Coming straight from one game about murder to another, the Portopia
Serial Murder Case is a "priority ancestor," a Japanese computer
adventure game with more historical importance than international fame.
Never officially released outside of Japan, it was well received, ported
to numerous platforms including the Famicom where it sold 700,000
copies. Its success put Enix, Chunsoft, and its designer Yuji Horii into
the spotlight, and they would go on to produce the Dragon Quest series,
and Horii would play a key role in Chrono Trigger's dream team of
designers. It helped codify the visual novel subgenre,
inspired Nintendo's Famicom Detective Club series, appears to have directly influenced a series of Hudson Soft adventures including Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom and the NES ports of ICOM's MacVenture series, and has been
cited by Hideo Kojima as a major influence on his work, who included the
game's loader program as a playable cassette tape in 2015's Metal Gear Solid V.
Portopia was briefly revived in 2001 and again in 2005 as mobile phone remakes, and in 2010 the Famicom version unofficially translated to English.
|Love Match Tennis, screenshot by Giantbomb
Portopia's publisher, Enix, began its business in 1982 as a computer
game publisher by holding a contest open to hobbyist programmers.
Despite having a strong home computer market, with popular products by
NEC, Fujitsu, Sharp, ASCII Corp, Sord Computer Corp, and imports from
Apple and IBM, the computer game industry stagnated. Mobygames, though
it probably significantly underdocuments the regional library, only has
14 original Japanese computer games from 1982 and earlier. Other
ventures in this era include ports of Avalon Hill's BASIC wargames,
translations of Zork & Zork II, ports of six Namco arcade games to
the Sord M5, and ports of four Konami arcade games to various computers.
Enix's founder, Yasuhiro Fukushima, hoped his contest would attract
attention, and despite having no programming experience himself, make
him a player in the sparse field.
In February 1983, Enix announced the winners of the contest, and released them to quick commercial success. Two of them are of concern to Data Driven Gamer. The first was Love Match Tennis, written by Yuji Horii, then a freelance writer. Unfortunately, I can't find any copies of this game to play, and suspect that none exist on the Internet. There is footage on Youtube, so the game isn't necessarily lost, but copies are certainly rare.
The second, Door Door, was created by prodigious amateur programmer Koichi Nakamura, who previously coded unofficial ports of popular arcade games for his PC-8001 computer, and would go on to found Chunsoft, and maintains business relations with Horii and Enix to this day.
Game 225: Door Door
Even by video game standards, this is an odd concept. Defeat aliens by... closing doors on them? Couldn't they just not enter the doors if they wanted to beat you?
I really don't understand how to win at this game. You've got
to herd the aliens and get them to follow you into a door, relatively
close to one another, while going in the direction of the door's hinge
so that you can trap them all in one quick slam. Herding them's quite a
trick, because the only consistent behavior I can see is that if they
come across an open door from the open side of it, they'll always enter. But you must herd them anyway,
because if you trap them one by one, the last survivor will go into
warp speed and kill you quickly. And you have to do this pretty fast,
because the aliens will reach a brisk jogging pace and outrun you before long anyway.
You can jump over the aliens, but the successful timing window is
ridiculously small and even when it works, it doesn't really look like
it did. Starting on the second level there will be tiny, difficult to
see spikes on the floor which look like you could hop over them if you
can even see them, but I kept landing right on them every single time.
The ladders also require pixel-precise alignment before you can climb them, and far too often I got caught while struggling to ascend a ladder while being just barely off from the correct climbing position.
As a side note, the audio sounded like the chip was malfunctioning. Tweaking the settings made it sound less horrible, but I could never get it to sound right. Maybe this is just an emulation or configuration problem. I don't know.
Here's a video if you want to see me failing at Door Door over and over again to a soundtrack that sounds as if someone tried to play a simple ditty on a broken 56K modem.
GAB rating: Bad. Door Door did not challenge me. It annoyed me. It controls badly, and for a game where it's absolutely crucial that you are able to manipulate the monster behavior just to survive, this task seems completely impossible. Monsters would sometimes climb ladders instead of following me right into a door trap. They'd sometimes ignore ladders that I was counting on them to climb. They'd sometimes leave the door traps much sooner than anticipated and kill me right when I was about to close it. And according to Wikipedia there are 50 looping levels? Oy vey.
Despite my dislike for this game almost 40 years later, Door Door was a success, and spawned ports to every major Japanese home computer system, as well as a sequel Door Door MkII which formed the basis of the even more popular Famicom port.
