428: Shibuya Scramble is coming to PlayStation 4 and Windows PC next year, Spike Chunsoft announced during Game Developers Conference. When it arrives next spring, it will mark the first time the acclaimed — if hyper-niche — title will make it out West.
The cinematic visual novel combines live-action scenes with a branching set of storylines, all revolving around a mystery that takes place in the city of Shibuya. A flow chart used to keep track of each character’s plot will remind players of the Zero Escape franchise, which borrowed the mechanic for its own twisting narratives.
Despite its connection to the popular Zero Escape trilogy, it’s unlikely that most have ever heard of the title. For hardcore fans of visual novels, though, the English-language release is a major one.
428 is the kind of game that seemed destined to never make it out of Japan, and for years, that appeared to be the case. It first launched on Wii back in 2008, with PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, iOS and Android ports arriving thereafter. But the combination of a text-heavy adventure game on the more casual-friendly Nintendo console meant that 428 was an unlikely choice for localization.
It didn’t help that the game is deeply cultural. Among the main characters is a person in a cat costume, and the humor is incredibly dry. There are also references to Shibuya landmarks and the particularities of Tokyo life. In short, 428: Shibuya Scramble isn’t the most accessible title to the average Westerner, especially one without an interest in or fondness for contemporary Japanese culture.
That’s not surprising, but what sets 428 apart from Spike Chunsoft’s other visual novels isn’t just its influence on the studio’s later titles, but its stellar reception. Famitsu, Japan’s biggest gaming magazine, awarded the title a perfect score upon its first release. Before Spike Chunsoft announced the game for a Western release, 428 remained the only Japan-exclusive title to hold that position, and its high score put it on many people’s radars worldwide.
Still, 428: Shibuya Scramble’s pending English-language launch may come as a surprise. Spike Chunsoft is moving toward publishing its own titles, and this is one of the more celebrated unlocalized games in its backlog. The enduring popularity of the murder mystery Zero Escape titles should also give 428 a visibility boost.
We’ll see next spring whether that’s truly the case, or whether the game remains a niche affair. Either way, visual novel devotees have much to look forward to from Spike Chunsoft, which is also bringing the first two Zero Escape games to consoles this March for the time.