Last Updated on June 26, 2021
CONTENT WARNING: Brief description of body horror, minor story spoilers.
Urban legend: Shin Hayarigami – Blindman is the first installment of the detective visual novel series Shin Hayarigami by Nippon Ichi Studio. It was originally released on the PS3 and PS Vita in Japan, then later ported to iOS and Android globally. For English speakers, only Blindman has been released at the time of this writing, while in Japan Shin Hayarigami is an ongoing franchise of six adventures. Blindman is infamously known for being the first visual novel by Nippon Ichi on mainstream platforms to be rated with CERO Z due to body horror and graphic gore.
Detective games have been an interest of mine in recent years, despite some of its tired tropes (queue the smooth jazz and Sherlock Holmes). But I haven’t read enough to determine what’s good or bad outside those tropes. It’s always a breath of fresh air to read something that isn’t focused on existentialism or romance. It’s even better when it’s in visual novel format. Also Blindman is only three dollars, which is cheaper than most visual novels, especially compared to those that require purchasing branches. The price tag also makes up for the fact that it is quite short.
There’s A Crime Spree In A Small Village
The visual novel starts off like any ol’ CSI episode. You’re introduced to a horrifying murder scene. An individual shrouded in a gown and hood, with a polished pair of scissors, digs into a helpless victim’s eyes, whose soul is already on the verge of falling into oblivion with the physical body’s limbs lost. Blindman starts off already with striking imagery and brutalism, the makings of an urban fantasy tale gone rogue in a quiet Japanese village. Then you transition to a scene of flashing cameras, and a handsome occult science professor, Sojiro Sekimoto, whose eyes cut into your soul and long hair obscures his face. He admits to his crime of murdering a student. Journalists are eager to dissect this willing suspect’s psyche for the local news, much to the dismay of the police force.
The game’s narrative makes sure that the reader quickly distrusts Sojiro Sekimoto. You are Saki Hojo, a cop woman who doesn’t take any man’s crap, including Sekimoto, who delivers grins, dry humor, and backhanded pickup lines. You have two men that always have Hojo’s back, the feisty cop partner, Kazamori Hayato, and the fatherly chief, Kuroda Kunio, who always serves as the calming mediator for any office scandals.
Blindman doesn’t let the player wait. It skips mundane details about the background of the characters or the town itself. All we know so far is Hojo hasn’t been able to solve the crime that has made this quiet village shake on its knees – the murder of Tamura Kotaro, a banker who apparently didn’t have a good reputation before his demise. Hojo knows Sekimoto, who is way too willing to work with the police for being a suspect, can’t possibly be the Blindman. There are too many murders with similar characteristics. But they are too disparate in evidence and location. When Hojo nudges Sekimoto during her special Lie Arts move, she finds out he has invented his own cyber folklore that he believes is causing the body horror wreckage throughout the village. He claims that people are becoming obsessed and imitating the murders.
The story involves a person covered head to toe in a cloak who dismembers and plucks out the victim’s eyes with a pair of scissors. At first, the team seems to think Sekimoto is the perpetrator. But it’s not possible as the murders continue. Sekimoto believes he must be imprisoned regardless, because he has blood on his hands. He created the story as a social experiment. And it has gone so awry that nothing will clean his consciousness. Hojo soon interrogates a net of suspects: a domestic abuse survivor trying to get-by named Minase Haruka, a too friendly, ambitious nursing student called Makimura Sanae, and an insecure NEET who trolls the police, Kanaya Hiromu.
With all these conflicting mysteries and revenge stories that all trace back to Tamura Kotaro, literally anybody could be the perpetrator. But a bar owner has minimal time to play Halloween dress up and polish some scissors, and no one would suspect the friendly woman who studies anatomy and physiology in her spare time. Yet there is no evidence that proves that Sekimoto was a repeat perpetrator. This leaves Sekimoto and Kanaya Hiromu in the air as suspects. But Kanaya Hiromu has a whole slew of addiction problems: drugs, sex, and fiction. He eventually bites his own tongue quite literally before giving the answers, and all that remains is a troubled woman, one who seems much too innocent and disconnected from the case. Blindman leads the readers to question over and over. It doesn’t seem quite right, and too simple of a ribbon tie for the case.
Take Notes, Because You’re in for a Doozy
Blindman is a choice heavy visual novel with extensive branching, making it a highly interactive fiction experience. But it doesn’t bog down players with choices simply for the sake of interaction. Most dialogue choices, especially during Liar Art segments where you catch a suspect loosening their innocent mask, have a large impact on the story. Specifically, consequential choices tend to be indicated with an orange orb that depletes your courage meter on the left side of the screen. Since Blindman is a detective story, the narrative involves the player asking the right questions at the right time and making sure these hit the most sensitive nerves.
