Review: Jake Hunter: Memories of the Past (Nintendo DS)

Jake Hunter: Memories of the Past
Genre: Adventure/Visual Novel
Developer: WorkJam
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release Date: 05/26/09

Hard-boiled detective fiction has been making a comeback in small doses in the past few years thanks to the video game market, and while products like Max Payne and Hotel Dusk haven’t always been commercial successes, they’ve managed to garner some solid critical acclaim and a legion of dedicated fans. Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles, much like the previously mentioned titles, came out as a Japanese attempt to replicate the detective noir of decades past in narrative and presentation, but if the reviews were any indication, it… wasn’t as successful. Critics pointed to the lack of content and the generally poor translation as reasons to avoid the product. While it still managed to amass a small amount of dedicated fans, it ultimately failed to generate the sort of positive buzz of similar titles. Aksys apparently has a lot of faith in Mr. Hunter and his story, however, as they’ve released a second Jake Hunter game stateside. Dubbed Jake Hunter: Memories of the Past, this version of the Jake Hunter saga comes with the original three cases from the last game, which have been completely re-translated to be more accurate and intelligible to players, as well as two additional cases. It also comes complete with five readily accessible “Jake Hunter: Unleashed” cases, which are a good bit less serious and more satirical than the normal cases. There is also a lot of unlockable content, including additional cases, concept art, and other goodies. Where Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles failed, Jake Hunter: Memories of the Past succeeds nicely, and while there are some flaws to this game that were in the prior release, this is a far superior product in most respects.

There are multiple stories in Jake Hunter: Memories of the Past, all of which revolve around either Jake or his friends and allies to some extent. The various stories all deal with you, playing as whichever character you’re in control of at the moment, trying to unravel some sort of complex case, most of which involve someone being murdered. The different cases all take place in a world that’s essentially modern day detective noir. The world itself features modern conventions like cell phones and forensic sciences, but the characters, Jake especially, talk and act in a way that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Humphrey Bogart film. Mobsters talk about honor and speak in vague and threatening euphemisms, terms like “dame” and “wiseguy” are tossed around a decent amount of the time. Jake himself is like a living homage to that sort of style of storytelling, with his over-dramatic internal monologues, chain smoking, and generally smooth-yet-direct nature. The end result is a franchise that’s incredibly endearing and hard not to like if you’re at all familiar with what it’s trying to accomplish, though this version of the game is far better at this than its predecessor thanks to the incredibly solid re-translation that is a lot more energetic and makes a lot more sense now than it previously did. As noted previously, there are also several new Jake Hunter: Unleashed stories included in this release. These are more of an over-the-top parody of the Jake Hunter series than anything that are pretty amusing, either with or without any knowledge of the characters themselves, and are worth going through just to see how absurd they can become.

Jake Hunter’s visuals consist almost entirely of static drawings of locations, characters and items, and by and large, they look pretty nice. The art style of the game is very serious and detailed, and is pleasing to the eye in most respects, while the backgrounds and inventory items look like stylized “real” items, making them look good on their own while allowing them a little contrast with the characters. The effect is neat when taken in context, as it gives the world a realistic look while the characters are represented as gritty caricatures, which compliments the “real world detective noir” style the game is aiming for nicely. Of course, out of context it looks like hand-drawn images over stock photos, so your impression may vary. There are also a few animated cutscenes at the beginning and end of the missions, which also look quite nice, and even if they’re a little short, they introduce and cap off the cases well. The Jake Hunter: Unleashed cases are all drawn in a style reminiscent of a child’s coloring book, as they’re bright, colorful, and incredibly simple, but they look really cute and contrast well with the serious realism that is presented in the normal cases. This contrast also exists in the music between the regular and Unleashed cases, as the regular music is reminiscent of the music from, once again, detective movies from years gone by done in MIDI form, with heavy focus on horn and sax notes, while the Unleashed cases feature more bubbly, upbeat tunes that sound like they came from a children’s cartoon show than anything else. The sound effects in both games sound fitting as well, and while nothing stands out, the effects work as intended and fit the games just fine.

