I’ve recently been playing and researching the three adventure games made by Yuuji Horii before his work on the Dragon Quest series. The games are text-driven whodunit-mystery games with static illustrations initially released for Japanese microcomputers: Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken (1983), Hokkaido Rensa Satsujin: Ohotsuku ni Kiyu (1984) and Karuizawa Yuukai Annai (1985). Portopia and Okhotsk later saw ports to the Famicom, and the popularity of the former spawned an adventure-game craze on the system. The Famicom port of the first game in the trilogy, The Portopia Serial Murder Case has an excellent fan translation; the other two games, however, have never been translated. This blog post contains my notes from playing the second game in the series: The Hokkaido chain murders – Missing in the Okhotsk. The notes where typed in parallel to playing the game and with writing a article on the game article in mind, and thus they read sort of like a prose walkthrough of the game. I study Japanese in my spare time and have reached a level where I can play these types of games (aided by a dictionary), but I am not fluent. Thus I’m pretty sure that some story details in these notes contain some degree of mistranslation, so please keep that in mind when reading. I have done some quick copy editing to get rid of spelling errors and incoherencies, but otherwise they are as I typed them while playing the game. Since there is not that much info on the game in English, I hope that these notes can be of use to someone.
Warning: the following text includes full SPOILERS for the game.
There are two iterations of this game with different end-game story: the original microcomputer version, and the Famicom-and-onwards version.
Original microcomputer iteration:
The game is divided into chapters; the first one is a short prologue set in Tokyo. The opening screen of the PC88 version is a collage of later in-game assets that doubles as cutscene art showing how a victim was found and the police are called to the scene (looking back at this after having finished the game, it’s really weird to see that these illustrations are not related to the cutscene at all, just illustrate similar concepts). The PC98 original version, while more or less identical to the PC88 one, skipped this screen and just had a “Loginsoft presents” screen in its place.
A body has been found floating in the Harumi Wharf overlooking Tokyo Bay. The victim is in his 50s but lacks any identification, was shot in the chest and then thrown in the ocean. You play as a police detective referred to as “Boss” and is assisted by your subordinate Kuroki. You investigate the crime scene, take a Polaroid photo of the corpse and look for any ID in his pockets. There is none, but you find a flyer for a hostess club called LeBlanc. You call LeBlanc and say that you are from the police. The person in the other end gets nervous and insists that their accounting is in order, then changes their tone when you mention the murder. You learn the location of the club: it’s in the Sakaedoori area. You arrive and start looking for the club. The area has an archway featuring its name, similar to that of real-life Kabuki-cho, Tokyo. You show your badge and the photo of the victim to the bouncer and are let in. You ask around and learn that a woman name Luna might know something. In the PC88 version you can also talk to a woman named Emmy, which is reference to a previous PC88 game. Luna recognizes the man and has an idea of where he might have been staying. You go to the address and show the innkeeper the photo. She has not seen him for a few days, but his room is still paid for. In his room you find a bag with a postcard inside. It seems to be a demand-note from a loan shark, or some other type of extortion business. The man’s address is written on the back: Masuda, Kushiro City, Hokkaido.
You get on a plane to Kushiro City in eastern Hokkaido. Here you meet a new subordinate, the local detective Shun (full name: Shunshuke Saruwatari) who will assist you for the rest of the game. In this scene Shun speaks to you in polite Japanese (teneigo), but as the game progresses he will speak more casually. The Hokkaido police chief tells you that the Hokuryuukai (北竜会; Northen dragon association) has been acting strangely recently. You arrive at the village of the victim and learn that he got money from a man named Iijima. You travel to Iijima’s home village only to find out that he was found dead on the beach this very morning. He was hit with a blunt object to the back of his head and then thrown into the water. Shun speculates that the likeness to the Tokyo victim is just a coincidence: the Tokyo victim was shot before thrown in the water, not hit on the head. Iijima’s son arrives at the scene. He talks about the 500,000 yen that his father lent someone, and he thinks that it in fact was blackmail. When shown the picture of the victim (Masuda), he says that he recognizes this as Gen-san in Sapporo, a chef at a restaurant in the Susukino district
In Susukino we indeed learn that the chef at the restaurant, Gen, looks just like the victim. Gen has little to say, and when shown the photo of Masuda, he wonders why they have “a picture of me”. Out of leads, you stumble around (i.e. until the number of cumulative commands entered int he game reach a certain threshold) until you find out that in Abashiri, a third drowned body has been found in the harbour. There are traces of a strangulation marks on the victim's neck. There is 130,000 yen in the wallet, so it was clearly not a robbery. His name was Shiraki Yukurou, according to his business card. His private secretary arrives just as you take a photo of the body, and says that they are from Tokyo and are here on a buisiness trip. He also talks about a name of a person they were supposed to meet, but only remembers that the last name begins with an O. “Maybe Oku… something?”.
