This winter, I played the Super Famicom suspense visual novel Kamaitachi no Yoru, which put 999 publisher Chunsoft on the map. I wrote a review here. It is currently No. *3* in "kamaitachi no yoru review" on Google, which gives you an indication of how little information there is for this game on the English-language web.

So let's put a little more information out there, in the form of some scattered bits that I couldn't include in the review. I'm not exactly sure for whom this post is meant, as the game has not been translated into English; it did receive an adaptation of sorts in the iOS title Banshee's Last Cry, but from what I can tell, that version not only changed the names but also the setting and, to a degree, the characters themselves, so good luck following along!

"But when the shutter clicks on the 'zu' in 'chiizu' ('cheese'), everyone ends up with their lips all puckered. If only they used 'piichi' ('peach') or 'kiiui' ('kiwi')..."

While taking a photo, dual-classing college student/protagonist Toru muses on the issues with using the Japanese rendition of the English word "cheese" for photos, and he has a point - in English, everyone holds the "ee" to draw back their lips for a smile, whereas in Japanese, the word ends in a "zu," which brings the lips together. This is where all the armchair non-translators get on their soapboxes about the necessity of loose localizations.

"I know...but I mean, tonight's the final episode of The 101st Maltese! We can't miss it!"

After finding a threatening note in their rooms, a trio of young OLs on vacation asks for a change of accommodations. The owner of the Spur ski lodge, where the game is set, is happy to oblige, but the women change their minds once the owner informs them that no other rooms with TVs are available. Priorities. (Couldn't they move the TV into the new room?)

"...A cat!" "That's Jenny. What was she doing there?"

"Mr. Kobayashi stepped forward silently. Jenny noticed our presence."

The ski lodge's cat is named "Jenny," which isn't a popular Western name in Japanese media. Of course, in a Super Famicom suspense context, the name brings to mind thoughts of Ms. Simpson... Alas, Clock Tower didn't come out until a year after Kamaitachi.

(In the English iOS not-really-translation-more-like-adaptation Banshee's Last Cry, the cat is named "Ruby." Perhaps she's a Red Dragon in disguise?)

"Haruko, you didn't want beer, did you? How about some black tea, then? I also have this 'Mississippi mud cake'... It's delicious!"

I'm surprised that a Japanese inn would have Mississippi mud pie, let alone cake. I thought this might have been an error or an alternative name for the dessert in Japan, but no: Mississippi mud exists in cake form. I'm impressed. Part of Spur's hook is that the owner is a gifted chef, but I didn't think Mississippi mud cake/pie would be covered in fine culinary training in Japan.

"If they used the banana trick... Like when you peel a banana and find that it's somehow already cut up inside."

After the first murder, in which the victim has been cut to pieces inside a locked room, the lead is asked a series of questions about what could have happened. When musing about how the victim could have been dismembered in what is perceived to be a short time window, one of the options for his conclusion is simply "...The banana trick." Choosing this will lead to the train of thought above, in which Toru considers if perhaps the killer could have tied strands of thread around the victim's limbs, attached them to a truck outside, and committed the murder by driving away. It will also close the door on solving the case early this runthrough. As someone who attended a 999 viewer-participation stream where the ***CASINO*** proved a perpetual distraction, I can imagine this joke option being a big trap.

"Tonight, at midnight, someone will die."

"The cuckoo clock sounded.
Everyone froze, staring.

I just thought these were atmospheric.

As mentioned, Kamaitachi no Yoru got an English-language adaptation on iOS as Banshee's Last Cry. The translator changed the titular creature from a Japanese sickle weasel to a banshee, figuring - probably correctly - that it would be difficult to make the weasel, sickles or no, a symbol of horror for English speakers. This apparently cascaded into a full-scale reimaging of the story in a Western setting: the Japanese ski lodge is now located in British Columbia, the photos of the lodge interior are either retouched or reworked entirely, and the characters all have "shut up and eat your poutine" Canadian names. The waiter at Spur, for example, is now named Bobby Trottier - for Bobby Orr and Bryan Trottier, of course. His character is at the center of some pitched scenes, so I question the decision to give him a comedy name. Some members of the cast are actually completely replaced: the Osaka businessman, for example, is now a Texas tycoon (not a bad substitution, considering the outsized reputation shared by inhabitants of both regions), and the quiet, bespectacled member of the office lady trio has been transformed into a Seattle hipster "without a lick of makeup."

