If you look hard enough, you can find some pretty enthralling visual novel adventure games on the App Store and Google Play store. Visual novel games are essentially books that you can play! Sound awesome, right? There isn’t quite enough of them on the mobile platform, so Atreyu Games have created one more for the slowly growing collection: Twelve Absent Men.
Twelve Absent Men is quite the unique game. It’s a legal adventure game with offbeat characters and an engaging storyline. “Legal adventure game,” you say? That’s not something you hear everyday! If you are at all familiar with Capcom’s Ace Attorney series, Twelve Absent Men takes a lot of inspiration from those games. You play as Knight, a defense attorney with quite the history. He’ll be backed up by his skittish yet helpful intern. The game is presented in a modern day cartoon fashion, with semi-realistic character drawings and animations. It fits pretty well for the light hearted yet serious tone of the game.
As you can probably imagine, gameplay is where Twelve Absent Men really shines. Right when the game starts, you’ll be presented to a short movie that sets up the grounds for the first case. Unfortunately for me the game was persistently crashing throughout the movie so I ended up having to skip it altogether, which was a shame. From there, you’ll be thrust into your first case – a murder trial!
The game plays out in a mixture of logical decision making and visual novel choices. For example, right at the beginning you have the option to comfort the defendant. While at first it doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the game play, moral choices like these make the story more interesting and paint a better picture of Knight, the main character. A typical case in Twelve Absent Men will have you battling with the prosecutor and piecing together the truth of what actually went down. You’ll do this by bringing witnesses to court to try to get some information and evidence out of them. When they come to the stand, you’ll be presented with a list of questions you can ask them. You’ll need to choose carefully, as some of the questions listed can be considered badgering, which will lose you points with the judge.
Throughout the entire session, a meter will show up at the top of the screen every now and then. This is basically the judge’s “health” meter. Precise and efficient pressing and objecting will increase it, while poorly thought out decisions will lower it. If it gets too low, you run the risk of getting thrown out of court, resulting in a game over! You’ll need to balance the judge’s favor along with picking the right choices. At a couple of times I was a little lost because the choices are named after legal terms, and sometimes the context they’re used in is a little confusing. It doesn’t happen too often but just make sure you read over all the options.
An interesting quirk is that when you’re questioning a potential witness, sometimes you’ll have to press them for more information if they’re beating around the bush. When this happens, a timing mini-game starts. A bar will bounce back and forth inside of a meter, and you need to tap when the bar is in the green zone. It came off as a little unnecessary to me, because failing the mini-game simply puts you back at the choice with no consequence as if nothing ever happened. Not only that, but it just doesn’t feel like it fits in a visual novel type adventure game.
Twelve Absent Men’s cases are engaging and interesting with some well-thought out puzzles. The writing and the character dialogue is pretty funny too, when the situation calls for it. There’s just one big obstacle preventing full enjoyment of the game, and that it’s generally unstable at the moment. Remember that constant crash we mentioned earlier? Unfortunately that’s not the end of the game’s troubles. We ran into several Game Maker (the engine the game was built on) runtime errors during game play, and some parts of the game seemed unfinished. When you bring up the evidence collection, exiting out of it will bring you to a menu that is full of what seems to be placeholder buttons. The first time I presented evidence during the first case the game started freezing constantly in the same spot, forcing me to start over.
Overall, Twelve Absent Men is a promising entry into a rare genre for the mobile platform. It genuinely seems like a great adventure with memorable characters and morally engaging gameplay, but the technical faults are holding it back a lot. Hopefully with some future updates, the game will become much more stable, as it is definitely one that you should try if you are at all interested in visual novel type adventure games.