Private eye dol

released on Aug 11, 1995

Adventure game for the CD-ROM² addon for PC-Engine. The player navigates Mei around the environment, examining locations and items of interest, and talking to other characters. There are no puzzles in the game, with the plot advanced by triggering events. Items are used automatically in their corresponding locations.

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the first chapter is cool bc it's one big map rather than a bunch of little ones you warp to via menu which just felt like giving in to adv convention, while it lasts here it's a solid early attempt at rpg navigation for an adventure game. loved that npcs would move around seemingly independent of triggers and the fact you can just miss some scenes, sets it apart from just feeling like pc engine rpgmaker and contributes to the suspense of knowing something bad's gonna happen but you won't see everything to get the full picture leading up to it. shame it doesn't properly capitalize on that for the actual mystery but that it gives you that feeling is worthwhile. after the haunted house the game gets so confused on what its doing that i couldn't care to continue. snake lady's cute tho

This is the kind of game you wouldn't normally consider playing at all, but now that it got a high quality fan-translation, it sorts of jump on top of your backlog and here you go.
Well, I'm glad I played it since it's at least a pretty neat curiosity.
Private eye doll was developed by HuneX, a company set up in the early 90s' by weirdo publisher Human and NEC to create bishoujo games. They eventually shifted to otome games to ride the PS2 wave, and still exist nowadays, ironically surviving both their parent company and NEC's stint in the video game business.
You play as May Star, a young up-and-coming actress. She is invited with three other teen actresses to an abandoned mansion for some dumb reality TV recording. Of course, a case happens, and she has to step up and become THE PRIVATE EYE DOLL. She is also helped in her investigations by her hologram assistant called Navi. By the way I thought there would be some sci-fi elements to the game because of this, but the setting is your typical 90s' Japan except they've got holograms AI for some reason. Makes sense.
The story is divided into three individual "scenes" (cases), giving it a nice detective anime flavour ala Detective Conan. There's even a main global plot that I won't spoil; I appreciate the effort even if it ends up being a bit simple.
Gameplay is simple, but also kind of over the place. It's a RPG-styled adventure game where you walk all around, talking to people and looking for clues. You mostly have to trigger "event flags" that will advance the story a little, then look for the next one,... A very linear system you'll be familiar with if you ever played Japanese adventure games before. Well that exact style of game wasn't that usual back then, but got way more popular later with the explosion of RPG Maker.
There's a few gimmicks like contextual menu options to look for clues or suspect someone, and annoying puzzle mini-games. The last part of the game even shifts to a more traditional first-person text adventure game with menu commands (such as Portopia). On one hand it keeps things interesting, on the other hand, it's a bit of a mess.
The beautiful graphics are probably the game's main appeal. You've got nice pixel-art and well-animated cutscenes. PC-Engine fans won't be surprised, but even with the help of the Arcade card, it's still fantastic to see such performance from what is technically a 8-bit console. Since it's a CD game, it's also fully-voiced, even the side-characters (seiyuu fans may recognize both Sakura Tange and Aya Hisakawa as side-characters, a few years before their roles in Cardcaptor).
Private eye doll isn't a great game, it's more like... a mood. An interactive anime with beautiful 90s' character designs by Atsuko Ishida (known for her animation and manga work, and also for the Neo Geo classic Money Puzzle Exchanger) and PC-FX product placement (the game also received an original anime adaptation on NEC's infamous console in some vague effort of creating a mediamix franchise). It's something that would have become a series in a different world. A capsule from a time when some people were persuaded after reading too much Comptiq and PCE/Saturn magazines that playable anime were going to be the next big thing. I don't know if it was a better time, but it was definitely a charming one.

So a fan translation for this game was released last week when currently writing this and I gotta say, I didn't know this existed till I saw it got one. I was very curious about it as the art looked really nice and I thought maybe the writing would be really fun.
Private Eye Dol is a text adventure where you play as a girl named May going through 3 "Scenes" as the game calls it trying to solve the conflict going on in the game. I won't really spoil anything for this review so you can enjoy the story blind but the game's story is really good though keep in mind I barely play this genre so this could be the worst take ever. The plot while at time's hard for me to fully understand due to my stupidity, has a lot of great moments.
This game is pretty interesting gameplay wise as the usual gameplay is presented in a top down sprite look similar to like an RPG of that era. The game likes to introduce new ways of going through the Scenes like having a menu style town similar to the likes of many text adventures, a map that you have to fill yourself, and a couple of more new ways to do the gameplay. It keeps the game from being too boring.
Private Eye Dol though isn't perfect as it has those moments where you feel like you have to try everything not knowing what's changed. It also had one moment I had to look up the answer to because the place they wanted me to stand on was exactly on one tile making me confused what the game wanted me to do. There are game overs in this game but they basically reset you where you were just at before the failure so you don't even have to reload an old save.
I have to say I love the touch of how a lot of times characters will move around the areas you're in to get to parts to advance the plot. It really adds more to the world making it feel more real to my immersion.
The game graphically looks amazing as there's many detailed shots of the characters even sometimes redrawn to match the situation or time. It's amazing to think this was on the PC Engine. Though make sure you have the Arcade Card for this as it's needed for this title. I also noticed the girl Ayaka reminds me of Fuu from Magic Knight Rayearth. I wonder if it's the same artist. The voice acting is pretty good if a bit compressed though I think that's normal for the console. I will say at times it seems quiet, not sure if that was a problem with my emulator though. The music has a couple of CD quality tunes but a lot of it as for usual with games with lots of voices has to deal with the normal PC Engine sound. Though it's not all bad, I just think it's unfortunate they have these limitations. At least nothing ever annoyed me.
This game is a must play for anyone into these kind of games. One of the best I've played so far for the console. Happy this got translated letting me enjoy something I didn't even know existed. Hope this one someday gets more attention as it's one of better late end titles for the console. Sure it has it's flaws but it doesn't stop such a charming well made game existing. Hope others enjoy it if they ever get the chance to play this.
Also warning for anyone using an emulator, if your thing uses rewind, I'd recommend turning it off. It will break the game and even delete your save if you try doing it. Save states seem fine though. You won't really need either though just thought I give that warning to any of you all.