The Silver Case series by Suda51 | A philosophy of crime
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The Silver Case series by Suda51 | A philosophy of crime

The Silver Case series by Suda51 | A philosophy of crime

Posted on 07 June, 2024

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Game designer Gōichi Suda, also known as Suda51, found his niche of fans among many genres. While the wider public knows him for video games like the PS2 action shooter Killer7 or the No More Heroes series born for the Nintendo Wii, Suda51 has a long history with visual novels.

In 1999, Grasshopper Manufacture published The Silver Case for the PlayStation, a crime story that would find a spin-off in Flower, Sun and Rain, which came out in 2001 for PlayStation 2 and was later ported onto Nintendo DS, and a sequel in 2005’s The 25th Ward: The Silver Case, which only came out in the west, in its complete version, in 2018.

But, as is true for almost the whole creative production of Suda51, the games’ narrative expands through a manga, a short novel, and other games of the same developer, which are often speculated to share the same fictional world. Whether this is the case or not, The Silver Case series is an incredible, weird world on its own. It has a great starting point to entangle the designer’s absurd mind.

Exploring criminal power

The Silver Case revolves around the Heinous Crimes Unit’s investigation of Kamui Uehara, a killer raised to become a human weapon who recently returned free. In a strictly regulated version of 1999’s Japan, in a region divided into 24 wards, Kamui strikes again, bringing together characters such as the grumpy, experienced detective Kusabi, his younger partner, the brilliant Sumio Kodai, and the freelance journalist Tokio Morishima. While the sequel, The 25th Ward, expands the story to even more characters and more menaces, Kamui, both as a living being and as an ideal, remains the disease of a world in which murder is both crime and punishment.

The 25th Ward: The Silver Case
Image courtesy of Grasshopper Manufacture

While the HC Unit’s agents interrogate witnesses, find evidence and engage in firefights with criminals, the journalist Morishima is mostly closed in his house – or his boat, in The 25th Ward. Morishima brings a whole different kind of investigation: one made of emails and web URLs, chats and passwords, through which he also encounters the most absurd and fascinating characters. His scenarios in both games induce reflections on technology and on life in a digital, hyper-connected world.

Digitality as a visual style

The Silver Case presents itself with a computer-ish style. It doesn’t hide being a video game. It rather uses this self-awareness to create narrative and gameplay solutions, as is typical of Suda51. Digital is also the sound of the games’ soundtrack, which in The 25th Ward bears the signature of composers such as Akira Yamaoka. The same goes for the visual aesthetics, and for the few live-action videos that sometimes cut through the beautifully drawn artworks. Every time there is a live-action shot, it shows a security camera, a webcam, or a kidnapper’s video recorder, reinforcing the themes of media and data transmission.

It’s no surprise that The Silver Case branches into two main scenarios, called Transmitter and Receiver. At the same time, one of the new antagonists in The 25th Ward is Kurumizawa, also called “Digital Man“. Kurumizawa defies the laws of the real world, a man fused with the digital one. A bit like a modern version of the analog Tetsuo: the iron man who named Shin’ya Tsukamoto‘s famous movie. Themes such as the relationship between man and computer are also more prominent than ever in gaming today, one example being CD Projekt RED‘s Cyberpunk 2077.

The whole The Silver Case series also reminds one of the kind of movies popular through the 1990s and 2000s, like Takashi Miike‘s One Missed Call, Sion Sono‘s Suicide Club or the more popular The Ring. In movies where the importance of cellphones, computers, and internet connection are crucial, mechanisms are still new and mysterious for the characters, often leading to horrific consequences.

The 25th Ward: The Silver Case
Image courtesy of Grasshopper Manufacture

Noteworthy in this regard is one of the conclusive scenarios of The 25th Ward, which leaps ahead in time to 2017 and introduces a new character, Yuki. She is a high school girl who sees dead people’s ghosts and lives weird experiences through the chats on her smartphone. This scenario demonstrates that the techno-thriller vibes that looked so tied to the early 2000s are still achievable in a contemporary setting, where it’s ordinary to carry a smartphone and everyone can access the internet.

Save the past, one game at a time

With a narrative that often requires personal interpretation, one must play The Silver Case firsthand to grasp it. A recurring mantra tied to Kamui Uehara is “Kill the past”, yet the series looks at the opposite idea. With old-fashioned gameplay and past-century conventions, The Silver Case is a visual novel with little room for interaction. Aside from some puzzles and minor gameplay exceptions, the game feels like a book embellished with artwork, music, and a precise visual style. This leaves the player with almost no powers, aside from choosing in what order to play parallel scenarios.

Despite this, the game always finds original ways to implement the little interaction and background animations, electronic sounds and score. At the same time, computer interface aesthetics make it impossible to think of The Silver Case as anything different from a visual novel. Those who played other games from Suda51 know his love for older game genres, for pixel art and mechanics that we would call outdated. And yet, this mix of old and new makes the author’s games so unique and interesting to this day; what makes us shiver for all the titles in The Silver Case’s series, its crazy characters, violent crimes, and numerous twists.

The Silver Case
Image courtesy of Grasshopper Manufacture

A reflection on crime, social structures, workplace relationships, and the consequences of our digital era, The Silver Case is in itself a mystery for the player to investigate. For those who only know the surface of the gaming landscape and wish to dig into its niches, Grasshopper Manufacture’s visual novels are a perfect place to start. Especially if you like oriental thrillers and dialogue-heavy game experiences.

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