Game 226: The Portopia Serial Murder Case
Wikipedia states that Portopia was originally developed in BASIC for the NEC PC-6001 microcomputer, one of four different NEC personal computer system lines available at that time. I'd like to play the original version, especially since there doesn't seem to be any footage of it at all on Youtube, and even screenshots are scarce, but the language barrier isn't surmountable in such a text-heavy game. I'll have to settle for the fan-translated Famicom version, which I expect isn't exactly the same game.
I did, at least, manage to get it working in a "PC6001VX" emulator, and viewed the intro scene, which was cut from the Famicom port. Thanks to Redditor ringopicker for translating this!
|Boss!! I am your subordinate, Yasuhiko Mano. Please call me Yasu. Okay, I am going to explain the case in question. Kouzou Yamakawa is the one who was killed. He was the president of a money lending company.|
|Kouzou's secretary, Fumie Sawaki, was the one who found his body first. She was concerned about Kouzou not showing up at work, so she visited his home and found him dead. Fumie describes that scene as the following:|
|(Back to Yasu talking:) Komiya was saying the same thing so Fumie seems to be telling the truth. Now, what is the truth behind this case...? Boss!! I'm going to load the main program. Press the return key when you are ready to record/run the tape.|
|Yasu: "This is the area where the incident occurred." [Interview around] [Go to the crime scene] ... please order me around like this. Boss?|
here on, I switch to the 1985 Famicom port, translated by DvD
Translations, and for the first time in this blog, I load an NES
The manual, translated on their website, recaps the cut intro. There's a little more detective noir flavor here, and more information. Most notably, Yasu tells us that Kouzou ran a predatory lending company, and sometimes drove his insolvent debtors to suicide with his vicious ways of collecting.
As a console conversion, the parser interface is gone, and instead you have number of stock actions selectable from a menu:
- Investigate someone
- Show item
- Look for someone
- Call out
- Investigate thing
- Dial phone
- Close case
This interface had already been partially implemented in the
Sharp and Fujitsu ports of Portopia, and two other games that Horii
had written by this time of the Famicom port.
Most of these actions will open a sub-menu asking you what object or person to perform the action on, but "Investigate thing" and "Hit" instead change the cursor to a magnifying glass or hammer, which must be tapped on something on the screen, which sort of anticipates Sierra's icon-driven point & click adventures.
We're also told there will be a maze at some point. Yay.
From questioning the locals and asking Yasu to research the suspects, I learned these clues:
locals say that struggling grocer named Mr. Hirata had not been seen
since the day of the murder. He was significantly in debt to Kouzou.
only relative was a nephew named Toshi, who lives by the harbor,
unemployed. Toshi has a criminal record, and often sought money from his
- Fumie worked for Kouzou fresh out of junior college, and had been employed for two years before discovering his body.
has no relatives and lives at Kouzou's mansion as a security guard, and
has been there for five years. This appears to differ from the original
version, where Fumie tells us he is the building manager.
Next I went to Kouzou's mansion.
- All of the windows are locked from the inside.
- The lock on his study door is old-fashioned, and can be locked by key from either side, only while the door is closed, but it is impossible to insert a key into both sides at once.
- The body is not present, but the autopsy report states time of death at 9pm on the 17th, from a knife stab to the neck, still in his right hand's grip.
- A matchbox in his study says "Pal 117-3149." Dialing this number reaches the Pal hostess club, who denies knowing Kouzou, but gives an address.
- A painting in the living room conceals a button, which opens up a trapdoor in the study, leading to the maze.
This maze is Horii's tribute to Wizardry, with its orthogonal walls, one-way passages that slam behind you from a direction, and messages, including a sly reference.
mapped it out, and for my efforts I found a safe, but no way to open it
or any other way out, so I returned to the living room. Searching the
bookshelf produced a key that opened the safe, and inside I found a
stack of IOU notes. From these, I learned Mr. Hirata owed 3 million yen,
and also that Kouzou had made payments to a Mr. Kawamura. Investigating
him was not yet made an option.
Next I went to the harbor to try to meet Toshi.
Toshi wasn't home, but I could enter his apartment, where a note by the telephone was written in cipher.
Dialing *15 on his phone connected us to some shady sounding people. Yasu took charge and asked them to meet us by the harbor.
The boat here goes to Awajishima Island, but there was nothing relevant there yet. I returned to the mainland and went to Shinkaichi to check out the Pal hostess club.
