Detective Conan: Rondo of the Blue Jewel / 名探偵コナン・蒼き宝石の輪舞曲

The release of Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice in 2016 was the first time I played an episodic murder mystery adventure game on the current-generation Nintendo handheld involving a plot that progressed concurrently in both Japan and a small fictional country and revolved around a lost national treasure from said fictional country. And yet little to my knowledge, five years prior had seen the release of Detective Conan: Rondo of the Blue Jewel, an episodic murder mystery game involving... well, you can probably guess. Overall it's a decent game that perfectly captures the feel of Detective Conan. While there are a few areas that felt like they could have been polished up a bit (this is a licensed game after all), it delivers in the areas that are more important for the type of game it is.

I'm going to assume that you know the basic premise and characters of Detective Conan (also known as Case Closed in the West), so if you don't, now is probably a good time to skim the Wikipedia page.

The game opens with a vigilante dressed as Onimar, a superhero from a new TV show in the same vein as Kamen Rider, capturing wanted criminals and delivering them to the police. Until one day, when instead Onimar leaves a corpse of a seemingly innocent person in a body bag. Meanwhile, the actor who plays Onimar on TV asks Kogoro to protect him on set because he's been feeling stalked. Kogoro (together with Ran, Conan, and the Detective Boys) goes to the set the next day, and the actor falls off a set piece to his death in a freak accident... or is it? (It isn't. It's a murder. It's always a murder.)

Thus begins the first of a series incidents that end up connecting to Andel, a small European country, the Blue Dahlia, a mysterious jewel from said country, and the masked superhero Onimar. While Conan remains in Japan, Heiji eventually goes to Andel with Kogoro and Ran as the two detectives pursue the truth from opposite sides of the planet.

The game is divided into six episodes, although the last episode is shorter and focused mostly on resolving the overarching plot. While the cases in most episodic murder mystery games get progressively longer and more difficult, all of the cases in Rondo of the Blue Jewel (except for the last) are mostly comparable. Each episode is about 3-4 hours long, with the whole game clocking in at a bit over 20 hours.

The first part of each case covers the investigation. Like most adventure games we go around the different locations, examining the backgrounds and talking to the witnesses. Multiple characters can be present at each location, so when we want to talk to someone, we need to select who we want to talk to and then what we want to talk to them about. The game often requires you to talk to specific person to proceed, and sometimes that person isn't intuitive. For instance, if you need to get a witness's testimony, you might instead need to talk to Kogoro to get him to talk to the witness. When examining the locations, each examinable item is highlighted in red when you hover over it, so there's never difficult pixel hunting. As we investigate, we get "keywords," which are divided into profiles, pieces of evidence, and pieces of information. The final element of the investigations is the partner select: at certain points in each investigation, you get to choose one of three characters to become your partner for the next segment. Nothing changes story-wise--you'll still go to the same places and get the same pieces of evidence--but it's still kind of nice to let the characters you like get more screentime.

The investigations are... functional but boring. For the most part you just go to each location, investigate each thing and talk to each person. Then you do that again. And again, until the investigation is over. The investigation portion tends to be the less-exciting portion of a mystery game, but most franchise try to do things to alleviate this. For instance, Ace Attorney alternates between trial and investigation segments within the same case and has gameplay gimmicks like psyche-locks, and Danganronpa prefaces each investigation with a lengthy "Normal Life" segment. But Rondo of the Blue Jewel doesn't have anything like that. You're investigating murders, none of the investigations are that lengthy, and some of the chapters do break the mold a bit so this isn't a huge issue, but the investigations do feel a bit draggy.

Once we've collected enough keywords, the deduction segment begins and we get to witness the marvel of Sleeping Kogoro at work. We proceed in standard mystery game fashion, answering a series of multiple-choice questions and presenting keywords at prompts. While we start off generally making deductions, these segments quickly transition into a showdown against the killer. There's one unique gameplay section, which is reminiscent of Ace Attorney and Danganronpa, where the killer will make an argument, the argument will auto-scroll in real time, and we need to present a keyword at the killer's lie/mistake. The game also gives a tutorial for every single special segment every time they pop up, not only the first time for each, which gets a bit tiring.

The mysteries are interesting and well-constructed, but the difficulty of the game is pretty whack. The game does a fantastic job of capturing the feel of a real Detective Conan case, and if you look at a standard Detective Conan case you can probably get a pretty good idea of the style and complexity of the Rondo of the Blue Jewel cases. However, even though the complexity of the cases are about the same as regular Detective Conan cases, the cluing is much, much more generous. It's generally pretty easy to figure out what's going on in a case relatively early, and the questions are also overall easy. The game can sometimes be difficult, but not in a good way. Often, there will be multiple keywords reflecting multiple aspects of a single piece of evidence. Consequently even when it's clear what the correct piece of evidence is, the correct keyword isn't always as clear. For instance, in one case, when asked what was carried into a room, I got penalized for presenting tea rather than the teapot that the tea was in. And immediately after presenting the teapot, the game asked what was inside the teapot. To the game's credit there are plenty of instances where presenting a close-but-not-quite keyword will have Conan go "(That's on the right track, but not the exact answer)" to himself rather than giving you a penalty, but with so many keywords and so many prompts, it's inevitable that they wouldn't get all of them. In short, the game is generally pretty easy, and when it's difficult, it's frustrating rather than rewarding.

