428: Shibuya Scramble is the best visual novel game you’ll ever play in your entire life. Designed by Kōichi Nakamura (or so we’re led to believe?) which was developed by his company, Chunsoft, and published by Sega back in 2008 on the Wii, the PSP in 2009, and iOS/Android in 2011. The game has forever been one of those hidden gems which only people fluent in Japanese have had the privilege of experiencing, until now. Out now in American regions on PS4 and Worldwide on Steam (EU PSN coming on the 21st September), the rest of us can now finally experience this amazing, intricate adventure which spans the lives of seven people through the most exciting, funny, sad, intense, and dramatic 10 hours of their lives.
This new release has been ported by Abstraction Games and published by Spike Chunsoft for both the PS4 and PC via Steam.
Come with me whilst I break down and review 428: Shibuya Scramble, whilst avoiding all spoilers and story elements, as I try to put into words just how addicted I was to this story and how every single person reading this review needs to pick up and play this game at some point in their life…
Does anyone remember the film ‘Magnolia’? A story about how the lives and events of unrelated people and how they all touched and affected each other throughout the course of 24 hours due to chance, luck and fate. 428: Shibuya Scramble reminded me of Magnolia so much – the game is filled with ‘Butterfly effects’ where one simple action, be it stopping to help someone or even just saying hello to someone on the street, can cause someone’s day to play out entirely differently. You’ve heard of alternative timelines, other dimensions, and fate – well, 428: Shibuya Scramble has 87 possible endings and easily over 100 pathways for you to explore and experiment with. If only we had the ability to live out our lives with the same “what if” mechanic in real life, how would things be different?
Those who have read my reviews before will know that this space is where I would usually talk about the story and break down the opening 30 minutes or so in order to give you a little background into what’s going on. That’s really hard in this instance as on one hand, I want to tell you everything and talk about what made me cry, what had me literally laughing out loud, why I was shouting obscene things at a woman on the TV and what made me shout WTF about 20 times in a row… and on the other hand, I really want you to play and experience this game for yourself so I’m purposely trying to restrict what I do and don’t tell you within my review.
Throughout the course of the game, you’ll experience events and situations through the eyes of seven protagonists, five are unlocked from chapter two and two more become available later on. I think the best way to begin my review, which I can see getting pretty long, would be to talk about our protagonists, their backgrounds and a brief explanation of their agendas. Again, there will be no spoilers and I can assure you that not everything may be as it first appears, people’s goals and conclusions may end up being as far from their original vision as you could imagine. Who knows? You’ll have to play it to find out!
At the beginning of 428: Shibuya Scramble, we’re given a basic outline of what’s happening and a nice introduction of what’s to come (The free demo on PSN covers the whole first timeslot and allows you to continue your progression WHEN you buy the game). A young girl called Maria has been kidnapped, she’s the daughter of Kenji Osawa, a renown pharmacist, and the twin sister of Hitomi. Hitomi has been ordered to deliver a suitcase containing fifty million yen to a ‘foreigner’ in Shibuya near the statue of Hachiko. She is silently stood there awaiting this unknown stranger whilst under the watchful eyes of the police force. Little does she know that the next ten hours are about to be much more thrilling than she could ever have imagined!
Once the case has been taken, the officers begin their pursuit as the case is passed from one foreigner to another – just what is going on here? Meanwhile, whilst all the focus was on the money and these strange men dressed in black, Hitomi also vanishes from the statue – was this now a double kidnapping? Play through one of the most well-designed and intricate ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ visual novels ever created from the point of view of five characters (initially). Search for the twins, protect those you care about, prevent someone from killing themselves, reconnect with your family, and discover who you are all whilst avoiding 85 ‘bad’ endings and uncovering the truth behind what’s going on in 428: Shibuya Scramble.
Kano (Shinya Kanou)
Kano is a young detective from the Shibuya Police Department. The kidnapping of Maria Osawa was one of his first major cases since following in his, hopefully, soon-to-be father-in-laws footsteps and becoming a detective. We begin Kano’s story at the drop-site with his disguise-loving partner, Sasayama, dressed as a homeless guy as they discuss both the case and their personal lives. Even though it may seem a little strange and out of place for a homeless guy to be sat there having a casual chat with a smartly dressed citizen, throughout the next ten hours you’ll see that this is one of Sasayama’s best disguises…
Kano’s agenda is to watch over Hitomi, ensure the culprits are caught and retrieve Maria safe and sound. However, things spiral out of control one after another, starting with the disappearance of Hitomi Osawa whilst he is off trying to chase down the American who retrieved the case off her and then fled. One of the major personality points of Kano is his commitment to his Dick Diary and how he’ll do anything within his power in order to ensure every word in said Dick Diary is obeyed and thought about, right until the end!
