[DEMO] Phantom Ban Detective Agency Review

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PROJECT: Kickstarter Page
DEMO LINK: Download here

The game developers @ObentoMori reached out to me on twitter a while back to check out their upcoming Visual Novel. After skimming over their kick starter campaign, it quickly piqued my interest as I am an absolute sucker for detective/mystery Visual Novels. Although the campaign has already been successfully funded, you can still continue to donate via paypal to help support the team. You can do so from the above link, as well as view more information about the project/game itself.

The demo is fairly short (10-20minutes long) and this will mostly be my first impressions on the game and what I would like to see in the finished version!

Storyline

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– The Story-
In Phantom Ban Detective Agency you play as Riley Weir, a high school student at North Milton High. Alongside fellow student Dameon Hunt, self proclaimed “Phantom expunger extraordinaire,” she finds herself wrapped up in strange occurrences caused by mysterious beings called “Phantoms.” Together they join forces to solve the strange phenomena caused by the Phantoms and restore peace and order to North Milton.
(Kick Starter Page)

The premise is quite interesting, with the concept of ESPers and ‘Phantoms’ that creates mysterious phenomena for the protagonist to solve. It has a lot of potential in the development of the storyline, as there is just so many possibilities for the writers to work with. I’m excited to see how the mystery will pan out in the completed game. As it is a demo, I’m hoping that in the full game the introduction will be a lot more fleshed out and not so rushed like it’s current state.

You’re immediately thrust into the universe of the game, with little to no prior build up. You are barely able to acquaint yourself with the character cast before the first phantom case already appears. Whilst it was a good showcase of the surprisingly good graphics and effects of the game, it was not so good of an impression on the storyline.

You are also then given a list of suspects, in which you have only met one out of all the potential culprits. In a mystery detective Visual Novel, it is extremely important to introduce the whole cast of characters and to acquaint the players with the potential suspects beforehand. It creates good tension, forges a more memorable connection to the characters, keeps the audience questioning on who is the most suspicious and we’re constantly on a look out for potential ‘clues’ when interacting with them.

It only makes the betrayal all the more impactful later when the player finally realises who was behind the crime. This is a very crucial element of detective/mystery Visual Novels that I definitely hope to see in the final game.

Character Development

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Although you’re only introduced to four characters so far in the demo, I quite enjoy their personalities from what I’ve seen so far. Riley seems to be quite a snarky, confident and strong-minded heroine which is what I definitely like to see in a female detective protagonist. Dameon (Riley’s ‘Detective Partner’) is great, and I love the interesting and fun dynamic between the two. Dameon is flamboyant and overly confident in his skills as a ‘Phantom expunger extraordinaire’, which clearly unnerves Riley.

Already from first impressions the two cannot stand one another and it will be interesting to see how they slowly become closer over the course of the story. As you can potentially romance the characters, I’d like to see the entire dateable cast and how this will affect the story endings. How would love affect the solving of a case, if the culprit/target is who Riley has feelings for? What personalities/tropes will these other characters fulfil?

Design

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This was actually the aspect I was most impressed with the game. I really like the art style for the character sprites, I think it’s just so lively, fun and quirky. It really suits the theme of the game. I especially enjoyed Dameon’s choice of expressions, which I think were a very nice touch to his character. Some of the sprite poses could be cleaned up as they were slightly disproportionate in a few, which I’m sure will be refined for the final release.

The background art is especially gorgeous, and I was very surprised with the quality of it. The commissioned artist (Xand) did such an amazing job with it, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the art for the other locations in the game.

Music and Voice Acting

I quite liked the opening trailer for the game, as it had the notable ‘detective/mystery’ vibe going on that definitely caught my eye. In terms of the music for the demo thus far, then the tracks were decent. They suited the ‘mystery’ theme and scenes of the game, but I wouldn’t say that there were any that stood out so far. The looping at the end of the tracks were very noticeable, and should definitely be adjusted for the final version.

In terms of voice acting, then I am unsure if the completed game will be voiced.

System

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The system is fairly simple in design, and everything is very straight forward. It is clear cut, easy to read and navigate. If anything, I definitely would’ve liked to see a more detective-orientated user interface (UI). There are just so many ways to improve the system, in order to immerse the player into the role of a detective.

I’m very curious as to how many mechanics the game will include as part of the mystery/detective theme of the game. For example: a notepad/record of clues accumulated so far? Hint system? How do you ‘clear’ a case? Do you have to select and put forward the correct evidence, in order to out the suspect? How will you go about doing this? How many maps will there be? To what extent are these maps/rooms ‘interactive’?  Will items in the room be selectable?

As there is a foreseeable plan of 4-5 cases to clock the game, I’d definitely like to see increasing difficulty as the player advances through the storyline. Usually in most mystery games, with each subsequent case they tend to introduce new ‘mechanics’ that are applicable to the next stage. This keeps the gameplay refreshing and retains player interest. I look forward to seeing how the creators decide to approach arguably the most important aspect in a detective/mystery Visual Novel!

Conclusion

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From what I have seen so far, I actually quite liked Phantom Ban Detective Agency. It has a lot of potential to be a solid game, and I’m fairly impressed with what I’ve seen so far for an indie visual novel team. The storyline is interesting, and I enjoy the ‘phantom’ concept. The writing could be improved for the final version with some proof reading, as the sentence structure had some overly-long phrases and grammatical errors in the demo.

The characters, artwork and backgrounds are great and I’m looking forward to seeing the case-solving mechanics of the game. I think for an updated demo the best place to end the game would be after the first case. This would properly showcase the game’s main storyline, pique player interest and demonstrate the mystery-solving elements and mechanics. To me personally, the system UI and how interactive a game is in how you’re able to solve the case is the most important aspect of a detective/mystery visual novel.

I was impressed with the game animations so far such as the map transitions, phantom movement and just the small effects such as water droplets that really add to the overall feel of the visual novel. The music is decent, with some slight tweaking in terms of smoother track looping. I’ll be following the progress on this game, in anticipation for it’s expected 2018 release. I definitely recommend checking it out and giving the demo a go, as well as  supporting the creators via the kickstarter paypal link if you enjoyed it so far!

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