At a lookout spot at Mashuu lake, you meet a 20-something girl named Masako Nomura. She is travelling alone and has hurt her leg. She seems to be a random bystander, though. After this you'll need to stumble about a bit, trigger some other story flags and again entered enough commands before the game takes you the next chapter. This brute force wandering about seems like a remnant of the design philosophy of Portopia. At one location you can investigate a moor and Shun tells you that this area is famous for their cheap crab (there is a rumor, or joke, that Horii particularly wanted to set the game in Hokkaido in order to go there and eat crab while location spotting). There is also a cryptic passage on the moor in which you talk to someone who seem that they might know Masuda (but is not illustrated by a character portrait like the rest of the people you meet in the game), and they mention something about a man named Tetsuji. Eventually when you have triggered enough events, you return to Abashiri and Shun gets a memo about a new victim.
The next corpse was found in a Shiretokogo lake by a pair of hikers. The man was strangled with a pair of stockings. There were no identification papers on the body, but when you show the photo of the body to a woman in a stall at the parking lot, she recognizes him as the man from a couple who came here from Lake Akan. The woman he travelled with was about 24-25 years old and had short hair. Finding the missing woman is now your prime concern. The owner of a souvenir shop also recognizes the photo, as he sold the couple a bear figurine and sent it to the inn where they were staying. In the inn ledger you find that the name of the woman is Ikumi Shiraki and the man Tatsuo Shiraki (same last name as victim 3) from Hakodate, Hokkaido. The head clerk tells you that he had heard the couple was fighting in the middle of the night and that they mentioned the name Marimoya Inn.
You go to Lake Akan, based on the tip from the woman at the parking lot stand, and find the Marimoya Inn. The clerk recognizes the photo of victim 4. He also says that a lot of yakuza have been staying here recently, and when you show him the photo of victim 3, he says that the yakuza were here asking about him. When you go to Hakodate to look for the couples’ residence you learn that there is no such place: the address was fake. You talk to Masako again, and she reacts weirdly when shown the different photos, but does not say anything. As you prepare to leave, she stops you and wants to say something, but suddenly changes her mind (“it was nothing”). If you then go somewhere else and return to Mashuu lake, Masako will no longer be there.
When you return to the Marimoya Inn/tourist information and ask about the missing woman, the clerk remembers that the tourist photographer in the harbour left some photos of the woman this morning (he left them there since they had given an non-existing address). At the Utoro village harbor (close to Shiretokogo national park), a fisherman recognizes the photo of the woman (if you try to take a photo of the fisherman, he will get upset and destroy your camera: if this happens before you had taken a photo of victim 4 you will be stuck in a fail-state). The fisherman says that she came here yesterday, on her own. She wanted to go to the cape but as the tourist boats were not sailing at the moment (it is off-season) she wanted directions on how to get to Todowara. The fisherman tells you that there is a forest cemetery in Notsukehan harbour in Todowara and that it’s a place where people go to commit suicide. When you arrive at Notsukehan, you find an unconcoius woman on the ground. You search her belongings and find out that she has taken and overdose of pills. You call for an ambulance and continue to investigate the scene. Suddenly you hear a groan - she is still alive.