Now, if you’re thinking his Dick Diary is a book where he writes down his thoughts about the male organ and how it makes him feel – get your mind out of the gutter! It’s his notepad where he writes down all of his inspirations and the phrases he aims to obey whilst performing his duties. We’ll get a glimpse at quite a few of his Dick Dictums throughout our time in 428: Shibuya Scramble – the question is, will he break any of these or do everything within his power to play by the book, the Dick book…
Achi (Achi Endo):
Achi’s your typical street-wise kid who’s more concerned with the environment and others than his own personal safety. He was once a prominent figure on the street of Shibuya as the head of a group of teenagers who loved the city so much, they would do anything to keep the place safe and clean. Nowadays he spends his life picking up trash and helping out where he can. Achi’s story begins just like any other regular day – he heads out on his regular clean-up mission when he just so happens to stumble upon the events happening at the Hachiko statue.
I would go as far as saying that Achi is one of the main protagonists, along with Kano, even though there are others, as his storyline seems to be the main focal point in more places than the others. This is helped by the companion he makes within the first chapter/time block. This isn’t a spoiler, as it happened within the first 10-15 minutes – whilst the police are chasing the foreigner throughout the town, Achi steps in to help the vulnerable Hitomi as she’s approached at the statue by an unknown figure.
That’s right, Hitomi isn’t kidnapped from the statue like everyone is lead to believe, she becomes a major part of the story, a major part of Achi’s story, as they both work together to find Maria whilst constantly being on the run from various people who seem to always know where they are and what they’re up too. Just why are they after Hitomi? Achi makes it his mission to keep Hitomi safe at whatever costs based on the back of a promise he made to his critically ill sister…
Osawa (Kenji Osawa)
Father of both Maria and Hitomi Osawa and virus expert/pharmacist/lab director of Okoshi Pharmaceutical. Osawa is your typical ‘busy’ father who never has any time for anything other than his work. Sure, he works for his father-in-law and is on great pay as he works to help create anti-viruses to cure both known and unknown viral infections in the world, but what’s the point when you shut off those you love in the process?
We begin Osawa’s story in his house, his house which is currently occupied by a room full of cops who are there to help track down and find Maria, Hitomi (once she goes missing) and even unclog the toilet (you’ll understand!). The saying is true, you never know what you had until it’s lost – Osawa feels the same way – he recalls the times he neglected his daughters as they grew up, the times he put work first, and the times he wasn’t there when he should have been. This built up and suppressed anger/guilt can drive a man insane and to the brink of destruction, the question is – will he take this and become oppressed with guilt or will he use the new-found passion to help find his daughters?
Osawa’s role in this tale of love, guilt, biohazard, and deceit is that of the father who will risk anything to find his daughters. After receiving an email from an unknown sender, certain things are brought to light which he finds hard to handle and deal with. Using this new-found knowledge, Osawa re-focuses his passion into ensuring not only are the girls returned safe and sound, but that Shibuya is also not placed under threat by another agenda that’s in motion…
Minorikawa (Minoru Minorikwawa):
Minorikawa is a determined freelance writer who works for the publishing company of his dear friend and former superior, Toyama. Minorikawa’s story begins with him received a strange message from Toyama about ‘death being the only option’ before the call is cut short. This next event can happen one of two ways, I’ll let you imagine what happens if you don’t make it to the building in time…
Upon entering the publication’s building and reuniting with his former boss and friend, he discovers that the company is swamped in debt due to a very bad publication error which was giving away millions of yen to the readers through its scratch cards. As such, Toyama had spiralled into depression and no longer cared about anything, including his own daughter who was hiding behind the filing cabinets in the corner – his life was ruined. In comes Minorikawa, he won’t stand by and watch this man crumble and fall – if they manage to get today’s publication to print then they could possibly earn enough money to pay off the killer debt collectors and also have enough profits to keep the company afloat.
With his pen in one hand and his notepad in the other, Minorikawa sets out to complete six stories which he believes will pull in the punters. You’ll play the proceeding nine hours as you go back and forth between all of these events, events which are all connected in some way and will eventually lead Minorikawa to the biggest story of his life. I guess the questions are, will you be able to complete all of these stories in time, will you require assistance in order to fulfil this promise to your friend, will the truth come back and bite you, and just what does happen when you drink a full bottle of strange red liquid…
Tama is by far my favourite protagonist in 428: Shibuya Scramble – she’s a young girl who is stuck in a large catsuit! Not a sexy cat-suit like cat woman, nope – literally a giant mascot suit! Her storyline music is also very iconic and such fun to listen to! Tama also has one of the more interesting stories – again, no spoilers as we find this out within her first hour of gameplay. Tama has amnesia. She woke up one day and discovered she had no idea who she was or where she was going. As such, she bumps into one of the funniest guys I’ve ever seen in a visual novel, Mr. Yanagishita.
