428 Shibuya Scramble is a visual novel, a genre of games popular in Japan but not commonly seen in the West. Bringing this game to the West is a bold move for Spike Chunsoft. Western gamers are typically assumed to have shorter attention spans, and may not grasp the classic Japanese tropes that typically crop up in visual novels.
What is a visual novel? A visual novel is effectively a book that offers the reader (player) opportunities to interact and direct the story as they wish. In many cases, the story is accompanied by full motion video and moving graphics. Imagine an adventure style book that has the reader turning to different pages for different scenarios, but presented much more conveniently as a video game.
In Shibuya Scramble, the story follows the perspectives of five characters whose lives intersect precisely at the famous Shibuya street crossing in Tokyo. The characters are varied, with the player following the stories of a police officer, a man in a band, a girl with a kidnapped sister, a costumed mascot, and a journalist.
The point is that the five stories must be read individually but intersect with the other characters. If one character is in a tough spot and reaches a bad ending, you’re invited to make another decision or jump to another character. This gives the player many chances to change and influence the story, and thus save their character and keep the story moving forward. This can sometimes be frustrating, as many of the bad endings are unpredictable, leaving the reader feeling penalised for making the wrong call.
The controls here are basic and not too different from using an e-reader. Most of your time will be spent navigating pages and jumping back to the menu to swap characters. In addition to this, the game offers the option to expand on certain words and phrases, as these may be unfamiliar to players not used to Japanese tropes and terminology.
Certainly, this is a very accessible visual novel for those new to the genre. If you’ve always wanted to try a visual novel, but have held off due to them seeming, well, a bit foreign, this is the one for you. Folks who have read many visual novels will feel right at home here, as the game doesn’t hold your hand or baby you.
Understandably, the game is very basic from a technical standpoint, which will discourage most from picking this up. At times the game really feels more like a power point presentation, with the player mashing “X” to get to the next slide to make a story decision. If you’re a big fan of flashy visuals and Michael Bay movies, this isn’t for you.
If you like to get comfy with a good book, Shibuya Scramble is definitely worth your time. The game offers a genuine perspective of Japanese life and culture, and the story is varied and interactive enough to stay interesting.