At the hospital, Shun interrogates the woman. She tells you that Shiraki was a false name; her name is Tokuko Ono (25 years old) and that the name of the dead man from this afternoon was Kunio Imochi (30 years old). They were both working at a company in Sapporo. Shun asks why she killed him. She says that he was severely abusing her feelings and that she felt that had to kill him before he would killed her. Having heard about the the serial murders in Hokkaido, they had started calling themselves Shiraki in order to travel anonymously, and she used that name to her advantage to mislead the police after killing Imochi. However, when asked about the other murders, she says that she had never met those people and that she did not kill them. You leave the hospital room. Shun tells you that he believes her. The other crime scenes were at the ocean (salt water), but hers was at a lake (fresh water). But who could be behind the other murders? Masuda was found in Tokyo bay. Iijima on Kitahama beach. Iijima had threatened Masuda. And at Aboshiri harbor there was Shiraki, whom the yakuza was also looking into.
At the car, Shun tells you some news: the dead Shiraki did not have seawater in his lungs, but freshwater. They also detected traces of Marigoke seeweed on him. At Lake Kussharo you read a sign about a plant called Marigoke (this sign apparently exists in real life). You show the photo of Shiraki to a woman who recognizes him as someone who had visited the nearby onsen (hot spring bathhouse). You go there and after some investigation find four names on carved into the planks lining the wall. Three of the names have been crossed over. The names of Iijima and Shiraki are legible, but the plank on which the third name is written is plank broken; all you can read is “mura Kisuke”. The fourth name is not crossed over: it says Hideo Akutsu. You heard about Akutsu in Abashiri, he is a local man elected for the parliament. Here is the first time in the game where you need to use a text parser input. Select investigate in the menu and choose “the other person”. The game asks you to type a name. You need to combine the “mura kisuke” clue with the clue from Shiraki’s secretary from before (“Oku… something”). Thus you figure out that the name of the last person is Kisuke Okumura.
In Monbetsu town you show some locals the photo of Iijima and learn that he used to be a newspaper reporter long ago, just after the World War II. The people on the street know the name Okumura, and give directions to his house. An old lady lets you in. She is in mourning. A photo of Okumura is on the house altar (butsudan). One week ago, Okumura left for night fishing (“unbecoming to his age”, she says), having told her that he too had to atone. He killed himself that night. As you leave, she shows you a Ninpopo doll (a local craft carved from wood by Abashiri prison inmates) - her husband had told her to give it to the police in case they’d show up. Shun remarks that there is something carved beneath one of its eyes. It’s almost as if it was crying.
You go to the lookout point of Monbetsu which overlooks the Sea of Okhotsk. There is a memorial monument for people lost at sea, raised after fishing boat sank here in Showa 24 (i.e. 1949). You find an empty bottle and take it. At the Monbetsu harbour, a fisherman recognizes the ninpopo doll (“it must have been carved by old Urata-san). Long ago, Jingorou Urata was among the best fishermen in the area, but now serves time in Abashiri prison after having killed a man. At the harbour office, you ask about the ship Eifukumaru that sank in Showa 24. There is an old journal that tells that the captain Yasukichi Nomura died when the boat sank, and that the owner of the boat was a Yuukurou Shiraki. When shown the photo of Masuda (victim 1), the clerk says that he was here asking about the sunken ship as well. Here is another instance in which the player needs to enter the name of the person to be able to access a new line of dialogue: you have to tell the parser that the Masuda-san the clerk saw was in fact Gen-san. When shown the Ninpopo doll, the clerk remarks that it has been damaged under the eye (the tear) and thinks it is a defective product. He mentions that you should try asking at Abashiri Prison (where the dolls are made) if you can exchange it for a replacement.
Back in Abashiri, Shun is contacted by a friend from the Hokkaido police force saying that there has been pressure from above to close the investigation. But since you have not yet been given an official desist order, you decide to carry on. Shun also talks reminds you that the yakuza clan named Hokuryuukai (北竜会; Northen dragon association) have been very visible lately are are probably up to something. You go to Abashiri Prison. The dolls that the prisoners carve are sold as souvenirs in a shop outside. You show the Nipopo doll with the tear under its eye to the clerk in the shop, and she says that it was certainly made here. Upon seeing the photo of Masuda/Gen-san, she says that he was here yesterday. You talk to Jingorou Urata in his cell, but he doesn’t want to talk.