This guy is your typical sleazy scam artist – he employs Tama on the spot to don the costume and help him out in order to promote and sell a new diet drink known as Burning Hammer. Moments before, Tama had seen a necklace within a nic-nack shop which she feels is important to her, so she agrees to help Mr. Yanagishita as long as he is happy to pay her the money for the item. Little did she know that putting on the costume would change her life for the next nine hours as she becomes stuck within the suit!
Tama helps out Mr. Yanagishita as much as she can through his various money-making schemes – how else is she going to get paid? However, Tama’s main agenda here is to recall her memories, get out of the silly costume, obtain the necklace and stop her new friend from eating everything in Shibuya! Just how does Tama fit into this story and how many amusing images can you grab of a giant cat suit interacting with people…
Visual novel or picture book?
Okay, so that’s a background on the five main characters you’ll be playing as, along with their companions in each of the stories (Kano has Sasayama, Achi has Hitomi, Tama has Mr. Yanagishita and the others join forces with people along the way), but what do you actually do in 428: Shibuya Scramble? This is where things get interesting and different as opposed to your usual visual novels such as Code Realize, Punch Line, Danganronpa etc…
The Butterfly Effect:
Everyone has heard of the butterfly effect, right?! Well, 428: Shibuya Scramble takes that mechanic and uses it more times than Mr. Yanagishita comes up with another scam to make money! Overall, there are 85 bad endings – yes, eighty-five of them! As well as even more directions for the game to go in terms of pathways, alternative routes and dialogue choices. Not every chosen option will lead to a bad ending, but almost everything affects another character in some way or another.
Take the below image for example. Here we see Tama presenting Sasayama with a bottle of Burning Hammer (a diet drink) – a choice which we had moments earlier to either give it to him or to another businessman. Sasayama takes the bottle and goes on his merry way – Tama competed her hourly time slot as normal with one moment of happiness as she manages to give away a bottle of this vile liquid! Woohoo. However, if you jump to Kano’s story, when he next encounters his partner, he offers him a drink as he seems parched. As such, Kano is given the Burning Hammer fluid which isn’t the best idea and kind of ruins his day, to put it lightly…
So, go back and swap the option in Tama’s timeline to get a different outcome, yet ultimately the same overall conclusion to her time slot, yet Kano’s timeslot now proceeds to be much better as there is no unwanted gift begin presented to him. The game is full of these as you work your way through it, the slightest change in one story will alter the course of another person or even lead to completely different situations and events elsewhere. Stopping a taxi to get somewhere may be the difference between if someone lives or dies, but for who? You or the one in the taxi already? There’s only one way to find out – experiment.
I know what you’re thinking – let’s say you play all of Achi’s 12-1 pm time slot, surely the end of that time will give out spoilers and ruin the other stories for you (that time slot was random, I’m not saying anything happens there)? The answer is no. If the game is about to get interesting and make a big revelation or show something important, you get a big ‘keep out’ sign thrown into your face. It’s at this point where you must play through someone else’s time slot and uncover some red text in the dialogue. Clicking on this will instantly move the story back over the one named in red and continue their story.
For example (I’m going to make this up). Let’s say Achi bumps into some bad guys who want to start a fight with him. The game may freeze here with the ‘keep out’ logo. As you play through someone else’s story, it may get to a point where you bump into a guy covered in blood with Achi’s name in red and clicking this will send you back to the point in Achi’s story where it ended previously. This triggers the scene to continue as normal as it moves on with the story. You can then return to the other character and continue without selecting the name this time.
So yeah, the game self-restricts certain spoilers until you find connections between multiple people via the red words displayed on the screen – this is the main ‘puzzle’ mechanic of the game and the thing which will take you the longest to figure out. Especially if you’re going for all 85 endings as you need to try literally every option and see how it affects all the other protagonists in their stories as well. This works seamlessly and jumping into other stories and events is almost instantaneous with very little loading. I thought the Zero Time games were crazy with the sheer amount of deaths and alternative pathways – those games have nothing on 428: Shibuya Scramble!
Are you going too fast?
