428: Shibuya Scramble – In Search of the Truth

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Many games these days make a point of providing some sort of “added value” over and above their base experience. Be it a postgame chapter with stiff challenges, post-launch DLC or a New Game Plus mode, these features are typically there to keep you playing even after you see the credits roll.

Visual novels, as an offshoot of video games, aren’t typically known for having substantial postgame content other than the “metagame” that multi-route titles have: seeing all the possible narrative routes and collecting all the CG illustrations. But, as we’ve already established fairly comprehensively in this feature already, Spike Chunsoft’s 428: Shibuya Scramble isn’t a game to do things… “conventionally”.

Oh, sure, the base game has 85 “bad ends” to collect (with a series of trophies and achievements attached to these, encouraging you to seek them out rather than avoid them — and it’s worth doing so because several are very odd indeed!) as well as a “normal” and a “true” ending, but once you’ve seen the main narrative through to a satisfactory conclusion, you’re not done. Not by a surprisingly long shot.

For starters, both the “normal” and the “true” ending each unlock a new scenario for you to enjoy, with each being tangentially related to the main narrative.

The scenario you unlock for attaining the normal ending (plus 50 or more bad endings) concerns protagonist Achi’s sister Suzune. We see Suzune very briefly during the main narrative, but she’s mostly a character who forms part of Achi’s backstory. Confined to hospital with a debilitating, likely terminal heart condition, Suzune is one of the most important people in Achi’s world — so much so that most of his actions throughout the main narrative relate to a promise he once made her. (Heroine Hitomi becomes aware of this as part of the main narrative, and is most certainly not above making use of this knowledge to manipulate Achi when the occasion demands it!)

Although parts of the main narrative relate to Suzune, we don’t get any real resolution to her story while watching the main events of the game unfold. We learn that during the course of the adventure, she suffers a serious seizure and is likely to die, but beyond that it’s mostly conjecture. Until you play through her scenario, that is.

Suzune’s scenario actually unfolds from the perspective of Takuya, a 14 year old boy with Wilson’s disease, a condition that causes copper poisoning in the body. He has long admired Suzune from afar, but during the scenario he manages to muster up the courage and the energy to finally meet her properly for the first time.

I shan’t spoil the details of the rest of the scenario here, but let’s just say that we’re firmly in utsuge territory here. For those unfamiliar with the term, utsuge is one of those Japanese portmanteau words like eroge or nukige that describes the content of a (typically narrative-heavy) game. In this case, it describes a “depression game” or “melancholy game”, in which the author’s goal is to make the player Feel Things and preferably break down in a sobbing heap by the conclusion.

They’re not necessarily tragedies per se — though interactive stories of this type that get positively resolved by their conclusion tend to be referred to as nakige (“crying game”) rather than utsuge — but there are definitely tragic elements along the way, and usually no real “villain”. The characters’ main struggle in these types of interactive stories is to overcome things that often have no rhyme nor reason about them — like terminal illnesses.

Probably the most well-known example of utsuge in the visual novel medium is D.O.’s classic Kana Little Sister, but there are numerous other examples — and indeed Suzune’s scenario in 428: Shibuya Scramble follows the established tropes of the genre pretty much to the letter. Cute young girl looking set to die from seemingly incurable illness? Check. Male protagonist who falls for her and wishes to do anything he can for her? Check. Philosophical ruminations on what it means to be “alive”, and how you can derive meaning from your existence even when you know it has a frighteningly finite duration? Check.

Suzune’s scenario not only gives us insight into a character who, despite only appearing on screen for a few moments in 428: Shibuya Scramble’s main story, has significant importance to the main narrative, it also helps us to understand Achi’s motivations from a different angle. We know that Suzune is important to Achi in the main narrative, but her scenario helps us to understant why. It’s hard not to fall in love with her right alongside Takuya.

Clear the true ending, meanwhile, and things proceed in an altogether different direction — though once again we’re concerned with exploring the background of a non-protagonist character who has significant importance to the overall narrative. In this case, it’s Canaan, a Middle Eastern mercenary who makes herself known partway through 428: Shibuya Scramble’s main narrative, and continues to play an important role throughout the story, particularly once the main villain of the piece becomes apparent.

