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Because of the truly great and timeless adventures crafted for the Super Famicom and Mega Drive,
the 16-bit era of video games is considered by many to be the “golden age” of Japanese
RPGs.
But for me, I tend to think of the 32-bit era as more worthy of that distinction, in
large part due to the plethora of amazing titles released on the original PlayStation.
Back in the PS1's prime, the genre attained genuine mainstream popularity outside of Japan
for the very first time, Squaresoft was in top form with its newly arranged partnership
with Sony, and Namco's Tales series hadn't yet adopted the Madden NFL approach to game
release schedules.
A few of my favorite role-playing offerings on the system include the fantastic spiritual
successor to Landstalker, Alundra, Konami's epic, one-hundred and eight star-studded Suikoden,
and the game that is pretty much solely responsible for the world-wide JRPG boom of the era, Final
Fantasy VII.
These three titles, like so many other great Japanese role-playing games, saw international
releases much to the delight of RPG fans like myself.
However, to no one's surprise, there were quite a few great RPGs on the PlayStation
that never ventured outside of their home country, such as the Zelda and Sim City-inspired
Community POM, Love-de-lic's debut title and possibly the single best case for the “games
as art” argument, Moon: Remix RPG Adventure, and then there's the little-known game that
is the subject of this video: London Seirei Tantei-dan.
Published on May 20th, 1999 by Bandai and developed by Unit, whom I hadn't heard of
previously, the game advertises itself as a “nostalgic adventure RPG.”
London Seirei Tantei-dan is translated into English as "London Holy Agency," at least
on its official website.
However, a better, more accurate translation that also captures the spirit of the game
would be "London Spirit Detective Team."
Most role-playing games take place in fictional lands and time periods, but London Spirit
Detective Team bucks that trend with its 19th century Victorian era English setting.
The hero of this tale is a lionhearted, energetic ten-year old orphaned boy living on the streets
of London all alone.
At the onset of the story, he is wandering aimlessly, surviving the best he can and fending
off dangers with his trusty slingshot.
But all that changes through a chance encounter with a man named John Everett Millais.
While he may share his name with a famous painter who also lived in England during the
1800s, this John Everett Millais, who often just goes by “Everett,” is London's most
skilled and respected detective.
After witnessing the young hero successfully defend himself from a lowlife trying to steal
the boy's only loaf of bread, an impressed Everett extends an offer to take him under
his wing as a detective's assistant.
After accepting, the player is able to choose a name for the youth.
Naturally, for my playthrough, I went with “Jimmy.”
Come on, he certainly looks like a Jimmy, don't you think?
From that day forward, the boy is given a room in the spacious attic of Everett's splendid
home, and becomes a full-fledged apprentice to London's great detective.
With that setup, you may be thinking that London Spirit Detective Team sounds a lot
like Sherlock Holmes meets Oliver Twist, two characters in classic literature who coincidentally
sprung from the era the game takes place in...and you'd be right, after you toss in some steampunk,
anime, and supernatural elements.
The protagonist, who we'll just refer to as Jimmy from here on, is only an assistant detective,
but more often than not he's responsible for solving cases independently from Everett,
who is usually pressed with larger affairs of his own.
Jimmy won't be alone in his work, however, as he soon forms a small detective team comprised
of two other kids.
First off, there's Aries Ivory, a cute, sometimes charming, but often times brash and bossy
12 year old girl with an iron will.
Her motivations for becoming an assistant detective mostly revolve around her desire
to work with her crush, Everett, and being bored.
But to her disappointment, she ends up partnering up with Jimmy, and will often voice her displeasure
of having to work with the boy two years her junior.
Despite her minor character flaws, though, she is a loyal friend and a vital member of
the detective team.
The other teammate is a pudgy six-year old boy who acts as Jimmy's sidekick, affectionately
addressing him as “big brother” and following him around anywhere and everywhere he goes.
This little guy is never named throughout the entire game and is just known as “Aibou,”
which means “Partner” in English, though I think “Buddy” suits the situation best.
