Undead in Japan

Ben Jordan Case 5: Land of the Rising Dead was the first game in the Ben Jordan series I played, it also was the first one I wrote about. Just to be true to the chronological order of the series, I played it again after finishing Ben Jordan Case 4: Horror at Number 50 and am going to re-write the original post a bit, moving it to a later date.

First off, lets take a look at the changes in the Ben Jordan's latest case compared to the previous games in the series. Ben Jordan's portrait has been updated, now it looks more realistic (Deluxe Edition of Ben Jordan Case 1: In Search of the Skunk-Ape featured the updated version as well). To tell the truth, I don't see it as an improvement and think that the original cartoony look of Ben's portrait was more adorable.

Simon Booth and Alice Wilkins, friends Ben made in his previous case, re-appear as the lead characters in this adventure. Simon, as well as Ben, received a new portrait. Once again, I find the original portrait much more appealing. Alice's portrait was very impressive in Horror at Number 50 and it made its way to Land of the Rising Dead unaltered. Her full-size character looks horrible though. Very unattractive, reminded me of a frog.

This is also the first Ben Jordan game that features the re-appearance of some secondary characters from the previous adventures (not counting a brief re-appearance of Percival Quentin Jones in Horror at Number 50). Of all places, Ben manages to meet the coffee shop employer from Ben Jordan Case 2: The Lost Galleon of the Salton Sea in Japan. The guy works as a desk clerk, first at the Yamamoto building and later on - at the TV station. One of several unbelievable details here - the guy doesn't speak any Japanese, but manages to find work as a desk clerk who has to sit in the lobby of a large corporation building. Hardly realistic. His portrait has been reworked as well, and once again I tend to like the original drawing much better, he looked cooler on it.

Another familiar character is Mary Blaine. Even though Mary found her death in Ben Jordan Case 3: The Sorceress of Smailholm, she emerges in Ben's dreams. In those dreams two characters are talking about things worrying Ben. All this happens at Alice's gravestone. Spooky! Mary Blaine's portrait has been upgraded to great esthetic benefit - she looked pretty creepy in The Sorceress of Smailholm.

Graphically Land of the Rising Dead is on the level, the looks was never a problem of the series. Couldn't say the same about the story. Even though the plot seems thorough at a glance, after a while it begins to feel a tad hollow at moments. There are a lot of lines of text and things going on, but still the game story and its characters appear implausible at some extent.

For example, Ben Jordan, the main hero, he is a paranormal investigator by profession. He has several cases behind his belt, and still, even taking his profession and experience in consideration, it just looks so weird when he and his teammates are so fast to believe in the first theory or a proofless explanation they stumble upon. No traces left at the crime scenes - probably ghosts are killing people. Okay, lets find those ghosts. Oh, some guys is confident they were not ghosts, but zombies. Ben swallows the new version pretty fast and is now looking for zombies.

Ben doesn't seem to care what type of force he is against, tending to believe in just about anything without having any proof on his hands. After accepting some theory, he examines the crime scenes, follows what sometimes appears as totally unrelated leads (people dying in a nearby village, located in a different prefecture) and solves the mystery almost by chance. In the previous cases it was a bit different. Ben didn't look that confident if he is dealing with paranormal until he experienced it forehand. He always knew what he was looking for though. This time he is not even sure if something paranormal is involved and is way too open-minded. I bet if someone told him it was a mad toaster on a killing spree, he would have accepted that on the spot and went to investigate mysterious deaths at a factory.

There are plenty of small details which feel very wrong. Alice knows perfect Japanese - she says she learned it in high school. I don't know what high schools (excluding Japanese ones, of course) teach serious Japanese, what I know is that I took introduction Japanese course at the university. The introduction course was split into two semesters spawning over a year. Japanese language is very hard to master and this one year course was concentrated on studying the alphabets. Yes, we learned how to speak Japanese a bit and were able to understand some well articulated phrases, but not more. There were the follow-up courses, of course, but I decided that it would take way too much of my time to devote to learning such a hard language. Alice, on the other hand, gets complemented on how perfect her Japanese is. It would have been much more plausible and naturalistic if Alice knew only some Japanese (and studied it at the university, not high school too) and would only be able to communicate on a simpler level. Yes, that would have been a nice touch.