Just like the above ‘keep out’ mechanic, the game also has safeguards in place to prevent you from progressing the story beyond certain points, namely the 60-minute in-game mark. This reminds me of the TV show ’24’ where each episode is limited to an hour in-show. Once a protagonist reaches the end of a time slot, 11 am, 12 pm, 1 pm etc… the game prompts ‘to be continued’. You can continue to make changes and play out alternative pathways, but that protagonist can’t proceed to the next block until all of the protagonists are also at the ‘to be continued’ stage.
Once again, this restricts you from progressing too fast and seeing spoilers but it also enables the game to deliver a fair amount of cliffhangers which just happen to exist on the hour. The way I see it is, if this game was developed by Telltale Games, they would most likely have released the game in episodes, with each episode being an hour on the in-game clock.
This next point annoyed me at first but I grew to accept it – you also can’t speed up the text. Fans of visual novels and easy platinums will be all too familiar with the ‘Hold or press to skip’ text mechanic present in said games. You tap L1 or R1 in order to skip hours of text in mear seconds as it flies past – you can’t do that here, not even to text you’ve already read. There is an autoplay option with three speeds, but the max speed still requires the text to ‘type’ itself out on the screen at speaking speed, then the next line appears about a second later. This is one of the reasons it took me 71 hours to get the platinum and over 55 of those was my first playthrough of the game. Basically, if you play this game, there is no fast and easy way to experience new pathways and events.
The time map:
Okay, so I said you can’t skip text in any circumstances – that’s not entirely true. Let’s say a protagonist has two choices. If you pick one choice and it’s a straight line to the characters ‘to be continued’ screen. The other option sends you to a new event which then has a few options which lead to the guy’s death. If you select the option for the correct passage and get the continue screen, that’s great, you’ve now seen that path. If you go back and pick the other, this is a new patch and you have to experience it new (unless it eventually branches back into a path you’ve seen). Once you’ve seen this path, go back and pick the right option at the previous junction, then return to the time chart. All the choices you made previously have been chosen and the timeline is back to where it was at the continue screen.
Basically, the game is incredibly intuitive and smart – it remembers all the choices you made after selecting a certain pathway, as such, if you go back and change an outcome to the one you’ve already done, all proceeding options will auto-revert to what you did previously – thus not requiring you to read everything again. It’s complicated but you’ll understand what I mean when you play the game (which you will do as everyone should play this game!)
You can also kind of ‘skip time’ in paths you’ve experienced by pushing up and down on the D-pad. This shows you the transcript of the Past (up) and the Future (down), with the ability to teleport to any point which you’ve already seen in that chapter. Another neat feature is pushing Left on the D-pad – this gives you an overview of your character and what their trying to do within the chapter you’re playing. This is great if you’ve somehow forgotten or you return to the game after a period of not playing it.
Seen but not heard?!
One of the big things which surprised me about 428: Shibuya Scramble, and almost put me off initially, is the lack of any voice acting. That’s right, the only voice you’ll hear in the game is that of Aya Kamiki, a famous musician from Japan who is in the game playing herself and provides the vocal music to the game. Other than that, each scene is silent; bar the ambient noises, crowds in the background, music and random sound effects. I say this almost put me off because I found myself getting tired when I was reading it initially – the Japanese voices of other visual novels usually allows me to understand how the words are delivered and gain perspective on the situation, even if I can’t speak Japanese. This game doesn’t have any of that…
…Well, I didn’t think it did, until I looked closer at the words. There is a reason why the game literally types out the words on the screen instead of just dropping the whole text in one big ‘plop’. As the words appear, it creates pauses, emphasises certain words, creates anticipation as you wait for the next part to come up, and it even creates both audio cues and emotion without the game even saying a word! That’s incredible game design and such a perfect way to present the walls of text. This takes me back to my previous issue, why you can’t skip the text as in other visual novels. It’s because this game isn’t like other visual novels out there, this stands way above all the others and shows how a game can do so much and deliver such an impactful performance, even if it isn’t populated with tonnes of voice acting or animation.
If you like reading, you’ll love 428: Shibuya Scramble. If you don’t like reading then you’ll probably grow tired and lose interest (try the demo first!) – I wish you didn’t, but I can see certain people jumping into this and then lose interest in reading the text. As I said before as well, this isn’t a fast and easy platinum for trophy hunters either as you can’t just follow a guide and breeze through it. you’re required to play through it at its own pace. For those of us who do like reading, not only does the game have tonnes and tonnes of narration-style text to read through, certain words will be highlighted in blue which you can select in order to gain more info on. My favourite of which is at one point an unnamed girl tells a store owner that she is “easily Pleased” and if you select it, it tells you “this isn’t what you think, so get your mind out of the gutter!”. The localisation team have done an amazing job with only a few small grammatical errors here and there!
