Machi – Living in the city (you know you have to survive)

A couple weeks ago, I was given some real good advice (see, social networks can be useful after all). There is a program, called KanjiTomo, which does an on-the-fly OCR scan of japanese writing to give you a quick translation of the kanji. It does have some issues on difficult backgrounds, but it works pretty well for the most part. This discovery has allowed me to keep playing Machi, which I had previously dropped as trying to search for every kanji by radicals was an impossibly slow process.

And now that I’ve completed the first part of a character scenario, I think it’s a good time to look into it and see what makes it thick.

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Though people today probably know its spiritual sequel, 428, more than they do Machi.

Machi is a sound novel. You may know the usual japanese PC games where you see through the eyes of the protagonist, with portraits of other characters (often girls) displayed on screen when you are talking. Machi is a bit different though. For starters, the action is always in third person, with the background showing stills of real actors at all times, and not in a standing pose, but replicating whatever action is being described by the text. And most importantly, there are 8 protagonists.

This is one of the biggest points, as the big gimmick of the game is that, while you are following one of the characters, at some fixed points you can be prompted to switch to a different character at that same point in time, so that you may continue their adventure where it had been previously interrupted. This is called Zapping system. Notice however that zapping won’t work if you haven’t already reached that time on the other character’s scenario. In other words, you can’t skip any parts of the story.

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Actually I wonder if the actors are all Chunsoft employees, or if they called some casting company, or if they are simply just random passerbys. With no speaking and no motion, anyone could do this, really. Well, it will be a long long time before I can watch the credits, anyway.

At other times, a character’s scenario will always result in a bad end until another character has performed a certain choice. One example: if you select Ryuji’s scenario, it will always end with him getting into a brawl with some hooligans, and eventually being arrested by the police. BAD END. This won’t change until, during Keima’s scenario, you witness the fight and choose not to call the cops (the official reason being that Keima is busy searching for a bomb). The game keeps track of the time passing in scenarios, and an exclamation mark will pop up when there’s an important choice to make, so that you may know when it’s time to be extra careful.

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Green or blue text means you can click on those words to get an explanation by the devs. Often they are not necessary to continue the story, but they provide extra insight and occasional fun (apparently Keima stops to look at a model of a plesiosaurus that appeared in the first season of Doraemon…?)

The story takes place during the span of 5 days, but I still don’t know if the days are all entirely separated, or if you can connect a character’s first day to another’s second day. A Keima’s first day scenario ended with “continuing in day 2” with no chance of going forward for now, I think it might be the latter. That and the two discs contain a number of days each, and I don’t think they’d want the player to swap too often.

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This kid occasionally pops out during Keima’s story just to explain some difficult word. And then immediately run away as soon as someone asks him about school. Perhaps he will play an important part later! Or maybe it’s just a joke.

As for Keima’s first day story, it’s a detective/comedy story about solving a bomb threat, with a Shibuya twist to it. A lot of contrivances mean that Keima’s gamer skills help him during his mission. Hardly believable, and it all ends up being a practical joke anyway. That is part of the appeal though: with 8 different characters, the feel of each of their stories is very different. Yoshiko’s appears to be a whimsical tale about trying to lose weight. Masashi’s is apparently a drama about being blackmailed. Fumiyasu is a writer who often dreams about disturbing visions and is addicted to sleeping pills (to the point of overdosing in one bad end). Not one character is quite the same.

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So the bomb turned out to be a fake, but Keima got to play the hero, and these two are a bit closer now. All is well that ends well. But with another four days, who can say what will happen to the gamer detective next? Or to the other protagonists you will inevitably meet and zap to?

It is a fun story and certainly different from the usual visual novel. But even with KanjiTomo, progress is slow. Yesterday it took me around 5 hours just to finish Keima’s first day, from 10:20AM to 11:50PM (game time, of course) and that’s not counting all the times I had to zap around first. So, if there are 5 days, and 8 characters, assuming all the routes are similar in length, I may be looking at a 200+ hours game.

Well, it’s not impossible, right? Might take a while, but I would just love to see this cult classic to its conclusion.

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