Canaan’s scenario is handled rather differently to Suzune’s. Rather than being a side story that ends up reaching its resolution roughly in parallel with the main narrative, Canaan’s story is very much a prequel to the main game. It explains where certain aspects of the narrative came from, who Canaan is, who the main villain of the piece really is, and how all this chaos managed to find its way to Japan.

It’s an interesting concept in its own right, but one of the most intriguing things about it is that it’s presented very differently from the rest of the game. Rather than unfolding using still photographs and brief video sequences, Canaan’s narrative is presented using anime-style artwork, short animated sequences and voice acting. And visual novel aficionados will be interested to note that it is the work of Kinoku Nasu and Takashi Takeuchi of Type-Moon, last seen here on MoeGamer when we explored the epic visual novel classic Fate/stay night.

It’s very much a Type-Moon production, for whatever you might feel about that, but Nasu’s flowery prose (and sometimes headache-inducing tendency for flashbacks-within-flashbacks) combines well with Takeuchi’s distinctive art style, and the overall result is an intriguing, dramatic and surprisingly thoughtful affair. And despite the very different aesthetic to the rest of the game, you’re not left feeling like you’ve just enjoyed a completely unrelated experience; you’ll come away with a much better understanding of a mysterious character and their motivations as well as some context of how and why things went down as they did in Shibuya that fateful day.

Next up, you have the opportunity to test how much attention you’ve been paying to the story with the 428 Pop Quiz. This is a series of 11 questions about very specific details in the game, and no namby-pamby multiple-choice answers here — you literally have to type in the answers using an on-screen keyboard, word-perfect. Successfully answering each question unlocks a Special Episode; there are 22 of these in total, but the quiz only unlocks the first 11. More on that in a moment.

Each Special Episode is a short story concerning one of the non-protagonist characters we met during the main narrative of 428: Shibuya Scramble. Some of these are relatively major characters, such as magazine editor Toyama, who plays an important role in Minorikawa’s story in particular. Others are people we only see maybe once or twice on screen during the story: martial arts enthusiast Miku, Chinese restaurant waitress Masae and long-suffering Cafe Lautrec waitress Ryoko, to name but three.

Each Special Episode provides us with some background into the character, usually in the form of a story unfolding at another time to the events of the main narrative. These cover a wide variety of genres and often go off in some unexpected directions — the aforementioned Masae’s tale in particular is especially surprising, at least until you contemplate how she is presented on screen when you encounter her as part of the main story. Then it makes a certain amount of sense — at least within the context of the unusual little world this game is gradually building up for you to discover and understand, piece by piece.

Clearing each of the initial 11 Special Episodes provides you with a hint on how to unlock one of the other 11. These all work in the same way: the hint will tell you a character, a time block and something to look for, and at some point in a section of the main narrative that meets those conditions, you’ll find a scene in which the “camera” is panning or zooming slowly. Rather than simply advancing through the text, you need to wait for the camera to finish its movement, at which point you’ll come across a button combination you need to press to unlock the episode in question.

Initially, these are very straightforward to discover, but the deeper into that final 11 you go, the more you’ll have to think about things you’ve seen over the course of your main adventure — and particularly events that lead to Bad Ends. Because oh yes, several of the Special Episodes are hidden in scenes that only appear if you deliberately break the critical path of the story and head towards a Bad End — and, as you will likely remember from our discussion of the game’s mechanics, intentionally triggering these Bad Ends often involves making a specific choice with a different character to the one you’re attempting to achieve the ending with. Make sure you remember which options you changed, otherwise you’ll never untangle that Cat’s Cradle ever again!

Plough through all the Special Episodes and we’re still not done. After clearing the normal ending, the true ending, Canaan’s scenario, Suzune’s scenario and finding the “jump” points in both of the latter that lead back to the former, you’ll be able to tackle another secret scenario. And this one is very odd indeed!

Before we talk about it, a brief observation. The character Achi is depicted as an environmentally conscious former street punk who is now very concerned with cleaning up the streets of the city he loves. When we meet him at the outset of the game, we’re introduced to him as wearing a distinctive T-shirt that sports a recycling logo and a mascot character named Mean Clean. Just to ensure that we don’t miss this, there’s a full-on close-up of the T-shirt in question in the early hours of Achi’s story, and some terrified punks run away from him at the sight of his distinctive clothing.

However, partway through the game, something strange happens. You may or may not notice it while playing through the main scenario, but certainly no-one deliberately draws any attention to it, so it’s entirely impossible you may either miss it entirely, or dismiss it as unimportant, perhaps even a continuity error that wasn’t caught in post-production.