Another thing you’ll notice straight away is that the game favours stop motion over FMV. The game looks like it would be FMV from the images on here and on the store pages, but there is very little actual movement. There are a handful of videos, mainly at the end and beginning of a story, or at important events. Usually, it’s images that either slowly pan as you read the text or the figures may dance around in stop-motion to show how excited they are. It’s hard to explain but don’t expect a lot of motion or any video (bar a few small clips). However, the quality is of a high standard and everything looks brilliant!
So, you now know how the game works, what the main story is, a bit of background and info on each of the characters, how the mechanics work, and what to expect in terms of visual and audio presentation – what now? What can you do if you achieve all 85 bad endings (which wasn’t easy)? Well, without giving anything away, there are multiple ‘good’ endings, two unlockable new stories (one of which made me cry quite a lot if I’m being honest), a secret story (which also brought a tear to my eye), a pop-quiz which requires you to find the answers within the game, a bunch of hidden combo prompts hidden within the game, a remake of the producer’s very first game, and a secret ending which I’ve hinted at in this review 😉
I’m going to be 100% honest here and admit, I had to read up some tips on how to obtain a few of the endings as I would have never worked it out for myself. However, the quiz answers out there aren’t correct, as the Japanese translations are different and you literally have to type in the right answer letter by letter, and the combo prompts online are also wrong in some instances – so you have to find those yourself too. It took me 71 hours to platinum this game and I’ve already ordered the EU version to play through once it comes out in a few weeks (as it’s a separate trophy list). 428: Shibuya Scramble is by far one of the best games I’ve ever played in terms of its story and the way everything all inter-connects and butterfly effects. We’ve all seen the breakdown of Detroit: Become Humans ‘what-if’ flowchart, 428: Shibuya Scrambles would most likely be about 10x the size of that!
Do you really need this? I’m sorry the review was so long, but I had a lot to say yet I’ve not even touched upon the main parts of the story. You’ll not find a game out there which comes anywhere near the level of storytelling in play within 428: Shibuya Scramble. From the first time you meet all the characters and begin to grow a bond due to their lovable and unique personalities to the moment each protagonist experience the ‘end’ to their stories, you’ll be hooked and invested in finding out what happens next. This is why my review is a few days late – I couldn’t stop playing as I needed to know what happened next in this rollercoaster of emotions and events!
Sure, the lack of voices did upset and disappoint me in the beginning, but after a few hours I was used to it and I really love how the silent text gets across more emotion and non-verbal cues than most voice actors do – the whole thing was an absolute joy to play and an honour to experience. I think my only complaint, and it’s a massive one, is that I can’t officially give the game more than a 10/10 due to certain sites not allowing you to have a score above the ‘out of’ number! As such, this game unofficially is an 11/10 from me – it’s a must-buy for everyone – do not think about it, just buy it as soon as it’s out in your region!
428: Shibuya Scramble is, by far, the best narrative-based visual novel you’ll ever experience. Sure, there is no voice-overs and the text is presented as a ‘wall of text’ from the point of a narrator, as you would see within a book, but the whole presentation, delivery, emotion and overall narrative is simply amazing. You’ll laugh, cry, shout, become emotionally attached, and pray for each and every character throughout their ten-hour adventure. However, even though it’s ten hours for them, expect many more hours on your side as you work your way through over five separate stories which are all connected in some form to one another, even if our protagonists aren’t 100% aware of this.
I can’t praise 428: Shibuya Scramble enough for the experience I’ve had and the memories I now have from playing through it. I highly recommend that anyone who loves an amazing story and books gives it a shot – also, try and aim to unlock and watch the final bonus endings, just be prepared to cry. My only one complaint (truthfully) is that the game wasn’t put onto the Switch or PS Vita – This is the type of game that would heavily benefit from being portable so you can play it on the way to work or whilst in bad.
428: Shibuya Scramble£44,99
- - The best story you'll ever experience in any game - multiple protagonists following separate yet linked agendas
- - Even though it lacks voice acting, the words ooze emotion and subtle vocal cues which allows you to imagine how it should be read/spoken
- - The amount of effort and skill gone into creating a real-life visual novel is amazing
- - The bonus chapters will make you cry - you NEED to see them!
- - The music and general sound effects are perfect and were an absolute delight to listen too!
- - Some may be put off with the lack of voice acting (in any language)
- - Shame it isn't on the Vita/Switch
- - I can't 'officially' award it more than 10 - so I unofficially give it 11/10!