Before we bid 428: Shibuya Scramble a fond farewell from the Cover Game spotlight, I wanted to give some love to one of its main characters.
Since many of the articles on MoeGamer deal with the core narrative themes of the games under the microscope, I don’t typically bother with spoiler warnings. However, in this instance, I will preface today’s article with one, since… well, to explain why would probably in itself constitute a major spoiler for 428: Shibuya Scramble. So consider yourself warned.
Armed with that knowledge, then, let’s spend some time with Maria Osawa!
Well, let’s get The Big Spoiler out of the way first of all, because it’s pretty key to the rest of what we’re going to talk about today. And that Big Spoiler is that the character we’re introduced to as “Tama” — who is, at the outset of her story and for the duration of the next few hours, stuck inside a cat mascot costume — is actually Maria Osawa, who we are led to believe has been kidnapped; her kidnapping is, in fact, the catalyst for pretty much everything that follows in the story. And it turns out she was just hanging out in a cat costume all along.
Mind you, life isn’t easy for her; the reason she adopts the name “Tama” is because upon awakening in an unfamiliar storehouse and stumbling out into the cruel light of day, she has no idea who she is or how she got there, and she only gets into the cat costume as a means of making some money to purchase a pendant that she believes is somehow “important” to her. By the time she is revealed as Maria at 14:00 in-game time — we, the player, learn who she is before she does — we’ve had the opportunity to spend a bit of time with her, and get a feel for her personality, even if we don’t learn more about her background and the reasons for her initial situation until later.
Right from the beginning of 428: Shibuya Scramble, Maria stands out. She’s the only character whose story is told through first-person present-tense participant narration; all the other stories are told via third-person past tense. This gives us a much stronger opportunity to get to know her, because through the course of “riding along in her head”, as it were, we get to hear what she’s thinking and learn what she’s feeling directly rather than having to interpret things from an outside perspective.
This immediately gives us, the player, a sense of attachment to Maria as well as a sense that she is somehow “important”. 428: Shibuya Scramble doesn’t really have a single “main” character as such, but it would be plausible to interpret Maria as such, given her importance to the overall narrative. That said, this theory is somewhat brought into question by the fact that her distinct narrative thread is the first to reach an “ending”, leaving the other characters to continue on their way up until everything converges once and for all in the epilogue section.
So why is Maria appealing? Well, a number of reasons, really. Firstly is the fact that she quite simply comes across as a nice person through her narration. Even when placed in a ridiculous situation by the job she agrees to take on — that which results in her getting stuck in a cat costume — she handles events with good humour, making light-hearted jokes about what is happening rather than giving into despair, frustration or rage.
We can get the impression from Maria’s narration that she doesn’t have a malicious bone in her body and has absolutely no desire to hurt anyone; that said, she is more than capable of standing up for herself and will protect the things important to her. This has become such an important part of herself that it becomes an instinctive reaction even without her remembering her “training”; in one specific situation, when she is confronted by some yakuza thugs, she takes them out without breaking a sweat.
Maria’s background ties in with the mysterious Middle Eastern assassin Canaan, who we learn a few fragmented bits and pieces about over the course of the main narrative, and subsequently learn a whole lot more about in the Type Moon-penned “postgame” scenario that follows the true ending. Although polar opposites in many ways, Maria and Canaan managed to find a connection, and they both ended up learning a great deal from one another.
The “flashback” scenes between Maria and Canaan also play host to one of the most potent visual metaphors in the whole game: the image of the “cat’s cradle”, presented in red thread. This combines the imagery for the intertwining, dependent narrative threads that make up 428: Shibuya Scramble’s overall structure with the East Asian legendary belief in the “red thread of fate” — the invisible connection between people who are destined to meet and/or help one another in a specific way.
Aside from her intriguing backstory, Maria is simply an interesting, sympathetic character in her own right, and the mystery that continues to surround her even once her true identity has been revealed remains thoroughly fascinating throughout the duration of the game. Why was she kidnapped? How did she end up in that storage room? What happened to her memories?
We actually get a host of satisfying answers to all of these questions by the conclusion of the game, which is good, as well as more than a few dramatic moments involving something particularly unpleasant that happened to Maria shortly before the beginning of the game — something that threatens to be one of the main crises the protagonists have to deal with by the conclusion of the overall story.
Plus, well, there’s no denying that she’s incredibly cute, and a pleasing contrast from her almost-but-not-quite-identical twin sister Hitomi, who also plays a key role in the story. Much as Maria and Canaan are presented as “opposites”, so too are Hitomi and Maria — and in this instance it’s clear not just from the way they behave but quite simply from the way they look, too.
While Hitomi is somewhat conservative and “nice” in appearance, with a mode of dress more suited to someone twenty or thirty years her senior, Maria is effortlessly cool, adopting a distinctive and youthful style that is immediately recognisable as her own, allowing her to express her individuality and her femininity without heavy sexualisation; she’s just a normal 19 year old Japanese girl, and that “normality” is one of many ways in which she is very appealing, particularly among the more colourful members of 428: Shibuya Scramble’s ensemble cast.
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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