The Liar Arts makes choices difficult by making them timed to imitate the adrenaline of trying to catch a criminal off guard in the heat of the moment. You can be quiet or keep shooting the Qs, but being quiet isn’t always useful. There’s a meter of trust during questioning, which forces you to be cautious in what you say and influences the impact of interrogation. If the meter hits red, you’re more likely to get unsatisfying information or a bad ending. A trusting suspect will earn you an answer or be tamed by your words.
There aren’t any puzzles or point and click elements like most detective visual novels, which I personally find preferable because I am often too impatient for puzzles and sometimes point and click feels more for padding time in a game, rather than anything meaningful. However, there were times when the Liar Art became cumbersome because some choices felt like they weren’t very different from one another, and sometimes you got the opposite reaction of what you’d expect.
But as a person who enjoys writing interactive fiction, it’s really up to the reader. I’m not the most intuitive person, and I do feel like there was at least one Liar Art segment that could’ve been cut out of the story, which was the sleazy journalist, Tsudanuma Yoichi. He had minimal impact on the story. His role in this specific entry was needless conflict.
Overall, regardless of the minor issues I had with the Liar’s Art mechanic, I found Blindman to be a solid visual novel. I might be biased though because I haven’t had the chance to read too many mystery visual novels. I’ve seen complaints about claims of poor translation and typos. I’ve only witnessed. The writing style is dry at times, but I accepted it knowing that most detective procedural novels are infamously known for this type of prose. Even for some popular Japanese detective novels, it’s more than likely the style of the genre in Japan, rather than the translation itself.
Although, I do wish we got to know the characters more outside their roles. Kuroda should’ve had more plot to him other than simply being a father figure. The only characters you really build a connection to are Sekimoto and Kazamori. The suspects are merely tragic portraits. However, I think this is an issue mostly because the writers wanted to keep the script to a specific scope.
There was also some criticism about the soundtrack on various forums. The tracks were definitely not interesting, they sounded almost like they were taken from the public domain. But the art style is magnificent, with a semi-realist sprite cast and painted realist backgrounds, which is rare for smaller visual novel companies, usually due to budget.
This genre of visual novel usually calls for this style and it worked well, especially since the plot of the game is centered around ugly and evil people. And you can definitely feel the lack of humanity in Kanaya. There is one particular CG where Kanaya kills himself that is even too graphic to post, it is truly devastating.
Blindman is not for the faint of heart. It is full of gore, and it makes sure the player sees it. Makimura Sanae was able to lure people into an abandoned apartment and murder them, much like Sekimoto’s tale. Her main explanation for her murders is put simply: She was abused by Tamura, and manipulates Kanaya and Sekimoto in her spare time to continue fostering her murderous urges, born out of the empowerment of revenge. This isn’t the most original revenge tale out there. There are two abuse victims in the game, and the one with the biggest smirk is the one who wields the knife.
Blindman is a tale of massacre without coherent redemption. Obviously, Makimura is beyond saving despite what Hojo says as she begs to be freed. Sekimoto definitely seems socially inept, and shouldn’t be outside prison walls. But he at least had the decency to turn himself in. Sekimoto has questionable morals. He killed a student and eventually Makimura to save people from his own fiction instead of simply reporting them to the police. He could not save anyone despite studying the psychology of storytelling.
Blindman is a visual novel that doesn’t allow the players a brief period of relief. It is a story about darkness in the quietest of villages, where the innocent are complacent and the evil lurk in the corners. Do not expect anything wholesome. There’s only a few comedic scenes before the slaughters happen. I do heavily recommend this visual novel for the fact that most Japanese detective visual novels don’t get translated unless they’re connected to or similar to Kara No Shoujo, a rather iconic detective eroge for an international fanbase, known for its dark fantastical elements.
If you’re into edgy body horror and urban folklore, this visual novel is for you. Even though there are no fantastical beasts, the story uses real life mechanics to make people seem beastly. It will keep you on the edge of your seat. And it doesn’t make the reader twiddle their thumbs because the narrative designers bogged down the scenes with slice of life filler. It’s disappointing the whole series possibly won’t be translated. I’m hoping more copies of this game sells so the companies would consider it.
Wei Yuan Lee is a interactive fiction writer and game dev. He enjoys spooky interactive fiction, quirky platformers and RPGmaker games. He checks Itch.io religiously.