As someone who has reviewed more visual novels than he’d care to admit, there isn’t much I haven’t seen in terms of gameplay or mechanics. I’ve dealt with time travel in STEINS;GATE, beaten Zero at his own Nonary Games, and conducted an outer space rescue mission in Tacoma. None of those adventures, however, prepped me for the insanity that is 428: Shibuya Scramble. It was immediately apparent after watching the trailer that this game was going to be different than any other visual novel I’d played thus far. First, the creators did not animate or draw the art. The graphics include real, live-action video clips and photographs. I loved it. That in and of itself was enough to make 428 something special, but its developers, Spike Chunsoft, didn’t stop there.
428: Shibuya Scramble manages to successfully smoosh the lives of five individuals from various walks of life into a story as random as they are. There’s a young, up-and-coming police detective, an eccentric journalist/bike enthusiast, a street thug with a heart of gold, the director of a pharmaceutical company, and a girl stuck in her part-time job’s mascot outfit. It’s a rather unique tale of love, abductions, lethal diseases, gangsters, and cat costumes. Truly a soon-to-be classic.
The aforementioned trailer for Shibuya Scramble does an excellent job of showcasing the vibe and energy of the game. And it features music that is hype AF.
The Fab Five
The heart and soul of every visual novel are its characters and 428: Shibuya Scramble is certainly no exception. Through ten one-hour time blocks, 428 takes players through the lives of each of the five protagonists, one hour at a time, all simultaneously. But more on that later. The game kicks things off by introducing you to Kano.
A rookie detective with his heart in the right place but his head in the clouds, Kano is torn between his sense of duty and his doting fiancée. See, his would-be father-in-law is in the city demanding to meet the no-good bum his daughter is dating, but before Kano can smooth things over, there’s the small matter of a kidnapping case that needs to be handled first.
Kano, as stated in his official description above, is new to the detective field and is having trouble balancing his work life with his personal one. He takes his job pretty seriously, however, going so far as to carry a notebook filled with pearls of wisdom said by a senior detective he wishes to emulate. These “Dick Dictums” include catchy pieces of advice such as haste makes waste, the truth hungers to be free, and when the tongue slips, grab it and yank the truth out. Kano refers to his Dick Diary on multiple occasions for guidance, much to the chagrin of his partner, Yuji Sasayama. Known as the “Cosplay Detective,” Sasayama enjoys wearing strange and elaborate disguises during stakeouts. He’s more experienced and a bit more carefree than Kano which balances out the duo nicely.
Shibuya born and raised, Achi keeps trash off his streets, whether that means collecting litter or busting some scumbag upside the head. A former gang leader, he united the neighborhood delinquents into an impromptu vigilante squad but his abrupt departure left some of his former crew holding a grudge. And in a place as small as Shibuya, it won’t take long for Achi’s past to catch up with him.
It was just another day in paradise for Achi until he got involved with Kano and the rest of the protagonists. And it all started when he offered to carry a heavy looking briefcase for a concerned looking, young woman. You see, Achi is determined to make Shibuya a better place for everyone, and a woman in distress is no bueno in his book. He’s no pushover either. On his way over to his fated encounter with the briefcase girl, he met a couple of guys who were up to no good and started making trouble in his neighborhood (sorry, couldn’t resist). He promptly dispatched the duo and went on his merry way. While you later learn he’s not the brightest crayon in the box, he’s still rough, tough, and isn’t afraid to take action if he thinks someone’s in need.
This rabid journalist isn’t a jerk, he just acts like one to get unscripted responses from his interview subjects. Okay, so he actually is a bit of a jerk. But when his old editor calls him up crying that yakuza loan sharks are coming to collect, Minorikawa drops everything to help—and stumbles onto the biggest scoop of his life.
