Skip to main content

428: Shibuya Scramble is the best crime book you’ll ever read on your PS4

428: Shibuya Scramble is the best crime book you’ll ever read on your PS4

/

A Japanese classic makes its belated English debut

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

428: Shibuya Scramble

If you’ve been following Japanese video games for a while, you’ve probably come across the magazine Weekly Famitsu at some point. Hugely popular to this day, its 40/40 review score system — four writers who can give up to 10 points each — remains notorious, despite the occasional allegations of excessive coziness with publishers. A 40/40 score is typically only bestowed upon the most hyped games, and it tends to have the effect of hyping them even further.

Until winter 2008, only eight games in the 22-year history of Famitsu received a 40/40 score. With the possible exception of the surprising yet remarkably prescient Nintendogs review, none of the selections would shock a Japanese games fan: Ocarina of Time, Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy XII, and so on.

Then came 428.

A quirky, thrilling visual novel that relies on live-action photography, 428: In a Blockaded Shibuya for the Wii is, by some distance, the most niche game ever to receive 40/40 in Famitsu. (It was the eighth best-selling game in its week of release.) Until now, it was also the only game with that honor to have never been released outside Japan or in English. But Spike Chunsoft has localized and released it for a Western audience on the PS4 and PC as 428: Shibuya Scramble, and I think anyone with an interest in Japanese games should play it. And not just because Famitsu’s reviewers really dug it a decade ago

It’s an important part of Japanese gaming history, and you’ve never played anything like it. It’s also absolutely fantastic.

428 is set in the busy Shibuya district of Tokyo, and you follow multiple protagonists’ stories that are taking place in parallel over a single day. To be extremely reductive, it’s kind of like 24 but with a lot more reading. You can choose which character to “control” at a given time, and getting to the end of an in-game hour-long block unlocks more of the story. The plot is pretty complex: it involves kidnapping, conspiracy, and cat costumes. You have to make choices at pivotal moments, then usually backtrack to change your mind once things play out for the worse. But while there isn’t really anything in the way of traditional “gameplay,” 428’s dynamic photography and storytelling make it feel entirely new. Localization director David Kracker describes it as “interactive like a visual novel, but as carefully shot and plotted as a Hollywood blockbuster.”

“I figured it was now or never.”

428 was developed by Chunsoft, a company previously best known in the West for roguelike RPG series such as Shiren the Wanderer and Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, but which has recently developed a wider global following for visual novels like Danganronpa and the Zero Escape games. Chunsoft has been the most renowned visual novel developer in Japan for decades, and until recently, very few of these titles were released outside their home market. So why is 428 finally making it to the West?

“It’s partially an experiment, partially a pet project,” says Kracker. “The Danganronpa visual novel series far, far exceeded expectations and convinced us that there was a global market for such titles. Since 428 is hailed in Japan as the pinnacle of the visual novel adventure genre, I figured it was now or never.”

Any game like this lives or dies by the quality of its writing, of course, and you might think 428 would have been an intimidating task to translate into English — both from a linguistic and cultural perspective. But the sharp script and variety of tonal levity actually make it a natural fit. I played the Wii version back when I was still learning Japanese, and in the same way that Haruki Murakami novels are a popular option for students because of the way he evokes English writing in Japanese, 428 in English is a breezy read that always feels deliberate.

428: Shibuya Scramble

“Some Japanese scripts are full of lines that makes me wince and think, ‘Oof, good luck with that one,’” says Kracker. “[But] for 428, the original has a very wry, dark sense of humor that was begging to be put into English. The producers had American crime thrillers like 24 in mind, but it reminds me more of Arrested Development or a Coen brothers film. Each scenario has a different flavor — Kano’s is a hardboiled cop thriller, Tama’s is slapstick comedy, Osawa’s is psychological horror — and Kajiya Productions, the localization team, nailed the voice of each.”

That said, the game still feels extremely Japanese, which is something the localizers couldn’t shy away from. In the past, games like the Ace Attorney series would often be heavily modified in their English forms, removing several cultural references that the localizers deemed likely to confuse Western players. But Kracker thinks that approach won’t fly anymore. “Aggressive culturalization is a thing of the past,” he says. “Not because the audience has grown sophisticated — the audience has always been sophisticated — but because there’s enough success to trust the market.”

“It reminds me more of ‘Arrested Development’ or a Coen Brothers film.”