Although the mysteries are good, the low difficulty does make them a bit less enjoyable than they might otherwise be. That being said, even if the general picture of the case becomes clear quickly it can still take a while before the details come into perspective, and some of the cases are on the trickier side. And thankfully, despite the low difficulty, the characters aren't idiots. Well, Conan and Heiji aren't, at least. They're able to catch onto things relatively quickly as well, but rather than just going "Yup that's it, case closed," they wait until they've collected decisive evidence, which I think is the best way to handle it. The mysteries take place in a variety of locations and use all sorts of different tricks. But main tricks all fall into the same general archetype (specifically, (rot-13) nygrevat gur nccnerag gvzr bs qrngu gb perngr na nyvov), and so despite how different all the cases are, they still end up with something of a similar flavor.

The overarching plot was also... decent. It wasn't a masterpiece of storytelling like some other adventure games, but it provided a sensible mystery and compelling story that tied together the various murders over the course of the game. Midway through the game I noticed the parallels to Spirit of Justice that I alluded to in the opening paragraph, and I was impressed that Rondo of the Blue Jewel just did it so much better. Andel as a country makes way more sense than Khura'in ever did. In most pieces of fiction that deal with a foreign country, everyone can magically speak the main language of the piece, but in Rondo of the Blue Jewel, there is a distinct lack of Japanese-speakers in Andel, which I appreciated and thought was positive world-building. There are still more Japanese speakers than you'd probably expect to find in a random European country, but the game does address this. ...And later on in the game everyone does end up becoming magically fluent in Japanese, but hey, it was nice while it lasted. The game also does leave a couple of smaller plot threads unresolved, but you need to dig pretty deep to find them.

The characters are standard Detective Conan fare. This being a licensed game, a lot of the recurring characters show up. In fact, a fair number of them seem to be there simply to be there, most notably the Tokyo Metropolitan Police detectives and most egregiously Kaito Kid. Kaito Kid barely shows up, does basically nothing, and it's pretty clear that they just wanted to be able to put him on the cover. It's still nice how the partner select feature lets you spend more time with the characters you like. The original characters are about as developed as usual non-recurring Detective Conan characters, which is to say not very much. They have enough personality to be distinct during the cases, but not quite enough to be memorable. Which is fine, because most of them are there just to be suspects, and Detective Conan mysteries are trick-based, not character-based. They also don't generally give you the readings of everyone's names, which feels bizarre. (Not even in the profiles section!!)

The sounds and graphics are serviceable but not outstanding. The music and sfx fit the mood, and that's about it They don't use any of the music or themes from the anime, which felt like a missed opportunity to me. There are a couple of voice clips here and there, but their randomness and infrequency made them feel a bit awkward. On the graphics side, there are a variety of cut-ins and backgrounds, and the characters can have surprisingly large sprite sets. They're about average quality for a DS game, so not breathtaking but they represent everything clearly. The perspective of some of the sprites is inconsistent which can be a bit jarring, but all in all the assets do what they need to do.

In addition to the main story, there are a few mini-games. By examining things in the main story you can find puzzle pieces and assemble them into posters for the Detective Conan movies, which is fun if you like jigsaw puzzles. There is a skateboarding minigame where you have to avoid obstacles as you skate down the street, but the obstacles come way too quickly for the game to feel fair. There's a soccer minigame where you kick the ball into goals, but it's just boring, to be honest. Finally there's a Detective Conan quiz, which is kind of fun, but the questions ask about minor details, so if you want to do well you need to really be a superfan (or a good guesser).

All in all, Rondo of the Blue Jewel is probably exactly what you'd expect from a Detective Conan video game. It's a licensed video game, so the assets are fine but not outstanding. The plot and characters are about average quality for Detective Conan, but Detective Conan are generally decent quality mysteries so that's a good thing, with the biggest detraction being the difficulty rather than the mysteries themselves. Really, what's most disappointing about this game isn't what it is, but what it could have been. The art and sound is okay, the plot is fine and hampered mostly by its ease. But the building blocks of something great are clearly visible. The game is fine as it is, but put a bit more money into the graphics, get some catchy tunes, tighten up the handful of looser ends in the plot and amp up the difficulty a bit and you'd have a fantastic game. But alas, such is the fate of a licensed video game. At the end of the day, Rondo of the Blue Jewel does what it needs to do, and if you like Detective Conan you'll like Rondo of the Blue Jewel.

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