I don't have an iOS device, so I can't check for myself, but - although I'm sure some degree of reworking was inevitable once the sticky wicket of the kamaitachi was tackled - I'm getting the impression that someone on the production side was deathly afraid that any mention of, y'know, funny foreign stuff would turn off iOS users. The counterpoint here is no one who cares about the English-language adaptation of a 25-year-old Super Famicom classic is going to be turned off by the presence of Japanese cultural elements. Plus, the aggressive Western-washing runs the risk of making the characters so sanitized and McDonald's-sterile that they don't work in a suspense milieu. The entire purpose of the changes is to remove any hint of an unknown quantity from the cast, to make every element as accessible and unobjectionable as possible, but a roster of suspects without unknown quantities is deadly to a mystery - for how would they be capable of something as unexpected as mass murder? The characters in Kamaitachi aren't deep, but they serve their purpose as potential perps - there's enough sketched out where you get a feel for their (ostensible) personalities, but enough blank space left to prompt questions...and doubts.

Banshee's Last Cry also adds one major, obnoxious clue to the mystery that's absent from the original, which I'll address in spoilers.

Speaking of spoilers! I'd like to engage in two tiers of spoiler discussion: first, I'd like to talk about the endings I got and some unanswered questions I had in a more specific manner that might rule out suspects for you, so if you wish to go into Kamaitachi (or Banshee) thoroughly unspoiled, as I would recommend, I suggest you skip this section all together. Of course, in a Chunsoft game, even if you know the who, you'll still have a host of questions unless you know the hows and whys, so I'll have a second tier of spoilers in the last paragraph of the section, where I'll discuss the major clue added to Banshee. Once you pass the image below opening the DOOR TO SPOILERS, the intrigue has begun! You're safe once you hit the welcoming lights of Osaka. If there's no chance you'll play this, then read on dauntlessly! SPOILERS!

Never mind that the image says "It's locked."

My endings were:

  • The standard bad ending. This ends in a surreal sequence where, after the group believes they have sequestered the culprit, the hero succumbs to a brief nap from exhaustion but awakens to find almost everyone dead. It culminates with the hero being attacked by one of the office ladies in a blind frenzy, as she has just discovered the bodies of her friends. Unable to reason with her, Toru - half as a self-defense reaction, half in unthinking panic - clubs her to death with a few decisive blows. (This is the primary part I noted "genuinely shocked me" in the review: the event's staging, sound, and text are excellent at communicating that Toru doesn't want to do this - indeed, can't believe he's doing it as he does it - as well as his blank horror as he realizes the significance of his actions.) As Toru stares at her body in shock, unable to process what he's done, Toru is then stabbed by...his love interest Mari, who witnessed the altercation and believes him to be the murderer. His last thoughts are fear and pity for Mari, "all alone on a mountain of the dead." (Other endings reveal, quite satisfyingly, that Mari just might have a fighting chance on that mountain.)
    A realistically frustrating aspect of this route prior to the immediate end is how, despite the hero's and the game's emphasis that staying together is key for survival, the survivors just goddamn keep insisting on splitting up. Despite Toru's appeals to reason and safety and his best efforts to keep everyone together, various individuals part from the group, out of panic or desperation to save stragglers. It's another illustration of this path's running theme that human beings are not built to behave rationally and do the thing they abstractly know is correct in a crisis situation.
    (Also, hey, 999 sequels: turns out having characters grapple with horrifying situations resulting from believable courses of action and human mistakes is more effective than making everyone cartoonishly, stupidly homicidal!)
  • The early joke ending where Toru drops out of college to join Kayama's company (which causes Mari to leave him), eventually takes over as president, and returns to the Spur ski lodge 20 years later, where it is suggested that the murder scenario Toru evaded earlier will finally catch up with him. I'm not sure how Toru's decision here postponed the events at the lodge (Mr. Kobayashi greets Toru, and he dies if events unfold uninterrupted, so the mass murder didn't happen). I suppose this *is* a bad ending, in a way, as the perp evades capture and surely committed other murders.
  • The ending where you and Mari go to investigate the first victim's room for clues but turn down the waiter's help, whereupon you are killed as you enter the room. As stated in the review, I think this ending is a mistake, as the events telegraph the identity of the killer. You can't work on that information properly without a deeper understanding of what's going on, though. I wound up with this only in a "let's make the opposite choices from the ones I selected the first time" run, with which I stuck only for curiosity's sake, because midway through it, I figured out how to get:
  • The true ending. One of the variants, at least. This is reached by entering an unexpected response at a certain prompt (to which, incidentally, I imagine the Q-Team weapon standoff in Zero Time Dilemma and its possible surprise resolution was a callback that went unappreciated among us Western fans). I think the variant where Mari takes out the killer all on her own and everyone happily chats by the fire while Mari & Toru kiss is the better version, but when Mari seems to be in mortal peril, who's gonna say their arm hurts too much to lend a hand?!