Jake Hunter: Memories of the Past is essentially an adventure game/visual novel, so the gameplay is pretty simple to understand and get into. You essentially will be given a menu to make choices from which allows you to move from place to place, discuss things with people, think over the events of the particular case at that point, and other things. Someone who’s played one of the Ace Attorney games will be pretty familiar with how this game works, though the cases are focused more on dialogue and conversation than on actual puzzle solving. In essence, you’ll travel to a location on the map, have a bunch of conversations until some information pops up, pursue that information lead until new information pops up, and then keep following the leads until you run out of options. At this point you’ll travel to a new location and repeat the process until you’ve completed the tasks for the day, at which point you’ll return to your home base, depending on the character, and mull over the day’s events by choosing the correct items while thinking them over. After so many of these sequences you will eventually be given the opportunity to confront the perpetrator of the crime in question, accuse them, present your evidence, and wrap up the case. Some of the cases do things a little differently from others, but this basic flow exists in the various cases more or less exactly, and it’s not hard to follow along with.

Your character can also access their inventory at any time at the press of the Y button to review case-relevant items, as well as the character’s personal effects. In some cases, you’ll need to use one of the items from your inventory to advance the dialogue at the present time, which is as simple as bringing up the inventory, selecting the item, then talking to the person again to move things along. You can also press the R button to review case information any time you need to, in case you need a refresher or want to get some assistance in figuring out what’s going on. If you’re stumped on what to do next, you can also press L to have the character think about things, which pauses the story while the character evaluates what’s going on and what they might want to do next, giving you a small hint on what needs doing. You can also press Start to save the game any time you want, so if you want to walk away from the game for a while, you can do so in seconds, which is always good for a handheld game.

The Jake Hunter: Unleashed cases do things a little differently from the above, though not much. You’ll still move from location to location when needed, as some cases take place in one location and never move from it, and you’ll still have to ask questions and review evidence as needed, but the actual mechanics are a little less complex. You have no inventory to review, no case files to look over, and no “hint” button to press to figure out what to do when you get stuck, and the cases are all generally one chapter and can often be completed in a single sitting. You simply go from one location to the next, if necessary, review the evidence presented, ask the necessary questions, and then compose your case as needed. You can, at any time, attempt to deduce the answer to the case, though if you lack the necessary information the character will rebuff the attempt. Should you have the needed information, the character will then go through the deduction of the case, asking you to choose the perpetrator, pieces of evidence that link to the crime, and other information to solve the case.

While it’s almost impossible to fail a normal Jake Hunter case, the Unleashed cases can be failed at any point during the deduction process, meaning you’ll have to start the deduction over again if you mess up at some point during it. Though these cases are much shorter than the regular cases, they’re also more challenging. Instead of being presented with all of the evidence and being able to easily connect the dots from A to Z, you’ll instead be given a whole bunch of evidence that you’ll need to assemble in your head, some witness testimony you’ll need to evaluate, and some location information you’ll need to evaluate with little to no help from the game. In short: the regular Jake Hunter cases are about telling the story, while the Jake Hunter: Unleashed cases are about making you do the actual detective work.

Blowing through all of the cases that are immediately unlocked should probably take you a few hours from start to finish, depending on how easily you solve the Unleashed cases, as they require a bit more thinking than the regular cases. Completing all of the five unlocked Unleashed cases also unlocks a sixth case that was originally a downloadable demo case. There are also various hidden passwords throughout the game that you can use to unlock additional Unleashed cases, concept art pieces, interviews, and other fun things, and when you enter a password once, the system saves that password, so you can access the content any time through the Password screen. For the price, there’s plenty of content in Jake Hunter: Memories of the Past, so if you’re interested in the game, there’s plenty of reason to take a look at it and see what it has to offer.

The biggest complaint against the game is that the regular cases are less “detective cases” and more “visual novels”, meaning that while there are a few choices to work through and a few items to use, the game mostly just holds your hand through everything. Your character won’t leave a location until they’ve gotten everything from it that they can, meaning that you’ll pretty much know if you’ve completed a section or not by looking to see if it’ll let you leave that area, and if not, you’ll know what to do next by reading the character’s thoughts on the matter. The Unleashed cases, on the other hand, are often a colossal pain because they expect you to know what you’re missing without clueing you into what you could potentially be missing. This means you’ll either have to do a whole lot of research and outside the box thinking, or you’ll have to do a lot of trial-and-error guessing. Now, challenge is good, and don’t let anyone tell you any different. As an example, in one case the game asks you to figure out how someone broke into a locked apartment. The solution, though complex, is pretty neat to figure out, if a bit difficult. However, in the case that follows this one you are required to know something specific about the date the crime occurred on in relation to an action that’s occurring in the evidence provided to solve the puzzle. This is difficult because this thing that’s going on in the case itself has ABSOLUTELY no logical solution unless you infer the answer from a prior case and venture a guess at the correct answer by taking that information and making some assumptions about the game world in relation to that knowledge. This is, to be polite, annoying.