Flops are sticking out of the story like needles out of Scarecrow's head. Poor villager collecting rare swords (seems and expensive hobby), Ben being the only person who could have thought of fingerprinting a dead person (as he is told by the Inspector). In fact it is not true that Ben Jordan would be the only person to do such a thing, he was simply very lucky to get to the right place at the right time. Something just doesn't feel right about this.

Also, near the end of the game, Simon Booth presents Ben with an invention of his - DoorSucker 2000, a device which is able to unlock doors by sucking in or pushing out their doorknobs. Simon says he came up with it after the fiasco at Number 50. I mentioned this in my review to Ben Jordan Case 4: Horror at Number 50. There was a door which was too difficult to unlock, but Ben smashed open it with a pipe in the end. He smashed and broke a padlock - the only thing keeping the door locked. I can't trace the connection between DoorSucker 2000 operating on doorknobs exclusively and unlocking a padlock...

This only brings us to the biggest flop of all. There is a huge problem with one of the key plot mysteries. It seems like Francisco Gonzalez wanted to make it look smart, but failed to deliver. To be able to explain myself, I will have to reveal the mystery. Read on if you dare. The main idea behind the conspiracy, Ben and his friends found themselves involved in, is that someone creates zombies to use them to carry his will. Now pay attention. The evil guy uses tetrodotoxin to paralyze his victims, making them appear dead for some time. When they wake up, they are so confused that it becomes easy to manipulate them. That explanation is taken from the game. I don't know about you, but it made me uneasy. Let me tell you the story of how hoodoo priests of the Hispaniola island were turning people into zombies. The process consists of two very important steps. First, tetrodotoxin is used to put the victim into a deep death-like sleep - heart rate slows down and breath is hardly noticeable. I feel obligated to mention that most people do not survive the tetrodotoxin intake and die for real, because everyone could react to the same dose in a totally different manner. If the person survives, second step should be followed in order to complete the process. The priests used another remedy - Datura stramonium. This remedy wakes the "corpse" up, but blocks the part of the cerebral cortex responsible for free will. Without the second step there is no zombie. It seems like Francisco wasn't educated enough on the subject and thought tetrodotoxin alone was enough. (A bit of a reality check. Explanation for the zombie ritual could be the following. Tetrodotoxin paralyzes the body for a short period of time, making someone appear dead. After a short while a person "returns to life". Datura stramonium is a strong hallucinogen, it could help the victim of the ritual to believe that he has been turned to zombie.)

If you can close your eyes on the forementioned weak plot elements, my bet is you will enjoy the adventure. It is somewhat trashy and resembles that of an old cheap horror movie. Evil genius with an idea of domination , that sort of thing. This is hardly a minus as it makes the game more fun. The game, much like the previous one, offers just a few puzzles and revolves around conversations, but this time it's not that boring.

Furthermore, Land of the Rising Dead is the second title in the series to feature alternative routes. But this time it's much less satisfying. If in The Sorceress of Smailholm the routes featured a bunch of different locations and various endings. Both routes in Land of the Rising Dead lead to one possible ending. The only difference between the routes is the level of difficulty. One is very easy, another is... also easy, but pushes the player to think just a bit.

Ben Jordan Case 3: The Sorceress of Smailholm still remains my favorite game in the series. With a bit more effort Ben Jordan's fifth case could have been a real gem. There were no publishers breathing down the developer's neck, no time limits, so, I guess he thought the game was perfect as it is.

I'd like to point out that I enjoyed playing this game, but found myself shuddering at the thought of plot having several unconvincing moments, which could have been avoided with ease. All in all, Ben Jordan Case 5: Land of the Rising Dead is surely the game to check out. It boasts with a decent length, very funny game show, which Ben has to participate in, and a memorable story with a couple of sudden twists.

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