Unanswered questions:

  • Who was the guy who got murdered? Just some random individual the killer slashed up?
  • What was the motive for the murders? Credible commentary is made during the case along the lines of "the killer wants to create fear," and while it certainly seems like a thrill killing (albeit one with elaborate staging likely to be unsatisfying for someone who gets their kicks from hot-blooded murder), this is never definitively established.
  • Given the mechanism by which the window was shattered, why were there so many shards of glass on the inside of the room? Most if not all of the shards should be on the outside, since the window was yanked open. This error actually messed with some of my theories as to what was going on. Glass shard locations are a classic tell in mysteries, goddammit!

Also, here's that big extra clue Banshee added, and I have to spoil the nature of the murder and the killer's identity to discuss it, so BEWARE! Highlight text to read, here we go here we go here we go: the mystery hinges on you figuring out that one of the guests has come to the inn twice, as two personae, with the first, the alleged "murder victim," sequestering himself in his room prior to the second's "arrival". (A dismembered body, somewhat disfigured and therefore unrecognizable by snow and cold from a shattered window, is subsequently found in the first persona's room, but that was transported in through the second persona's luggage.) In the original game, the first persona is given the extremely common Japanese surname of Tanaka, and he poses as Yousuke Mikimoto as an alias. In Banshee's Last Cry, the first persona is called John Jones, a good analogue for the genericness of "Tanaka," but the second persona is called "Jonas" (with the unlikely "Faberge" as a last name, to echo the posh association of Mikimoto pearls). As the entire mystery hinges on you discovering that two people are one, giving the two personae almost identical names is a ridiculous and completely unnecessary tell.

One aspect of the game I would recommend even if you have no interest the visual novel genre is the soundtrack. I described it as "Unsolved Mysteries meets J-horror" in the review, and it's extremely effective in setting a tense, creepy milieu that still has one foot in the modern world. Japanese Wikipedia claims that tracks from the OST were subsequently repurposed by news programs for use during crime reports, and while I dearly wanted to find a YouTube example of this, none were forthcoming.

One YouTube video that did prove of interest, though: someone visited Spur! The actual Japanese ski lodge where the digitized photos for the game were taken, that is. A bit cluttered with boxes of CHOPPER, but, though I'm sure it's intentional, it's remarkable that it looks so much the same after (as of the time of the photos) 15+ years.

They even have the Mississippi mud cake! (The photographer had it for dinner AND breakfast.)

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