Tokushu Hodoubu (which translates to something like “extraordinary journalistic division”) is a brilliant Visual Novel by Nippon Ichi! It is just what I needed to revive my love for this genre! Mystery, investigation, supernatural with a dark atmosphere. This title definitely deserves more attention and appreciation! But that’s what this review is here for…
You take the role of Yuhara Ryo, a young journalist at the age of 23. Because of his family circumstances, he has a complicated past full of bullying and traumas. Wishing to surpass his weak self by uncovering the truth, he joins a TV crew to cover problems in the society. His life completely changes by involving himself with Matsuhisa Nanami and Watari Kaede, two high schoolers living on an orphanage Ryo visited for work.Nanami claimed to have been abducted by extraterrestrial beings who erased her from the memories of everyone she knew, including her real family who were still living on the city. She was desperate and dominated by fear, but Ryo could tell she was not crazy and decided to at least hear her story until the end before judging her.At first Kaede was very cold towards Ryo, but her concern for Nanami led her to bet on the young journalist since her best friend seemed to trust him. She reveals to Ryo that she was actually the first one to be abducted, and she believes Nanami experienced the same phenomenon because they were too close to each other.Feeling compelled to help such honest girls, Ryo asks the help from the only division interested in his case: The Extraordinary Journalist Division (“Tokuhou” for shorts). He uses their resources to investigate the past of those two orphans, only to find nothing. It was like they never existed to begin with.With no further clues, Ryo tried to talk with those who were supposed to be Nanami’s parents and he noticed a strange behavior from them. Suddenly, Nanami was “accepted back” by her parents and everything felt like a happy ending. But at the point Ryo and Kaede realized what was going on, Nanami was already surrounded by suspicious figures and she disappeared before their eyes while she was standing on a mysterious circle.After ignoring direct orders from his boss, Ryo was discarded from his division, but since he could not accept that end for Nanami’s case, he took the offer to join the Tokuhou and he invited Kaede to work there with him as an assistant in order for them to find what exactly happened with Nanami someday, and hopefully, save her!
Yuhara Ryo is described by Kaede as “a very straightforward, hardworking, serious adult which suddenly makes you feel like relying on him, sadly, he’s not too competent”. She isn’t wrong about him, but Ryo’s perseverance grants him the ability to accomplish the impossible during hopeless situations, which makes him be hold in high regards by his companions. He forms a strong bond with Kaede and she becomes an irreplaceable existence in his life, but it doesn’t seem like he has any romantic feelings for her. He does have a crush on Murasame Chika, unfortunately, it’s one-sided.Watari Kaede is a girl full of mysteries. No one knows about her past and it’s really hard to read her. She looked cold at first, but she is actually a very sweet and pure girl. Nanami being there at her side laughing and having fun with her was what saved Kaede. She doesn’t care it was all a lie to expose and humiliate her. Even if it’s one sided, she treasures Nanami’s friendship and is prepared to do anything in order to save her. She is skilled in doing research on the PC and her unusual thought process lets her perceive things most people can’t. Kaede claims she is only acting though to not become a burden for her comrades as the only child in the group. She comes to trust Ryo and he becomes an important existence in her life (she even insists Ryo should use “chan” instead of “san” when referring to her). She feels at easy besides him because they can cover each other faults, forming the ideal team. However, much like Ryo, it doesn’t seem like she holds any romantic feelings toward the young journalist.Tanahashi Aya is a (self-proclaimed) “super pretty and intelligent Journalist Director and Idol”. A high-spirited adult woman with a passion for all kinds of mysteries. She’s a great swimmer and her charisma and sweet talk give her an advantage during investigations. She is not your waifu, since she is in love with a friend from her high school days, who is an obese and shy hacker. She rejected him in the past, but she doesn’t remember why…Sumi Mamoru is handsome, super intelligent, ultra strong and has many other talents and skills that even his closest friends are yet to see. He works as an Assistant Director at Tokuhou but in the past, he was a personal security guard for the president of a certain nation and had a high respect for his former boss, which is why Mamoru joined Tokuhou in hopes of finding who or what killed him.Sasori Akio is the Producer and the boss at Tokuhou, even though he’s not respected too much by his subordinates. This probably has something to do with his obsession for a creature called “Hidagon” (which looks a lot like a chibi-sasquatch), although it seems like it is only a figment of his imagination. He’s a very impulsive man who becomes quite persistent once he gets interested on something, and when that is the case, he can be unexpectedly resourcefulChika Murasame is the roster of the program Tokuhou makes. She is naïve and even a bit dumb, but she completely changes once she is before a camera, acting like a serious and mature woman, almost like she became a different person. She has a huge crush on Mamoru and in the past, even lied to him about a stalker just so he would walk her home. Saddly, all her attempts failed, since Mamoru does notice her feelings, but has not even the least bit of interest in her. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem like Chika even notices Ryo’s feelings for her.