Back at the onsen, you find a fifth dead body. It’s another Masuda! (i.e. Gen-san). The body looks unhurt; it seems to have been a heart attack. There is no ID in the clothes. You go to Gen-san’s restaurant in Sapporo and are greeted by another employee. He says that Gen-san is not there at the moment, but there is a note left behind. It reads: In case of emergency, this letter was to be given to the police. It then explains that Masuda and Gen were twin brothers. Gen thinks that Masuda was killed on Shiraki or Akutsu’s orders, since the twins extorting Shiraki and Akutsu by threthening to reveal a secret of theirs. When you show Gen's letter to Jingorou Urata he finally spills the beans. Everything is related to the fishing boat accident: in the years following the war, US army relief goods were very precious and a cargo boat from the US was headed for Tokyo bay. A group people saw that they could make a big profit from the cargo. The one who commanded this was a former officer named Hideo Akutsu (today a cabinet minister). The ship had been prepared by Kisuke Okumura from Monbetsu. The cargo were handled by a peddler named Shiraki. However, after things went down, they sunk the boat of the fisherman they hired in order to destroy the evidence. The whole thing was written up in the newspaper as a accident by a Kitahama journalist named Iijima. The captain of the ship, Yasukichi Nomura had a son named Tetsuji. He and his mother had a tough time after the death of the father, but Urata thinks Tetsuji was fine young man. But why he is suddenly out revenge is beyond Urata’s understanding. He also tells you that Masuda also have served time here, and he shared a cell with Urata, which is where he learned of the story. Masuda realized that there was money to be made from it and used it to blackmail the resposible people. This is what led someone to kill him. By now Urata’s visiting time is up, and you leave the prison.
Shun was surprised to learn that Akutsu used the post-war turmoil to embezzle the surplus goods, and that he in order to keep the whole thing a secret, sank the boat of the fisherman who they had hired to do the job. Shun makes some conclusions: is it perhaps Tetsuji, the son of the dead captain, that has been killing the people involved in the embezzlement for the sake of avenging his father? Maybe Shiraki, who was killed at Lake Kussharo (but found in Abashiri harbour) was specifically dumped in the sea of Okhotsk as a memorial service for Tetsuji’s father? And were Masuda and Gen, who where trying to making money of all of this, killed by Akutsu’s yakuza minions? “Boss, we are getting the whole picture now. But then we can assume that Tetsuji’s next target is going to be Akutsu Hideo.” Shun is interrupted by a police man who comes running with the news that the Hokuryuukai yakuza clan seems to be heading towards Lake Masshu.
You arrive at Lake Masshu. Makiko Nomura is there, pointing at a small island in the middle of the lake. “Dad has gone to the island. No more murders, please, Detective…” If you haven’t realized it by now, it should benow clear that Makiko shares the the same last name as captain Nomura who died in the sinking ship, which makes his son, Tetsuji Nomura, Makiko’s father. At the island, a yakuza is holding a knife to the throat of a man (Tetsuji). The thug gets alarmed when you arrive. A new command appears: fight, which sends Shun at the thug. The fight scene is a Fist of the North Star reference: Shun screams “atatatata” and hits the yakuza, then says “omae wa mou shindeiru”, both of which are Kenshirou’s catchphrases from the series. Tetsuji is saved: “Makiko, give my thanks to the detectives.”. Makiko says: “Saruwatari Shunsuke, was it? Thank you very much.”
Back at the airport, Shun thanks you for you long and good work. Thanks to Makiko’s testimony, Akutsu and his yakuza were arrested. You learn that Tetsuji’s was dying from a disease and therefore had decided to get revenge on his father’s killers. The epilogue takes place one month later, back in Tokyo. Akutsu was arrested for instigation of murder, and your reputation as a detective has increased. You are now on a new case about a murder in Shinjuku. As you ready to leave, Kuroki tells you that a letter has arrived from Saruwatari-kun of the Hokkaido police. It contains a wedding photo of Shun and Makiko.