His never ending devotion and admiration for the protagonist and his childish demeanor
serve to provide much of the game's comedy relief.
Buddy is a pure joy, so odd, amusing, and cute as a damned button.
Most of the time he's either eating, sleeping, falling from high places, or landing on the
receiving end of some slapstick violence.
He's pretty much oblivious to the weight of the serious events taking place around him,
and will often just doodle pictures of fish as the characters go off on their important
dialogue.
The amount of punishment he takes is flat-out comical, and his antics are responsible for
more than a few laugh-out-loud moments.
It seems that he's an orphan or run-away child, too, which makes his role as a punching bag
seem kind of sad, but he always bounces back from everything as if nothing happened and
in high spirits.
Buddy is the best sort of buddy you can have, and is definitely my favorite character in
London Spirit Detective Team.
This trio of children make up the main team, but there is one more person that will join
up from time to time, an enigmatic young man named Virgil.
He's meek, soft-spoken, shies away from large groups of people, and generally lacks any
sort of confidence or vigor, but with Virgil, there's more than meets the eye, as his knowledge
of ghosts, spirits, and otherworldly beings is second to none, knowledge that is far and
beyond what any human should realistically possess.
As mentioned earlier, London Spirit Detective Team breaks from its RPG peers by centering
its narrative around an actual time period and place in the real world.
While the specific dates in which everything takes place are never really mentioned, it
can be inferred that the year is 1851, since many of the events in the game revolve around
the opening of The Great Exhibition, or the first ever World's Fair.
This period in British history is often considered its “golden age,” a time of great advancement
for the island nation, especially in industry and technology.
The art direction of London Spirit Detective Team captures that feeling, though it does
take quite a bit of artistic license in its representation of Victorian London.
Nearly every street in the great city is lined with long stretching networks of pipes that
provide power to steam-operated machines and mechanisms, most of which could never have
existed in the mid-19th century, much less in the century that would follow.
I mean, in this game's Victorian London there are huge mechanical humanoid war machines
and robotic maids, which gives the atmosphere a steampunk anime kind of feel.
It's not all portrayals of high fantasy, however, as the lifestyles of the budding middle class
of the time, as well as the impoverished, are on full display, and overall there's a
good balance of realism and imagination in its presentation of the period.
The isometrically drawn environments are very easy on the eyes, although in some places
there are some ugly compression blemishes resembling low quality JPEG images.
Another big way in which the game separates itself from others in the genre is by focusing
on a smaller, more restrained story that unfolds entirely in just one city, that city being
London, of course.
There's no grand globe-trotting, save-the-world adventure to be found here, which is a breath
of fresh air in my opinion.
London Spirit Detective Team plays out like a television series, split up into a prologue
and 19 different episodes.
Each episode focuses on a single case that needs to be solved by the team, though a larger,
overarching plot is woven little by little until it culminates at the very end of the
game.
The first few cases start off rather grounded in reality, but eventually the team will start
unraveling a secret plan to take over the city of London, as well as experience the
paranormal phenomena the title of the game suggests.
Throughout their many adventures, the trio of kid detectives will meet a memorable cast
of supporting characters and villains.
I'd say the most prominent NPC other than Everett is William Blake, a older gentlemen
who epitomizes the manners and values of the previous era but also lives a double life
as the Specter, a retired thief shrouded in mystery with a long history of dealing with
Everett as a rival, and perhaps even more.
There's Young Ghost, a new thief on the block who is as beautiful as she is clumsy.
Then there's Professor Siddal, a female scientist working at the Great Exhibition who has captured
the heart of London's most skilled detective, but wants nothing to do with him.
As stated before, Everett has the same name as a famous painter from 1800s, but his is
not the only case of a character named after a famous English artist from the era.
Others such as Professor Siddal, the Specter, and the ultimate antagonist of the game, Dante
Gabriel Rossetti, aka the Man of Steam, all derive their names from prominent figures
in the 19th century art scene.
London Spirit Detective Team takes the player through a lot of touching and emotional moments...padded
with a whole lot of humor along the way.