Routes & Themes
Now that’s more like it! This game is just perfect! It’s exactly what I was asking for during my review of Hello Lady! ~ New Division: A VN that is all about cleaver investigations with almost no action-scenes! I love how all single characters in this game are charismatic and unique! Ryo is a strong character that is pretty remarkable. You really feel like he’s the one who is moving the plot forward. But his friends are also important, even when those friends are not super cute yong girls.That’s right! This game doesn’t give me so much of that manipulative feeling that I get from most PC Galges! For instance, the game is not unnecessarily filled to the core with a bunch of suspiciously-young-looking girls on important roles for no reason! Ryo’s previous and current bosses are both non-attractive old men, and the people they usually need to help during their investigations are ugly or old (or even both). For example: The ghosts they find on an abandoned house are not cute little girls, and Ryo doesn’t need to have sex with a girl to exorcise the ghosts out of her. I finally feel free from all those Eroge stupidities!The stories are usually very interesting and well-written. Only the last chapter that got a bit weak in comparison because it tried to link all previous chapters in a single cohesive plot, and that is kinda impossible, since each chapter features elements like: Abduction, cloning, spontaneous human combustion, poltergeists, and other themes that have seemingly no possible connection.Each chapter feels a lot like a “X-Files” episode, where they confirm the existence of a supernatural phenomenon by themselves, but have no conclusive proof about it (specially because their show is never taken seriously by the public). And then, on the next day, they act like nothing happened and move on to the next case.
Yes! A Visual Novel with actual gameplay! Crazy, huh? Not like thre’s A LOT of gameplay, but still much more than what you usually get from this genre. Here, the power of the VN genre is used to the fullest to make the mystery-solving process even more interesting! Like the HUD itself, which is filled with weird marks and symbols, because we are actually watching the game through Ryo’s camera!During certain parts of the game, you need to check on the footage taken by that camera to look for clues. You do that by looking into frame by frame and using the touch-screen to point out a specific element. There are also some cases were you need to listen to the audio of the footage to find something fishy among someone’s dialog. This works perfectly and helps keep your attention on what’s going on with the plot.Before you get to the climax of each chapter, you need to choose the theme for the article. This is extremely important, as it will decided the direction your investigations will take, which means each chapter gives you two “routes”, in other words: two different methods to solve each case. Arguably, there’s no “true route” for a chapter, but there’s a true ending for the game (actually, there’s only one non-bad ending).To get this more complete ending, you need to watch every single route of every single chapter, or else, the final chapter will end halfway through. I didn’t find this to be infuriating, boring or tiresome, since each route was very interesting and unfolded new details to the cases.The last thing you have to do before the chapter ends is “directing your program”, which is a fancy way to say “do a quick time event”. The annoncer will present the article you made and when she makes a reference to something, you give her a visual feeback by selecting the right image to go on screen at the right time.It’s really easy, but what is great about this mode is that it summarizes the whole chapter for you and even test you to see if you really understood what the hell happened. When the the story gets as crazy as in this game, you appreciate this kind of thing!
The art is great! The main artist is Kiyohara Hiro (known as the mangaka of the manga version of ANOTHER), but he had many assistants doing secondary arts with him, regardless, they always kept the style consistent. Most character designs are pretty realistic. Adults actually look and act like adults. They also dress up like normal people, using clothes people would normally wear, nothing too revealing and nothing too “radical”. Hairs and eye colors are normal! Mamoru’s blue hair can be considered a weird tone of black, but the one who looks more out-of-place is Kaede, who is a Japanese girl with blonde hair and purple eyes. The female measures are also surprisingly realistic…Well, most of it…Because of the frame by frame investigations, you get A LOT of CGs! There’s over 100 of them, but even if you don’t count with those, there’s still a good variety to keep the scenes exciting!If I need to complain about something, it would be about how there’s no different clothes for tachi-es. Even though those characters are always on their work environment, it’s not like they are using an uniform, so a normal person would have a change of clothes sometimes. But this is just nitpicking, as this never bothered me. After all, it’s not like they ever need to visit a hot spring or a beach to do their job…
The voice cast if fantastic! There are only top-tiers on the cast, such as Miki Shin-ichirou and Fujiwara Kenji (who actually works on Galges pretty often). Likewise, the acting is just perfect, and this was much needed, since there’s a lot of scenes with characters displaying weird and exaggerated behaviors like sadness, fear or even madness, it just wouldn’t cut to have second rank seiyuus for those events! Ah! Also: Props for giving full voice for the protagonist! I really appreciate this!
I usually forget completely about the BGMs of a Galge and I need to open the game again just to write about it in my reviews. This is how unremarkable those soundtracks are. Thankfully, this is another thing that stands out about this title! The arrangement is mostly made with real instruments, and the compositions are truly professional, going through styles such as Jazz, Rock, Pop, even classic! All to give the appropriated atmosphere at the right time!
When I reached the end of this game, I felt like something was lacking. It wasn’t like the story didn’t gave a proper conclusion to every character, but I wanted a longer epilogue. It was when it hit me: I want more because I really care a big deal for these characters. How long has it been since the last time this happened with a VN? I don’t even remember anymore!I love this game! Each reminds me that, in the end, my favorite Galge from last year was “Harem Tengoku da to Omottara Yandere Jigoku Datta” (actually, it was Guilty Gear Xrd, but people always want to punch me in the mouth everytime I said that), which was also by Nippon Ichi! It seems now I have another reason to love this company besides the Disgaea series! I need to keep an eye on their Visual Novels as well from now on!