The Famicom iteration follows the same narrative up until the point where you go to the onsen, with the only major change being that Makiko hangs out at Mashuu Lake with her friend Megumi from Tokyo. From here on, the whole endgame has been rewritten with a new culprit and with more focus on Makiko. The 1992 PC98 remake and mobile ports are based on this version
In the onsen, you find a hidden blue notebook rather than etchings on the wooden wall (makes a bit more sense to hide your kill-list rather that to write it on a wall…). The book also contains a phone number to Akutsu. After having read the book, a bathing woman in a towel appears from the dressing room. It’s Megumi. She tells you she and Makiko were classmates in junior high.You show her the Masuda photo and she will tell you that she knows him and that he looks just like Makiko’s father. This is the big narrative change in the Famicom version: it is Gen and not Tetsuji that is the father of Makiko. Megumi’s impression of the father, whom she has meet 2-3 times, is that he is a stubborn man. She also tells you that Makiko’s younger sister Yukari was attending Tokyo University, but recently died in a traffic accident and the funeral was one week ago. It was a hit-and-run, and the culprit is unknown. You ask her for Makiko’s address, and find that it is in Sapporo. She also gives you her phone number.
This scene with Megumi has an infamous easter egg: tell Shun to take her towel and then don’t touch any button on the controler for 2-3 min, and Megumi will flash her upper body/back. By modern standards, this is a pretty innocent scene, but was probably considered risque for a Famicom game back in the day.
You go to Makiko’s apartment, a new location only in the Famicom iteration. The landlord tells you that she has lived there about 1 year, she works as a ski-instructor in the winter season and in a sports clothing store in summer. He has seen her father come here some time, and also attests that her father seemed stubborn. You learn that the father works in a restaurant in Sapporo. He doesn’t remember the name exactly, but it is clear from the description that it is Koropokkri, i.e. Gen’s restaurant. You show your badge and the landlord lets you inside Makiko’s apartment. Here, you find a letter sent by Kisuke Okumura (this is how he turns up in this version). Shun reads the letter. “Shiraki and Iijima are dead, I think this is a good thing. For quite some time, I have wanted to apologize to your father. Give him my regards.” There was no return address on the letter, but a postmark from Monbetsu post office. Shun suggests that they should go there and look for Okumura.
Gen is not at Koropokkri when you arrive. The other chef tells you that Gen has been on holiday for 4 days, meaning that quite some time has passed since you met him last. He does not know much about Gen’s family other than he heard that his wife died long ago, and that he has two daughters. You get the number to the restaurant as you leave so that you can quickly call and if something comes up. This means that both Gen and Makiko are missing, and indeed, the rest of the plot revolves around finding them. You go to different locations and ask around for Gen or Makiko, In Abashiri city someone had seen them buy tickets for Kushiro. In Kushiro, someone has seen them withdraw a large amount of money from the bank. In Midorioka, Masuda’s widow had a visit from a man and a young woman a few days ago who left her money to cover her livelihood. At the onsen, when searching for Gen, Shun notices that something is off with the floor – “perhaps the owner of the notebook has been here looking for it?” he says. In Monbetsu it seems that someone has seen a young woman leave a flower bouquet at the monument (maybe Makiko?). The part where you go to Okumura’s house and talk to his widow and get the ninpopo doll is the same as in the microcomputer version. The only difference is that you get the address to Okumura’s house from the harbour office, not from the woman in town.
Eventually you go back to Makiko’s apartment. The landlord is outside and says that he was just on his way to call the police: Makiko returned yesterday afternoon, but just now he heard a sound of a ruckus in the apartment. Inside, the place is in ruins, someone has searched it thoroughly. There are scratch marks on the drawer, multiple sets of footprints on the floor and the sheets on the bed have been torn. Makiko is nowhere to be found. The landlord says that Makiko and her friend from Tokyo had gone to Lake Mashuu just after she met up with her father to put her dead sister’s ashes in their hometown of Monbetsu (that’s why they were at the lake earlier in the game). There is an album in the bookshelf with a photo of Makiko, her sister Yukari and their father Gen. There are various additional photos of Gen. Shun notices something weird about one photo: Makiko and Yukari are sitting next to Jingorou Urata, the man from the prison.
