Review – The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story
Full-motion video (FMV) games have a notoriously unfavorable history. There’s a long list of terrible FMV games, such as Night Trap and the legendarily awful Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties, among countless others. It’s very rare to come across a successful FMV game, with Dragon’s Lair, The 7th Guest, and Her Story being notable exceptions. Others make a commendable effort, but still miss the mark, such Telling Lies and Late Shift. I was curious about what The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story had to offer, and cautiously optimistic since it was published by Square Enix. Would this be a rare standout in the FMV genre or yet another bumbling mess?
The story is The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story‘s highlight. That being said, take that with a grain of salt. The premise is interesting enough; The Shijima family have long been the holders of the Fruit of Youth, a precious fruit that bestows eternal youth to the one who consumes it. When a skeleton is discovered beneath the Shijima family’s ceremonial cherry tree, Haruka Kagami, a mystery novelist and friend of Eiji Shijima, is asked to help find answers. Before long, Haruka finds her self investigating several murders surrounding the Shijima family, spanning over the past hundred years. It sounds captivating and to be fair, the overarching story is pretty intriguing, it’s the smaller stories set in the past that flounder.
Each murder case takes place in a different point in time: 1922, 1972, and 2022. Several inexplicable deaths have plagued the Shijima family over the past hundred years, with the mysterious Red Camellia taunting them along the way. Like I said, The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story‘s main storyline might be enticing, but the smaller branching episodes are far less enthralling. Agatha Christie they are not. Each of those are more akin to a Scooby-Doo mystery.
The whole thing comes across as cheesy, but not in a so-bad-it’s-good way. The present day sections are pulled off a little bit more convincingly, which is a stark contrast to most of the segments set in the past. Think of it as the difference between seeing an amateur stage production versus a murder mystery dinner. None of it’s great, but there’s a noticeable gap in quality between the two sections.
The acting in The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story ranges from decent to ridiculously over-the-top. For the most part, the main actors, Nanami Sakuraba, Yuta Hiraoka, and Wakana Matsumoto, do a pretty fair job at delivering their performances. Most of the remaining cast, on the other hand, are another story. Some of their reactions and gestures were so outrageous and overzealous that I found myself completely taken out of the moment. It often felt like The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story couldn’t decide what tone it wanted to take: serious or B-movie cheesy. It would have benefited from taking a solid approach in either one of those directions. The uneven performances and production values hurt whatever vision they were going for.
Another detriment to The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story is the voice acting. To clarify, I’m referring to the English dubbing. The original Japanese voice acting is just as solid as the physical performances, but considering what I’ve already said about that, take that how you will. However, the English voice acting is absolutely atrocious. Many of the voices didn’t match the characters they were suppose to be speaking for at all. It also seemed like their main focus was trying to get the words to sync up to the actor’s mouth movements, but even that failed frequently. Often times the tone didn’t match what was happening onscreen. I’m not joking when I say that an actual line of dialogue to a tense moment was, “my bad”.
I wish I could say that the gameplay in The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story was at least fun, but this is where it really dropped the ball. Unfortunately, The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story falls into the same trap as many other FMV titles, where the gameplay is almost nonexistent. Plus, what little gameplay there is can only be accessed during certain phases. This makes the game incredibly unbalanced. It’s worth mentioning as well that your dialogue choices have no impact on the game whatsoever. I’m not even sure why they offer dialogue choices when it makes absolutely no difference.
The game is broken up into three different phases: the Incident phase, Reasoning phase, and Solution phase. The Incident phase is where you’ll witness the various murder cases. This means long stretches of uninterrupted cutscenes. Technically, you can interact with the scene by pushing a button whenever there’s a clue highlighted on the screen, which will save it for the next phase. The problem is even if you miss a clue, it will still be present in the next phase. There’s no repercussions for missing any clues during the Incident phase, aside from not gaining that particular trophy or achievement. So really, this mechanic only affects completionists.