That strange happening is simple, but seemingly impossible to explain: after a certain key event in the narrative, Mean Clean is no longer visible on Achi’s shirt. He doesn’t change his clothes and he’s clearly still wearing the same T-shirt, it just seems that the design has… changed, somehow.

Once you fulfil the conditions described above, you’re finally ready to uncover the truth: that Mean Clean himself escaped from Achi’s T-shirt, and then has a whole adventure of his own to explore, though this one is not presented as a discrete route on the character select screen or time chart. Instead, each of the several episodes of Mean Clean’s narrative must be triggered through Tips at various points in the main narrative, which allow you to jump to Mean Clean and see what he and his friends are up to while other things are happening in the main narrative. Let’s just say that they have plenty on their plate while Shibuya is attempting to deal with the events of the main scenario!

Find all of Mean Clean’s episodes and you then unlock Mean Clean Door Door, which is an adaptation of the debut game from both a fledgling Enix and 428: Shibuya Scramble’s producer Koichi Nakamura. Originally released for PC-8801 and later ported to a wide variety of Japanese platforms including the Famicom, Door Door proved to be a highly popular game that long-running Japanese magazine Famitsu regarded alongside Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong as one of the all-time great Famicom games in a 2006 feature. Despite this, it’s never had a Western release… until this bizarre extra in a very peculiar visual novel, that is.

In Mean Clean Door Door, you take on the role of Mean Clean as he is attempting to deal with the rubbish monsters we see him and his friends fighting in his scenario. Like in the original Door Door, the only way to deal with them is to trap them inside an open door. A door can be opened by walking past it in the direction of its handle, and closed by walking in the opposite direction.

If a door is open, a monster will walk in and stay there for a moment, at which point you can close the door on it to score points. However, the monsters will only enter a door if the approach it from its “open” side; if they approach it from the side its “hinges” are on, they’ll simply walk straight past, so a significant part of the game is manipulating the predictable, somewhat Pac-Man-esque AI into going where you want it to go. To further complicate matters, some monsters will climb ladders and others won’t; some will follow Mean Clean directly but others won’t, and one particular bastard jumps any time Mean Clean jumps, making it impossible to get past him by jumping over him.

While I wouldn’t have been surprised to find something locked behind a particular performance in Mean Clean Door Door, it seems that Nakamura and his team weren’t quite that sadistic, since it’s a very difficult game! It’s simply there as a fun bonus for you to enjoy whenever you see fit once you’ve unlocked it.

So are we done once we’ve seen the normal ending, the true ending, all the bad endings, Canaan’s route, Suzune’s route, the Pop Quiz, the Special Episodes, Mean Clean’s route and Mean Clean Door Door? Well… no. Not quite. There’s just a little bit more… and here’s where the game gets even more “meta” than it already has been up until this point.

At one point in the game, you have the opportunity to make one of the characters mention Nakamura’s name. If, for one reason or another, you then wait for a few moments, you’ll then hear Nakamura’s voice inviting you to “adjust the frequency on your device” by rotating the right analogue stick. Perform this correctly and you’ll uncover a secret message from Nakamura, who, it seems, is in something of a predicament.

Or is he? Because there’s another hidden message elsewhere in the game suggesting that Nakamura’s previous message might not have been all it seems… but who to believe? Well, that’s for you to decide… The truth is out there. But just what are you going to do with it?

I know what I’m going to do… I’m going to have a very long lie down and attempt to process everything I’ve just experienced…

More about 428: Shibuya Scramble

Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.

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8 thoughts on “428: Shibuya Scramble – In Search of the Truth”

  1. This game caught my attention, but I’ve been torn on whether to pick it up or not. (Well, more like what’s my price point.) From what you’ve described, it sounds like it’s rather draining for a visual novel. Draining emotionally and draining for getting all the endings, unlocks, etc. So I think I won’t be rushing out for this game any time soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s definitely a lot to take in, but it’s worth noting that it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s a lot of good humour in there, and despite being presented using photography there’s a distinctly “anime” style to a lot of it in terms of overall style.

      Ultimately your call, of course! But if my time with this game has shown me anything, it’s that this is well-regarded as a classic with good reason. Do consider it at some point in the future if and when you feel up to it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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