What if there was a way to stop the aging process and only your family knew the secret? How far will you go to protect it? And at what cost? Centennial Affair isn’t your typical murder-mystery adventure game. It goes out of its way to be different, whether it’s swapping you for different murders over the course of 100 years or using live-action footage to make you feel like you’re participating in a movie. Huh. The latter evokes a nostalgic spirit of old-timey FMV games, but advanced technology and heavy attention to cuts create an experience that’s equally entertaining and engaging, even if it’s not always on the mark.
The Centennial Case is a narrative-focused adventure centered on the Shijima family, who are engaged in a string of suspected murders over the past century. They also have a unique item that promises eternal youth. Is it true or myth? As protagonist and mystery novelist Haruka Kagami, you must discover the truth, linking various incidents and murders to uncover the family’s long-held secrets.
The majority of The Centennial Case plays out in live-action sequences. You see these more than you interact with any of the gameplay mechanics, but the story is so captivating that it deserves your attention. The high point of the experience is your role as a detective and you are constantly wondering how all these pieces fit together in the bigger scheme of things. Learning a new clue always gives me something to think about, and I enjoy building my theories based on people’s reactions or conflicting information. In every case there are multiple layers; Not only are you trying to figure out the culprit and the events behind each murder, but you’re always getting closer to seeing how every death is connected and whether the family really has the ability to stop aging.
I enjoyed that the cases are set in different time periods, as the story often jumps from the past to the present. This dynamic adds variety and a new flavor to each murder mystery, while allowing you to see how it affects the elements in the present day. My favorite case happened in a 1970s nightclub that captured the frivolity and pressure of showbiz. Suspicion arises on every person involved in each case, for a range of motives, from jealousy and duty to revenge and anger. However, not all cases are equal. Some of the mysteries felt like they had obvious answers, and the latter case throws in new elements, such as logic and gameplay puzzles, that I wish had existed earlier in the game.
Still, it’s exactly the mystery-solving that makes this game so interesting. After collecting all your clues, you are taken to a 3D hexagonal grid. Here, you select clues and fit them into possible guesses, noting all the possible ways events can unfold. Sometimes it leads you down false paths that almost try to mess with your certainty. I enjoyed looking at every angle of the evidence, from the alibis to the placement of objects at the crime scene. It only made me more confident in my reasoning for how I wanted to present my case.
The next step is presenting your theory to the group, which sounds similar to an ace attorney courtroom, albeit without the wacky antics. You get multiple choice options to say what you really think, and at the end of each case, you get a score based on how many mistakes you made. Everyone involved tests your argument, forcing you to support it appropriately. I liked the tension here; Nothing seems like a safe bet because many possibilities seem possible.
However, because of how involved the hypothesis period is, you never feel like you’re being stabbed in complete darkness—though sometimes you’ll be surprised at how the evidence adds up and brings new elements to light. I sometimes went into cases that weren’t entirely sure who the culprit was, but relied on evidence that was skewed, and that gave me the correct answer. Hints are available in case you get really stuck, but I never felt like I needed them.
Unfortunately, acting is hit-and-miss. Sometimes actors go over-the-top with their performances, and you can’t tell if it’s intentional or not. Part of it sounds awkward, but there is some good acting, especially in more stressful and emotional situations. Some may find it confusing that the same actors are seen playing different roles in all respects. For example, one may be a victim in one case, only a perpetrator in the next. It didn’t bother me, as you clearly know when you are going to a different time period. However, some people may have difficulty adjusting. My only other knock on the game is that it gives you dialogue options that don’t affect anything. In fact, in most cases, the one you choose provides the same lines. It is the illusion of playing or preferring some role where there is none, which disappointed me.
There aren’t a lot of games built like The Centennial Case, and I enjoyed the ambition behind trying something different to tell a complex story and involve the player in piecing it all together. It gave me the feeling of reading a great mystery novel where your head is spinning with possibilities, but the interactivity and structure allow you to better understand the clues and all of their meanings. Sometimes The Centennial Case stumbles, but it’s enduring the wild ride it gives you and the broader question about what is ethical in the world of science.