The second phase is the Reasoning phase, which is where the bulk of the gameplay takes place. After viewing an incident, you’ll be taken to the Cognitive Reasoning Space. Here you’ll have access to the video clips from the incident you just watched, the clues you picked up while watching the incident (or didn’t, but they’re present anyway), as well as the Path of Logic. The Path of Logic is essentially used as a way for you to review the events of the case. Each incident will have a series of mysteries for you to work through, which are laid out along the path in red hexagonal tiles. You’ll have to find the correct clues that correspond to each mystery in order to form a hypothesis. Forming enough hypotheses will allow you to move on to the next phase.
On paper this sounds like a great puzzle concept. In actuality, it’s a tedious slog. Each red mystery tile has distinct patterns on several of its sides, with open gray tiles adjoining to those sides. All you have to do is look at the clues, which are also hexagonal shaped, and then match the patterns to the one that corresponds to that mystery tile. I’d be furious for The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story holding my hand so much through this process, if it weren’t for the fact that many of the clue tiles don’t make any logical sense to be paired with the mystery tiles they’re assigned to.
Then there’s the fact that there are countless red herrings to sift through. Trust me when I say The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story has you look at each case through every possible angle. There are several hypotheses you can make for each mystery, and often times they contradict each other. It’s worth mentioning that each hypothesis is accompanied by a rudimentary CGI re-enactment, which you can’t skip. Technically, you don’t have to pair every tile available to its predetermined mystery. As I’ve mentioned, you only need to match up enough to create a sufficient amount of hypotheses in order to move on. As with gathering the clues in the Incident phase, this will really only matter to completionists.
Getting through the Reasoning phase will bring you into the Solution phase. This phase is a bit of a mixed bag. Here you’ll to state your findings and make your accusations. The problem is that much like in the Incident phase, there are long stretches of cutscenes where you can’t do anything other than watch the events unfold. Things become more exciting once you get to start presenting your facts and pointing fingers, but there’s still an issue. Even if you’ve exhausted every possible hypothesis on the Path of Logic, some of the most important clues will only come from re-watching the video clips to pick up on crucial details. That’s right, some of the most critical information about each case won’t even be covered on the Path of Logic.
If you make an incorrect accusation, it’s not game over. Instead, you’ll go right back to the point where you made the incorrect accusation. At the end of each chapter you’re graded on how well you did, based off how many hypotheses you made, if you correctly identified the killer, etc. Getting the culprit wrong won’t end your game, but it will detract some points from your end of chapter score. Although, it is worth noting that’s almost worth selecting the wrong person once or twice just to see the hilariously awkward reactions the rest of the characters have.
It’s hard to recommend The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story to anyone who isn’t a die-hard fan of FMV games. There’s an interesting story with some insightful themes about life and death, but it’s not strong enough to counterbalance the rest of the game’s issues. Honestly, I think it would have fared better as a game if it were presented as a visual novel instead of a FMV game. The campiness of certain characters just doesn’t translate well to a live action setting. It’s an incredibly unbalanced experience due to the long stretches of cutscenes you can’t interact with, followed by equally long stretches of agonizingly tedious tile matching, accompanied by low-quality CGI re-enactments. The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story brings a commendable effort, but the whole thing feels like being at a twelve hour murder mystery dinner with intermissions of the most boring game of dominoes you’ve ever played.
The visuals are clean and crisp, showing good production values. The CGI re-enactments are far from impressive, though.
This falls into the same trap as many other FMV titles, where the gameplay is almost nonexistent. It’s barely an interactive movie, with long stretches of uninterrupted movie scenes interspliced with feeble attempts at puzzle solving. None of the dialogue options make any difference and there’s no challenge to figuring out a hypothesis.
The music is serviceable, but there’s not much variety. You’ll mainly hear the same short loop of music on repeat as you try to solve a case. The original Japanese voice acting is decent, but the English dub is laughably bad.
The overarching story is interesting, but the smaller chapters taking place throughout the past aren’t nearly as engaging. The pacing is greatly unbalanced, with long stretches of movie scenes followed by cumbersome hypothesis building “puzzles”. The logic isn’t always sound either.
Final Verdict: 4.5
The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story is available now on Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4, and PS5.
Reviewed on Steam Deck.
A copy of The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story was provided by the publisher.