This game delivers a message of the potential dangers of becoming overly reliant on technical
innovations, but it never takes itself too seriously.
There are a lot of gags that seem like they're straight out of an anime from the 80s or 90s,
though they never hit you over the head so much that they become annoying.
Everett is the consummate professional, but his Achilles' heel is his aforementioned love
of Professor Siddal, a weakness that will eventually be exploited by his enemies.
A visiting detective from America, Miss Holstein, is the definition of a goofy stereotype, with
her cowboy attire, manner of speaking that just screams “bimbo,” and rather generous
assets.
And there's a character the team meets in chapter 15 named Wayne Campbell who is the
president of Wayne and Garth Industries...hold up, a Wayne's World reference in a JRPG?
And it wasn't something that Working Designs had to toss in with a localization job?
FLABBERGASTING!
Aside from the storyline cases, Jimmy and friends can accept jobs from a detective agency,
as well help out random people out and about in the city.
These side quests have objectives ranging from the classic lost cat scenario, helping
a man court the woman of his dreams, reconnecting a mother and son after a decade of lost contact,
and even playing the role of dad at a make-believe tea party with some little girls.
Yup.
Since this is a game about detective work, most of the optional cases require searching
areas and talking with several people.
They're never too difficult, and completing them often rewards the player with a healthy
sum of British pounds.
You won't receive your payment immediately, though, and you'll have to visit the bank
to get the cash, where you also get paid for your work on the storyline missions.
With his earnings, Jimmy can purchase items to help him and his friends survive the many
battles they'll face throughout the game.
Pubs take the place of the inns found in traditional role-playing games, since you can order meals
at them to completely recover your health.
You can also buy edible items here like bread and tea to-go.
You won't save here like you typically would at an inn, but that's fine, because London
Spirit Detective Team is one of those rare JRPGs that lets you record progress anywhere
and any time you'd like outside of battle.
Tool stores are stocked with things that cure ailments and are used to attack foes, and
the tailor is where headwear, footwear, and body apparel are purchased, all which serve
as armor.
At the antique shop, you can buy weapons and accessories for your party, as well as sell
rare items to line your pockets with even more money.
If you're in the mood for reading, you can buy newspapers for five pounds a pop, though
a lot of the news will just celebrate the exploits of the heroes.
Finally, there's a small Chinatown area which sells many of the items you can find in greater
London, but also provides special goods imported from the Far East.
Aside from shops, other items in the game world can be found on the ground, marked with
a faint yellow sparkle.
The locations of these items and what you're able to find change every episode, often tailored
to align with the path the story mission will take you on, so it's a good idea to keep an
eye out for them with each new case.
Enemy encounters in London Spirit Detective Team are random and will usually only occur
at locations that serve as dungeons, as well as on the streets when night falls.
If you're even remotely familiar with JRPGs, you'll immediately know what to do during
these turn-based fights.
Each character has standard attacks, may use restorative or offensive items, and has the
option to execute special moves that consume SP, or “spiritual points.”
Up to three weapons can be equipped per party member, which can in turn be cycled through
during battles, providing the player with different types of attacks and special moves.
The speed at which a character can perform his or her next move is dependent on their
previous action, with stronger attacks typically requiring two enemy turns to recover from.
All in all, the battle system in this game is pretty standard, nothing too different
from the norm, though characters can move around the field with certain commands.
There's a bit of light strategy involved with this mechanic, as some actions may be inaccessible
if there is not sufficient space to perform them or an ally is blocking the path of an
attack.
Jimmy's arsenal includes slingshots, catapults, and fireworks, Aries utilizes umbrellas, books,
and megaphones, and the mighty little Buddy has an array of shovels, balls, and pyrotechnics
at his disposal, but he often performs unusual actions or uses his whole body to hurt opponents.
Though his weapon of choice is a gun, Virgil fulfills the role of this game's mage and
has access to a range of elemental magic spells and the ability to summon spirits with a special
stone in his possession.
