A Game You’ll Either Love Or Hate
With such a unique concept, 428: Shibuya Scramble is one of those games you’ll either love or hate. Presented as an interactive visual novel, this re-released 2008 Japanese cult hit is likely to be divisively received, such is the niche appeal of the game. With over 25 hours of content and a little over 95 different endings, Shibuya Scramble is a massive game, one with an incredible story at its helm needlessly held back by convoluted mechanics and finicky gameplay. Expect a lot of trial and error as you play through, replaying segments repeatedly as you try to progress through to the next time block and the continuation of this engrossing story.
Expect to be greeted by numerous scenes like this as the story unfolds
It’s ultimately the story that shines here which begins with a brief cut-scene, complete with real actors and a grainy, gritty aesthetic. Wide eyed and panic-stricken, someone awakens tied up in the back of a van with a bag over their head and tape covering their mouth. We begin our tale at 10.00am with young detective Shinya Kano, the first of five protagonists you control as he’s in the middle of a stake-out. Joining him for the story during this opening hour (which should take around 4 hours or so to complete in real-time) is Achi Endo, a man who spends his day cleaning up trash from the streets. As the story progresses, they’re joined by three other characters, virologist Kenji Osawa, freelance writer Minoru Minorikawa and Tama, a mysterious person stuck in a cat suit.
The opening hour is used to get you used to the various gameplay mechanics at work before opening up for the remainder of the play time. This plays out in a series of 5 minute segments, with still images or animated cut-scenes overlaid with text that describes what’s happening. This continues through as the minutes slowly tick by with text turning blue for words or phrases you can examine further like a built-in slang dictionary. There’s also words that turn red which include key phrases or words that are important to progressing the story. Adding an extra layer of skill to the mix are numerous choices that influence the overall plot and potentially see you reaching one of many bad endings.
The Timeline shows each frame progressing by 5 minute blocks but also becomes increasingly convoluted the longer you play
This unconventional quintet remains separate for much of the play-time, with their own stories playing out individually while briefly interacting with one another in passing segments or key parts of the story referred to as Jumps. The Jumps themselves see you suddenly change and switch characters partway through a crucial scene to help another character progress past whatever obstacle or issue they might be confronting. The aim of the game being, of course, to navigate the myriad of options and choices presented to you at key moments to safely progress all of your characters to the next time block, helped along by a handy “To Be Continued” when you reach the end of the hour mark.
Such is the nature of the changes you made, ultimately some characters you thought had safely made it to the next hour may well be pushed back by 30 or even 40 minute blocks thanks to a seemingly insignificant change you made with another character ranging from giving directions to a stranger or choosing to answer the phone or not. When this intricate balance of character and story works, the result is fantastic and culminates in one of the more memorable stories played out in video gaming format in quite some time. Layers of mystery are added over time too making these choices increasingly tense and incredibly difficult to get right, requiring numerous segments and choices to be replayed again and again to find the right option to progress. It’s here where Shibuya Scramble will make or break those who choose to play.
Bursts of humour are a great inclusion and break the melodramatic nature of the story up nicely
With over 95 endings and numerous segments required to replay multiple times to progress, Shibuya is a story regularly stifled by pauses in play, trial and error and head scratching as you’re greeted by false starts, long replayed segments of story and a specific order for each segment to be completed in each hour block. In that respect, Shibuya Scramble is less about the options you make and more about choosing a very specific series of options to make it through to the next hour block and continue the story. At times this offsets the pacing of the game which regularly injects humour, tension, suspense and thrills at perfect moments that lose their initial charm when you replay the segments repeatedly.
Some choices make a huge difference to the overall plot
If you can persevere with this one, don’t mind replaying segments repeatedly to progress and are happy to read pages upon pages of text, 428: Shibuya Scramble is unlike anything else you’re likely to play on Playstation right now. At £40, the price tag is a little steep, especially for a 10-year-old game, but for those who can take to this very specific, niche genre then Shibuya Scramble is an incredibly endearing game. With over 26 hours of content and a slowly evolving story that quickly escalates into something very, very special, 428 Shibuya Scramble is certainly worth its weight in gold. Finicky gameplay and the incessant need to replay segments does hold this back from being a more mainstream appealing title but for those who take to Shibuya Scramble’s gameplay, there’s a great story here well worth experiencing.
Verdict - 7.5/10