Typically, when someone mentions Square Enix, you’re almost guaranteed to hear Final Fantasy in the same conversation. And when people think of Final Fantasy, they generally think of mega Japanese gaming series. Well, this time around, Square Enix has shied away from its stardom and has settled on a much simpler and smaller game called Season of Mystery: The Cherry Blossom Murders.
While this game is out of the ordinary for many Square fans, there are definitely elements of story progression and climactic drama worth mentioning. And if mystery and suspense are your cup of tea, then please, read on.
Set in 19th century Japan, the game focuses around Mrs. Irene Pemberton. She is a western woman from the United States who moved to Asia when her husband, Richard, was transferred to the embassy in Japan. Their lives come to a sudden stop when she finds her husband dead in what looks like a suicide. Convinced foul play is at hand, she takes it upon herself to prove that her husband was murdered.
Like many other mystery-solving hidden-object games, the player identifies items in a scene that leads them to other areas in the game. While there are only a few items that are pertinent to the mystery, the majority of the objects are Red Herrings – items that divert the player’s attention.
Obviously, having to search for items like spiders, hats, and mushrooms quickly becomes repetitive, but the developer cleverly incorporates all the items into the setting. The number “two”, for example, can be found as a standard “2” or can be found as the Roman Numeral “II”. Similarly, when searching for a “diamond”, it can be found as the shape rather than the gem. It’s ploys like these that get the player to think outside the box, and it’s also fairly challenging.
To speed up the gameplay and alleviate some of the stress of being stuck on the last agonizing item on the list, the game incorporates a hint system. When the player clicks on the object on the list, a silhouette will appear in a side box to give the player an idea of what to look for. If you’re still not making any progress, you can use a hint to reveal the item’s location.
If you try to randomly click over the screen in the hopes of stumbling upon the item, the hint system will be disabled for a short period of time. Once the player uses the hint, a meter will take a couple of minutes to recharge before the player is allowed to use it again.
To break up some of the monotony, the game includes a series of mini-games and inventory puzzles. These are designed specifically to shift the player’s focus and add a bit more depth to the game. For example, at one point you have to figure out where a character lives by following the rickshaw driver’s clues. Similarly, you’ll have to use some of the found items to build a case against a suspect. This is when the game is most fun, as the gameplay actually feels like it weaves itself into the story – a problem that the title struggles with.
Graphically, the game features some of the most impressive scenery I’ve seen from a hidden-object game. All the scenes are hand drawn and filled to the brim with various items and clutter. The scenes with the Sakuras (Cherry Blossom Trees) in the backgrounds give off an extremely vibrant and serene setting.
While some of the objects stand out a bit more than others and feel a bit out of place, the game overall does a good job of integrating many of the items into each setting. Likewise, there isn’t a large variety of music, but it’s subtle enough to blend in with the setting to give it that calming and mysterious feeling.
The biggest setback is that the repetitiveness of the gameplay breaks the flow of the story. As you learn more details about the murder, your interest is naturally intensified. But because the majority of objects you have to seek are irrelevant to the story, it takes your mind away from the grand scheme of things.
In conclusion, Season of Mystery: The Cherry Blossom Murders has a lot to offer, but the gameplay will deter those who are interested in purchasing this title.
The game features some of the most impressive scenery I've seen from a hidden object game.
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Having to search for numerous items that are irrelevant to the story is repetitive. On the other hand, the repetition is broken up by some of the mini-games and puzzles.
The sound lacks variety, but it's subtle enough to blend in with the imagination and the mystery of the game.
There's an intriguing story that's appropriate to the length of the game, but unfortunately, you'll never pick it back up once you solve the case.
The gameplay is at its peak when the objects weave themselves into the story, but unfortunately, many of the items are irrelevant to the progression.