There are 22 spirits that are able to improve the status or heal the party, or cause great
damage to your adversaries.
The look of these spirits are quite interesting and unique, as they were created by famed
artist, sculptor, and creature designer Yasushi Nirasawa, who is probably most well-known
for his work on several of the Kamen Rider story arcs.
These summons are the most useful and powerful attacks in the entire game, so it's a shame
they'll rarely be used, as Virgil only joins up a handful of times in select episodes.
Enemy variety is decent in London Spirit Detective Team, and while there are quite a bit of pallet
swaps for certain enemy types, the designs are pretty cool.
Many of the boss fights can be a little underwhelming, but there are also several really intriguing
ones here as well.
When you engage in battle, the screen goes black for a moment to shift gears, but the
fight ensues without changing the locale to a generic background as is so common in the
role-playing genre.
Since that's the case, you'll only be attacked in areas wide enough to play host to a battle.
The encounter rate is pretty reasonable, though a bit wonky at times, as there's a chance
of being thrown into another fight immediately after one finishes up.
When victorious, the party gains experience and has the potential to receive an item from
fallen enemies.
Leveling up increases all the basic stats, of course, but every few levels a new skill
will be learned, or the strength of those already known will become more powerful.
Unfortunately, you'll receive no money after a battle...at least, not immediately.
City Hall rewards the detectives with payouts determined by how many baddies they've defeated,
and also with special points to be exchanged for a long list of goods, including some of
the best weapons and gear there is.
It's an interesting attempt at realism in a game that includes robotic cat enemies and
evil horse ghosts.
Though it can sometimes be a bit repetitive, the music in the game is decent and fits each
situation well, and there are a few really catchy themes.
Though while I personally liked the soundtrack, I don't see it as something most will feel
that compelled to listen to outside of the game.
I'd say the only really big gripe I have with London Spirit Detective Team overall is with
its dungeons, as they often drag on needlessly for far too long and lack much variety from
room to room, if at all, usually leading to tedium and confusion.
The game length comes up a bit short for an RPG, as I completed all episodes and side-quests
in a little over 15 hours.
But honestly, for this game that length seemed just about right, and while it's also a bit
on the easy side, its pace and progression feel natural, and thankfully I never had the
need to grind for levels, something that plagues so many role-playing games, even the great
ones.
The main plot line comes to a logical, mostly satisfying conclusion, and things are set
up perfectly for continuing the escapades of London's young spirit detective team in
future sequels...which sadly never came to be.
London Spirit Detective Team is not the best RPG on the PlayStation, it's not an epic adventure
with a cast of hundreds or thousands, and it's not going to keep you up late for weeks
as you obsessively work toward peeking at its end credits.
But for what it is, it still provides an excellent, memorable experience that's quite a bit different
from the standard role-playing fare.
Sure, with a little more polish, it may have gone down as one of the more well-known, classic
games on the system, but I found a lot of charm in its simplicity and had an absolute
blast from start to finish, and that's saying a lot for me, since I find it hard to go back
and enjoy RPGs from the era, even the games I loved so much from my youth.
The game is very cheap, much like a majority of Japanese PS1 RPGs, though it can be a bit
hard to find.
I would highly recommend this game to any role-playing game fan, but unfortunately,
you'll have to be able to read Japanese to maximize your enjoyment from it, since as
of now there no English fan translations, and there don't seem to be any in the works.
London Seirei Tantei-dan is a quaint, special little role-playing game with some neat alternate
history and a great cast that had the potential to become so much more.
Looking back on it in a few years, I'm sure I'll really think of it as a “nostalgic
adventure RPG” in the personal sense.
Well anyway, now that I'm done inspecting another Japan-only video gaming gem, time
to get to work on my next case.
Until I've cracked that one, I guess I'll just say thank you for watching this episode
of Import Gaming FTW, and until next time.
This is Jimmy Hapa—take care.
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London Seirei Tantei-dan (Japanese PS1 RPG) - Import Gaming FTW! Ep. 31

252 Folder Collection
許祐綸 published on February 28, 2019
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