There was little useful here, though. The barkeep had nothing interesting to say, and visiting the strip club next door made Yasu very happy but the only bit of information here was the name Okoi on the sign, suggesting some importance.
I went to the police station, where a report came in, that Mr. Hirata's teenage daughter Yukiko informed us that he might be in Kyoto.
One by one, I summoned every potential suspect and witness to the precinct for interrogation.
- Komiya had no alibi, but denied wrongdoing, and said nothing else. A swift punch to his head and he admitted to sneaking out on the night of the murder for a drink, which Yasu confirmed. On further questioning he mentioned hearing shouting under the mansion.
- Fumie was at English class that night, and Yasu confirmed this.
surprisingly, answered. He claimed to be at his apartment,
which Yasu could not confirm. Showing him the package alarmed him, and he
lied about the note when shown it. So I hit him and he confessed he was
buying drugs that night. I arrested him for dealing, but this ruled him
out as a murder suspect.
- Yukiko was at home, which Yasu didn't feel was even worth verifying.
From there I went to Kyoto, but not much was explorable, and Mr. Hirata was nowhere to be seen.
I was stuck, and revisited each location, without discovering anything useful. So I turned to a walkthrough, and I had missed something - a ring at the doorstep, which you find my searching the lower-right corner of the door.
|Why would you even think to look there?|
At the station, Toshi recognized it and said he gave it to Yukiko, but she vehemently denied this.
I still didn't seem to be getting anywhere, or able to get any more information anywhere else, but after returning to the police station, there was another call from Yukiko, saying that she found a number in her father's jacket pocket. I called this number, but it wasn't in service.
Then it occurred to me, I might need to dial an area code first. It's been a long time since I had to think about area codes. So I hit Google - Kyoto's area code is 075, and prefacing this before the rest of the number reached the Teradaya Inn, where the concierge confirmed that Mr. Hirata had stayed, and then went to Amitabha Peak.
Incidentally, calling the number as-is from Kyoto also works without needing the area code. It's a small detail, but I like it.
I went to Amitabha Peak and found him.
Yasu wanted to close the case, but this couldn't be the end, right?
Investigating the grass near his body found a suicide note lamenting his debt, but it did not confess to Kouzou's murder. And after returning to the police station, an autopsy revealed his death occurred earlier on the same day. The witnesses available had some new dialog, but no new information.
had to turn to the walkthrough again. Now you need to have Yasu
investigate Yukiko's alibi. Before Hirata's death, he won't do this.
Yasu found a neighbor
report that Yukiko was seen going out that night. So I questioned her further, and
she admitted to visiting Kouzou to ask for more money, to pay back
some other moneylenders who were even worse!
I needed the walkthrough again. I had to find was a photo of Kouzou, hidden not inside his drawer, which I had checked the first time, but just slightly to the right of it.
|But it wasn't in the cabinet. What is it with this place and ridiculous invisible pixel hotspots?|
The barkeep at Pal recognized the photo and told me Kouzou had a fight with Mr. Kawamura. His name suddenly became an option in the Investigate menu when it hadn't before, but Yasu couldn't find anything.
Now the walkthrough said there's a lighter in Kouzou's living room, in yet another hotspot with absolutely nothing to suggest searching there.
|You have to search the right foot of the couch.|
The barkeep recognized it as Mr. Kawamura's. And questioning the Shingeki locals revealed that Okoi was close to him. So I called her to the precinct for questioning.
|Yasu could confirm her alibi. Because of course he could.|
Okoi told me that Mr. Kawamura and Kouzou worked together as con men, but recently their relationship turned sour and Kawamura turned to blackmail. Yasu could investigate, and told me he had been convicted of swindling six times and had bankrupted multiple companies with his activities.
At this point I knew that when in doubt, just go to the police station, so I left and came back, and sure enough there was a tip from Okoi to find him at the Sumire Apartments.
|Did she know I'd find him like this?|
Once again, Yasu pleaded with me to end the case. I knew better.
at the police station, Okoi told me that Kawamura and Kouzou and
defrauded a company in Sumoto called Sawaki Industries. And reminded me
that Fumie's last name is Sawaki. She couldn't be found for questioning,
so off I went, where the locals had interesting things to say.
Local scuttlebutt was that her parents both committed suicide and her brother, distinguished by a birthmark, vanished.