On the other hand, 428 doesn’t follow games like the Persona series in fully localizing unique features of the Japanese language like the -san and -chan honorifics that are frequently attached to people’s names. “The goal of localization is for users in the target language to have the same experience as users in the source language,” says Kracker. “If you and someone across the globe are laughing at the same jokes, crying at the same scenes, and fantasizing similar headcanon, then I’d call it a quality localization.”

I agree with this entirely, particularly in the case of a game as text-heavy as 428. When I’m reading something in English, I want it to feel natural without constant reminders that it’s been interpreted from another language. If I wanted the honorifics, I’d play it in Japanese. You can never truly translate 100 percent of nuance and meaning, so I’d rather have something well-written that captures the intent of the source material.

On the other hand, I can’t deny that part of the appeal of 428 on a personal level comes from the vivid rendering of the city I live in. The photography is excellent throughout, with a lot of shots that are clearly intended to highlight specific aspects of the Shibuya setting. Like the Yakuza games, the degree of verisimilitude is something that the developers will have assumed that most players will appreciate. As Kracker points out, though, the story is grounded in universal themes. “Players latch on to a certain character as their spirit animal,” he explains, “so I think everyone can relate to their struggles, if not the setting.”

428’s excellent localization deserves to bring a legitimate Japanese classic to a whole new audience. I can’t stress this enough: if you are at all open to the idea of crashing on your couch and reading a lot of text on your TV screen, 428: Shibuya Scramble is one of the most original and entertaining ways to do just that. It’s truly one of a kind in the very best way.

428: Shibuya Scramble is out now for PC and PS4.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed 41 minutes ago Striking out

A
The Verge
Andrew Webster41 minutes ago
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.


A
Andrew Webster1:05 PM UTC
Looking for something to do this weekend?

Why not hang out on the couch playing video games and watching TV. It’s a good time for it, with intriguing recent releases like Return to Monkey Island, Session: Skate Sim, and the Star Wars spinoff Andor. Or you could check out some of the new anime on Netflix, including Thermae Romae Novae (pictured below), which is my personal favorite time-traveling story about bathing.


A screenshot from the Netflix anime Thermae Romae Novae.
Thermae Romae Novae.
Image: Netflix
J
Twitter
Jay PetersSep 23
Twitch’s creators SVP is leaving the company.

Constance Knight, Twitch’s senior vice president of global creators, is leaving for a new opportunity, according to Bloomberg’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Knight shared her departure with staff on the same day Twitch announced impending cuts to how much its biggest streamers will earn from subscriptions.


T
Twitter
Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.


A
External Link
If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.


A
External Link
Ford is running out of its own Blue Oval badges.

Running out of semiconductors is one thing, but running out of your own iconic nameplates is just downright brutal. The Wall Street Journal reports badge and nameplate shortages are impacting the automaker's popular F-series pickup lineup, delaying deliveries and causing general chaos.

Some executives are even proposing a 3D printing workaround, but they didn’t feel like the substitutes would clear the bar. All in all, it's been a dreadful summer of supply chain setbacks for Ford, leading the company to reorganize its org chart to bring some sort of relief.


E
TikTok
Spain’s Transports Urbans de Sabadell has La Bussí.

Once again, the US has fallen behind in transportation — call it the Bussí gap. A hole in our infrastructure, if you will.


J
External Link
Jay PetersSep 23
Doing more with less (extravagant holiday parties).

Sundar Pichai addressed employees’ questions about Google’s spending changes at an all-hands this week, according to CNBC.

“Maybe you were planning on hiring six more people but maybe you are going to have to do with four and how are you going to make that happen?” Pichai sent a memo to workers in July about a hiring slowdown.

In the all-hands, Google’s head of finance also asked staff to try not to go “over the top” for holiday parties.


E
External Link
Insiders made the most money off of Helium’s “People’s Network.”

Remember Helium, which was touted by The New York Times in an article entitled “Maybe There’s a Use for Crypto After All?” Not only was the company misleading people about who used it — Salesforce and Lime weren’t using it, despite what Helium said on its site — Helium disproportionately enriched insiders, Forbes reports.


J
Youtube
James VincentSep 23
Nvidia’s latest AI model generates endless 3D models.

Need to fill your video game, VR world, or project render with 3D chaff? Nvidia’s latest AI model could help. Trained on 2D images, it can churn out customizable 3D objects ready to import and tweak.

The model seems rudimentary (the renders aren’t amazing quality and seem limited in their variety), but generative AI models like this are only going to improve, speeding up work for all sorts of creative types.