame because the ending (and the twist-filled epilogue) is a real humdinger.
I suppose The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story might have worked better as a visual novel instead, because that would mean the focus would be on the narrative and not so much on the gameplay. While I appreciate the game trying to do something different, some parts were hit-or-miss, and the long, long runtime for each chapter doesn’t feel particularly optimized for mobile gamers, to be honest.
Still, it’s a nice change of pace if you’re looking for a good brain teaser and you have the hours to spare. I myself am torn between the lackluster gameplay mechanics and the brilliant plot, so if you feel like you can stomach the tediousness for the sake of a good story, then this might just be your cup of tea.