You call the restaurant. The chef answers: Just in time, a blackmail letter directed at Gen just came in the mailbox: “If you value the life of your daughter, come to Yuubari city coal mine”. Since the chef had been trying to get hold of Gen but could not find him, you go to straight to Yuubari (a new location for the Famicom version). You ask the owner of an electric appliance shop if he has seen any suspicious people around. He had seen a foreign-made black car drive the towards the Chuuou coal mine. You can buy different things from the shop, including a Famicom (in a moment of meta-narrative, the man recommends you to buy a copy of Okhotsk ni kyuu to go with the console). You buy a flashlight. Outside the coal mine, you find a pink high heeled shoe, and the game gives youa password before you enter the mine. The mine is a wizardry style dungeon, but with menu commands: go forward, turn left, turn right, and investigate area. It’s easy to get lost since there are only small graphical variations between the rooms, but thankfully the maze is much smaller than in the Famicom Portopia. You can find the other shoe in the mind, which is a sign that you are going in the right direction. Deep in the mine, you’ll find Makiko tied up on the ground, unconscious. Shun frees her and carries her. Once you have found Makiko and a pickaxe, you roam around until you get to one of two spots that trigger the batteries for the flashlight to run out. After trying a few commands in the dark and their eye's adjust to the dark, Shun notices a faint light that he did not notice before while the flashlight was working. They follow it and find that it leaks in from the ceiling. They use the pickaxe to break out.
You bring Makiko to the hospital: she suffered from oxygen depletion when she was locked up in the cave which is why she was unconscious. You can get the phone number to the hospital if you pick the “investigate something” option, and Shun suggests that you should call often to check in on Makiko’s state. Shun is hesitant to leave the hospital area, but follows you. You return to the prison to ask Urata about the photo of him and Makiko. He refers to Makiko and Yukari with -chan, suggesting that he is close to them. He asks where you found the photo. Shun tells him about the apartment and that she was found unconscious in the mine. Urata then tells you the story of the sunken ship, just like in the microcomputer version.
In this version, the captain of the sunken ship Yasukichi Nomura had a son named Genji Nomura. Urata raised Genji after his father died. Later Urata ended up in jail for murder, and one day a man named Masuda was also put there; he looked very similar to Genji, so Urata told him about the story of the sunken ship. Like in the previous version, when Masuda heard that Akutsu had become Daijin (cabinet minister), he thought that he could extort him for money. Masuda went to Tokyo to meet Akutsu, and was killed. Around the time Urata read about Masuda’s death in the paper, he got a postcard that said that Yukari had died. For every dead person Urata carved a doll with a tear underneath the eye.
Outside, Shun summarizes what they know. Genji (Gen) is Makiko’s and the now deceased Yukari’s father. Masuda, who looked very similar to Gen, planned to make money out of this by impersonating Gen, but was killed by yakuza under control by Akutsu. Shun thinks that Gen, for the sake of Makiko, has killed off each of the old companions which means that Akutsu will be next, unless Akutsu takes Gen’s life first. “Boss, if we don’t strike fast, another murder will occur!” You now learn that Makiko has finally regained consciousness. They go to her hospital room, and Shun is very relieved to see her alive. She had heard that they had rescued her and asks you to stop her father from killing Akutsu the parliamentarian. “But dad is slow, he has already suffered damage. But perhaps if you show him the letter from Okumura...Please, Detectives, go out and stop my father.”
You leave and call the number to Akutsu’s office you found in the notebook in the onsen. You learn that Akutsu left for Hokkaido this morning for an election tour. They also tell you that someone from the local support group had called earlier saying the flight was a had been a bit delayed. You go to Restaurant Koropokkuri where the chef just saw Gen, with a dreadful look on his face, heading in the direction of Sapporo station. The express train from the airport is there and Akutsu is just stepping on to the platform. Gen appears with a knife, but so does the Hokuryuukai yakuza. Shun calls out “Look out!”. Here you get new menu options: run away, arrest, sing a song, play dead (you just got to love this sudden stroke of silliness). You tell Shun to arrest them, and when that doesn’t really work, you tell Shun to attack. He beats the yakuza goons up (this time with less Hokuto no ken references). You then arrest the yakuza, Akutsu, and finally Gen-san. Shun sees you off at the airport with a summary of events. A while later back in Tokyo you receive a card from Shun and Makiko’s wedding.