Back at the police station again (sigh), a map had been discovered at Kawamura's apartment and sent over as evidence. This contained directions to an undiscovered secret in the maze, but part of it had been torn off. What directions remained led me to the central area which had a path going around a walled-off area, so I hit each wall segment here and eventually found a hollow one, which I could walk into, finding a secret area.
After trying every other command, "Call Out," which had previously only been used to summon suspects to the precinct, caused Yasu to shout, which opened a secret compartment with a hidden diary inside. Maybe this puzzle makes more sense in Japanese? Is there a word for "summon" that also means "shout?" Here it seems like forced wordplay.
The diary revealed that Kouzou hired Fumie to make up for ruining her family, and meant to leave some of his fortune to her and her brother. As if that made up for losing their parents, though Yasu suggested that Fumie's brother might think so.
I had to look at the walkthrough one last time, and learned that at the police station, you can take a suspect's photo or strip-search them by using the Take command. This hadn't been necessary yet, so I didn't know it was possible until now. And you must strip-search Yasu!
Yasu confesses that he killed Kouzou and Kawamura. He locked the door from the outside, and had Fumie slip the key into the inside of the door once Komiya broke it open.
There's no footage of the PC-6001 version, but I did find a twenty minute playthrough of the PC-8801 version which came out around the same time, with an English translation. It's a Google Translate job, and presented in a gimmicky skit format, but it's the best thing available, and gives a glimpse into what changed in the Famicom verison.
Some differences I observed:
- There are no ridiculous hotspots to search, obviously. You type "investigate <object>" and Yasu will find whatever happens to be hidden there.
- "Find out" works as a general command to have Yasu investigate a suspect. The Famicom version had a submenu to investigate job, personal life, or alibi.
- On that note, there are no menus. You have to type in the name of the person to investigate, without any list of valid choices.
- Inspecting the keyhole in Kouzou's study shows a cross-section diagram of the lock, to demonstrate that it is impossible to lock or unlock from the outside when a key is already inserted in the inside lock.
- Kouzou's photo is hidden in the bookshelf rather than the cabinet.
- The lighter, ring, and safe key aren't found at Kouzou's place. There are also no living room or outside areas.
- There's no maze section at all, and therefore no stack of IOUs or diary.
- Komiya admits to stealing Toshi's wallet and hands over a note he found inside, which is a password for his dealer. The Famicom version added Toshi's apartment as a location, where a different note is found.
- The laundromat, not Yukiko, discovers the phone number in Hirata's jacket. Yukiko isn't even in the PC-88 version.
- Yasu can be stripped anywhere.
final ending shot shows Yasu and Fumie reunited. Either way, there's no
word concerning their future, as Yasu confessed to two murders and Fumie to tampering with evidence and conspiracy.
GAB rating: Below Average. I enjoyed the opening act, and the final twist with Yasu was pretty clever, but the overall experience just kind of fell apart right around the time that my first round of interrogations failed to turn up anything.
Portopia plays more like an adventure game than a visual novel. Even so, I wasn't expecting an Infocom-like mystery game with a dynamic world and autonomous characters that allows you to really investigate freely and solve the case on your own, and I didn't get one. Portopia isn't really about solving the case, but about telling you a story, and its very short length is padded out by refusing to move things forward until you find the right trigger action.
Sometimes these actions are related
to the most recent problem that presented itself. Far too often,
though, the case just reaches a dead-end, and then to proceed you must
re-interrogate every suspect on every topic, re-visit every location to
question the locals again, re-visit the police station for new reports,
and re-investigate every alibi, just to find the arbitrary action that
pulls on the next thread in the script. I'll forgive the ridiculous
investigation hotspots that you sometimes need to click on to find
invisible things, which is a problem specific to the Famicom version, but I
still found the experience wearying.
|Screenshots by Mobygames|
In 1984 and 1985, Horii released two more mystery games, targeting the PC-88, and adopting the menu system that would later be used in Portopia's Famicom port. If nothing else, the art style seems to be a lot more mature. Only the former of the two was ported to the Famicom, and there do not seem to be fan translations for either, so I won't be playing them.
His next game, Dragon Quest, targeted the Famicom
and was initially released in 1986. It proved immensely popular,
spawning three sequels on the platform and a series still going strong
today, making Horii a household name in Japan. Its western release,
which took three years to localize, met a much more lukewarm reception,
and many modern players may wonder what the big deal was, but there's no
denying Dragon Quest's international fame. I plan to play and cover
this game eventually.