I’m also not entirely sure it’s POSSIBLE to solve the last case in the Unleashed series, as after three hours straight of choosing every single option available multiple times in multiple different locations, Jake still refuses to make a deduction on the case, which is, again, annoying. I appreciate the balance between making the regular cases simple and the Unleashed cases complex, but the way this is actually handled here could use some work. It might also annoy players who invested money in the first game that this game contains the three cases included with that game, only retranslated to make more sense. It’s nice that Aksys decided that the game deserved a retranslation for fans to see how the game really SHOULD have been, but the knowledge that you paid money for a shoddy product the first time and are being asked to pay more money for the product you SHOULD have received in the first place may not sit well with some players.

Jake Hunter: Memories of the Past is a far superior product to the prior game, and anyone who enjoys adventure games or visual novels will probably have a good bit of fun with it, but it’s a bit back-and-forth in its balance at times, which may put some players off. The concept of the game as a whole is neat, and the various stories across the different cases are quite solid overall, especially thanks to the solid retranslation of the prior cases. The presentation is interesting and solid, if not fantastic, and the game is easy to play and understand regardless of what case you take on. There’s plenty to do with the game, both in the regular cases and through the password unlockables hidden in the game, and by and large, you should get your money’s worth from it. On the other hand, the regular Jake Hunter cases tend to be a bit on the easy side and focus more on the plot and dialogue than any puzzle solving, while the Unleashed cases focus more on making you puzzle through things to the point where some of the cases can become dialogue tree hunts and trial-and-error guessing games. It also might be annoying to players who bought the first game to know that they paid money for an incomplete, poorly translated product, and that to get the complete experience they’re going to have to buy ANOTHER game. If you’re willing to accept the need to buy a second game, or you’ve never played the first game, however, and you can ignore the balance issues, Jake Hunter: Memories of the Past is a solid and enjoyable investment that should keep you occupied for a good while.

The Scores:
Story: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: GOOD
Originality: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: GOOD

Short Attention Span Summary:
Jake Hunter: Memories of the Past is a superior sequel to Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles that’s well worth checking out if you liked what the prior game did at all, or just like visual novels or adventure games in general, so long as you’re willing to deal with some balance issues and, if you bought the first game, repeat content. The story concepts and case plots are solid and interesting, the visual and aural presentation is solid enough to carry the experience nicely, and the gameplay is simple to learn and work with. There are both regular Jake Hunter cases for players looking for story over detective work and Jake Hunter: Unleashed cases for players looking for detective work over story to play around with, and between the large amount of cases in the game and all of the unlockable content, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth from this purchase. However, the balance between the games can be staggering, as the Jake Hunter cases are often fairly easy and logical while the Unleashed cases are often hard and, in some cases, feature illogical answers or requirements to complete them, and if you’re LOOKING for challenging detective work, the regular Jake Hunter cases won’t hold your interest much, as they’re mostly focused on plot exposition, not challenge. Players who already invested their cash in Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles may also be annoyed to know that this game includes some repeat content from that game, only retranslated and improved, meaning that they invested their cash in a faulty product and will have to invest MORE cash to get the version they had been expecting in the first place. If you’re willing to overlook this issue because of the increased content in this game, and you’re willing to overlook the spotty balance, Jake Hunter: Memories of the Past is worth the investment, if only because it’s solid, interesting and enjoyable take on modern day detective noir that mostly seems to get the idea right, and it comes with enough content to more than justify the budget price.



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4 responses to “Review: Jake Hunter: Memories of the Past (Nintendo DS)”

  1. Aaron Sirois Avatar

    Damn it! I have that game collecting dust on my shelf and they decide NOW to put it out without silly translation problems?

    If I find this for cheap, I’ll have to grab it… if only because I like the whole visual novel thing.

  2. Mark B. Avatar
    Mark B.

    Yep. Such is life.

    Might be hard to find cheap, though, as apparently EB Games/Gamestop doesn’t stock it, so your options might be limited.

  3. […] Mark reviewed the game for us at the beginning of July. […]

  4. […] a bunch of puzzles and choices thrown in at various points, similar to something like Lux-Pain or Jake Hunter: Memories of the Past, but it manages to make its plot work in a way those games couldn’t quite manage. While Lux-Pain […]

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