Some might call Minorikawa a jerk, I just call him eccentric. He enjoys writing, tiny bikes, and yelling at both people and inanimate objects when he’s trying to work. While he does give off that sleazy “do whatever you can for a story” journalist vibe, he’s actually a pretty good guy in his own way. His story kicks off when an old editor calls him out of the blue and mentions killing himself. He tries to get there as fast as he can, going so far as abandoning his beloved, motorized scooter of ten years on the side of the road (he cries) when the engine dies on him. He eventually finds a taxi and as stated best in his official description above, stumbles across the biggest scoop of his life.
Obviously, Tama is… a cat. Or is she? Poor Tama can’t remember who she really is. All she knows is that she woke up with a bump on the noggin and is wearing this costume to demo a dodgy diet drink. Not a bad gig, but her boss may jump ship before paying her.
Tama is one of the more mysterious characters in 428: Shibuya Scramble. Allegedly a delicate little flower, Tama is a young girl trapped inside a cat costume because of an unfortunate zipper malfunction. Stuck in her own head (no pun intended), as well her costume, Tama just wants to get paid for a crappy day’s work. She, however, witnesses her boss get pulled off by a couple of guys who were up to no good (I’ll stop): loan sharks. It doesn’t look like her wardrobe situation or bank account will be improving any time soon. Oh, and she MIGHT have amnesia. Good times.
Brooding and brilliant, all Osawa wants is to be left alone. But alas, when you’re the head virologist for a big pharmaceutical firm, everyone wants a piece of your time. He can’t keep the real world shut out forever—especially when his involvement with a killer virus threatens to come to light.
While Tama definitely represented a more whimsical side of 428: Shibuya Scramble, Osawa represents the more serious side. He’s not a young thug doing good deeds or part-timer stuck in a costume. He’s perhaps in his mid-50s, works for big pharma, and oh yeah, one of his daughters has been abducted. Osawa is taking it in stride, however, putting his faith in the police and working away like nothing is wrong. His wife even annoys him by coming over and talking to him. He just wants to be left alone and can’t even find it in the solace of his own home. And his work life isn’t faring much better…
The Fun Begins
428: Shibuya Scramble does an amazing job of introducing the player to every element of the game via its tutorial. And many of those elements are what makes 428 stand apart from its visual novel brethren. One such feature is the colored text system. Throughout the game, players will encounter words or phrases highlighted in either blue or red text. By selecting words in blue, players are rewarded with footnotes and background information on what’s selected. Some text might discuss real world facts or jargon. Others may provide details on the fictional 428 universe. Either way, it’s a fantastic learning tool that really helps players immerse themselves into the world of Shibuya Scramble.
The grammar lessons don’t stop there, though! Encountering red text allows gamers to make the decision to swap protagonists in the spur of the moment, a “Jump.” These Jumps, along with various multiple choice decisions made throughout the game, serve as turning points in the story. Selecting one choice over another will decide how the rest of the hour and the protagonist’s lives play out. It’s a cool mechanic, and really adds a lot of depth to the game. A poorly made decision by one character might cause another to have a “Bad End.” These happen when a chosen decision ended up being the wrong one. And with over 50 different endings in 428, it’ll happen frequently.
Fortunately, players can utilize the Time Chart, which is easily the most-used feature in the Scramble. It’s here that players can see where the different protagonist’s timelines intersect. They can also jump back in the timeline if a previously made decision led to a Bad End. It’s a handy tool, very user friendly and the bread and butter of the game. Proper use of both the Time Chart and hints offered during Bad Ends help guide players towards success
Best Visual Novel NA/JP
I have never played a game quite like 428: Shibuya Scramble. It’s hands-down the best visual novel I’ve ever experienced. Anything you could want in a VN it offers. Deep character development, a rich, meaningful story, humor, action, romance, you name it! Hell, it even teaches you things! Did you know that in Japanese law a kidnapping is different than an abduction? The more you know, am I right? I can see why it’s one of only 25 games to have ever earned a perfect 40/40 from Famitsu Weekly, Japan’s largest circulating video game magazine. The bottom line is, that as far as visual novels go, 428: Shibuya Scramble is one of the best. Download the demo on the PlayStation Store today and try it out for yourself.
428: Shibuya Scramble review code provided by Spike Chunsoft. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please see our Review Policy here.