Do you enjoy murder? More to the point, do you enjoy solving murders? If the answer is a resounding yes (or even a hesitant “maybe” or a noncommittal “sort of”), you’ll want to check out the latest release in sakevisual’s Jisei series, Yousei: The Third Investigation. Available now for Windows, Mac, or Linux, Yousei is a murder mystery with a supernatural twist, presented in interactive visual novel format.
Picking up where the prequel, Kansei, left off, our reluctant hero “Kangai,” who can relive the last moments of a deceased person through touch, finds himself the suspect of not one but two crimes as he teams up with fellow psychic detectives Aki, Naoki, and Li Mei to conduct an undercover investigation at a local university. During their search to uncover the secrets of Kangai’s past, the gang’s mission takes a dire turn and they find themselves racing against time to solve yet another grisly murder. This one involves a bell and a lot of blood.
With a mostly point-and-click system and an updated, idiot-proof menu style, the gameplay (at least the physical part, if not the crime-solving part) is as easy as pie. Aside from the basics, there is a new cellphone feature, which serves as an amusing hint option should players find themselves facing a dead end. Since there are more areas to explore than ever before, the game provides a handy dandy campus map to help keep Kangai on track. In addition, choices which have been made in previous attempts appear slightly greyed-out in subsequent playthroughs, making it easier to explore all of your options.
Yousei is probably sakevisual’s most polished release to date, featuring high-quality design across the board. The theme song is decent, and the in-game score segues effortlessly from casually quirky, to moody and suspenseful, to tragic, to downright creepy.
The art shows a marked improvement on the already pleasing aesthetics of the previous game, with a great attention to detail and a slightly more mature overall look. Blinking animations, shifting poses and an impressive variety of expressions help give each new face an individual personality, while adding extra color to the returning characters. Everyone looks good, and even the campus tour guide’s somewhat cartoonish guyliner-eyes and Dragon Ball Z hair turn out to fit his overenthusiastic attitude pretty nicely.
The voice acting is equally notable. Along with the return of the stellar main ensemble of the previous two installments (including Micah Solusod and Cherami Leigh, whose names will be familiar to most anime enthusiasts), Yousei also features the talents of Edwyn Tiong, Clifford Chapin, Chris Cason, Kevin M. Connolly and Erica Mendez as the new friends (and enemies?) Kangai meets at the college.
Kangai himself remains semi-silent, continuing the tradition of narrating and talking solely in text format. Aside from simply setting him apart from other characters, this design choice allows players to connect with the protagonist on a deeper level, imagining whatever voice they think would fit him best.
This shines the spotlight on sakevisual’s greatest strengths: writing and character development. The dialogue for all of the characters in Yousei is well-written, but the simple fact that Kangai doesn’t need an actor to give him a distinct voice shows just how much thought has been put into bringing these characters to life. Sarcastic, yet capable of deep sympathy (and empathy, for that matter), Kangai is an immensely likeable protagonist, with a personality just as interesting as his secrets.
A visual novel is nothing without a compelling story. Though any attempt to synopsize of the plot is bound to sound like a weird Scooby Doo/X-Men crossover (“I would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for you meddling mutants!”), the best part of Yousei is digging deeper into the histories and psyches of the characters that populate it – not just Kangai, but everyone.
No one is without secrets, even your friends – Li Mei continues to be an increasingly fascinating, almost disturbing enigma, and Aki and Naoki prove they too have a few skeletons in their closets – and that’s where the real detective work lies. Multiple playthroughs are absolutely necessary, both to achieve all four possible endings and to discover alternative narrative branches. A decision as simple as wearing glasses may have more drastic an impact than you might expect. You’ll never know until you try.
The game’s one flaw may be the pacing, which feels a bit off when compared to the perfect balancing act Kansei achieved. It takes a good forty-five minutes to get to the actual investigation part. There also seem to be several much longer gaps between interacting and making choices than the previous games, which creates a small loss of agency and a little more distance than I would like between the player and Kangai.
However, the trade-off is that the playtime is lengthier than the other games, and involves almost no filler. What may seem like idle chitchat is often a hint – an extra step in the direction of the murderer, perhaps, or a glimpse of some more personal secret. Even solving the murder may leave you with more questions than answers – not to mention a severe impatience to see what happens next.
If you think you can solve the case, go ahead and visit the official site to purchase Yousei: The Third Investigation for $15. The previous installments in the series are also currently on sale – if you haven’t played them yet, I strongly suggest at least trying them first. Although Yousei opens with a quick recap of the story so far, relying on that alone would mean missing out on quite a lot of important context. What sort of detective tries to solve a case with only a third of the clues?
[review pros=”High-quality art and writing, interesting branching narrative and well-developed characters, professional voice acting, high replay value” cons=”Pacing drags a little at times, lower sense of agency than previous games” score=90]