The Portopia Serial Murder Case (ポートピア連続殺人事件 ) is an Adventure Game created by Yuji Horii (who then went on to create console RPG trope maker Dragon Quest). Originally released for the NEC PC-6001 computer in 1983 and ported to the Famicom console (with improvements) in 1985. The games puts you in the shoes of an unnamed detective who, together with his partner Yasu, have to solve the murder of a wealthy banker with dark secrets.
While largely unknown in the West, Portopia is considered one of the most influential games of all time in Japan. It is the Trope Maker for Japanese adventure games and the Visual Novel genre. Its success put Enix on the map, allowing them them to create Dragon Quest, and it was a huge inspiration for Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima.
Ahead of its time in various ways, Portopia is also an Ur-Example of numerous tropes in the context of video games, including the Choice-and-Consequence System, Dialogue Tree, Immersive Sim, Multiple Endings, Point-and-Click Game, Story Branching, Unreliable Narrator, and Wide-Open Sandbox.
Tropes found in this game include:
- Asshole Victim: Kouzou and Kawahara were conmen who had destroyed numerous lives, including causing Yasu and Fumie's parents to commit suicide. Subverted for Kouzou, however, as he had become The Atoner.
- The Atoner: Near the end of the game, the player finds a diary from Kouzou which reveals he was aware that Fumie was the daughter of one of the families he destroyed, and in fact had been trying to care for her as a surrogate daughter. Yasu is devastated to learn this fact, and it's implied is what drives him to confess to the murders.
- Book Safe: There's a key found in a book in the mansion.
- Chalk Outline: As shown on the box artwork, and in-game. It's simply used to show where the body was located.
- Deadpan Snarker: Yasu can get like this when your commands are nonsensical."He's the one who was killed. Probably doesn't need to have an alibi."
- Detective Mole: Sort of. As in, your assistant is the killer.
- Diegetic Interface: Almost all of your commands are orders given to Yasu; almost all the game's text is his response or description of what happened as a result.
- The Dog Was the Mastermind: Without question, the reason why the game is so remembered. Yasu is literally the foundation on which the game is built, being the Second-Person Narration as well as the one who carries out all actions. Him being the culprit has since became a shorthand for the identity of the culprit in Japanese mystery fiction.
- Driven to Suicide: Hirata. Surprisingly a case almost completely unrelated to the main mystery.
- Foreshadowing: Talking to the bar owner about Kouzou leads to him mentioning that he'd witnessed a fight between him and Kawahara. The fight was because of Kouzou wanting to split away from Kawahara, hinting at the revelation near the end that he'd become The Atoner.
- Guide Dang It!: Lots of it, but a few instances especially stand out:
- The ring. The player has to go to the outside of the Yamakawa Mansion and examine the bottom the door, a completely random and inconspicuous area, and then present it to Toshi. Not only does nothing even hint that such an item would even exist, but by this point the player is likely to have had Toshi arrested, and would thus have no reason to think there's anything else for him to even say.
- Proving to the barkeep who Kouzou is and that he has a connection with Kawahara. It requires heading back to Kouzou's mansion and examining two spots which are completely unmarked. Not just objects, either, but specific spots, and the latter of the items, the lighter, doesn't even have any clear relation to the conversation anyway.
- By far the worst however is finding Kouzou's diary. After being told of something hidden in the maze, the player has to go down there, follow the steps provided to them...and find themselves in a random hallway. The solution? You have run into one of the walls multiple times, revealing it conceals a hidden room, the only hint to this being that wall plays a different sound if you run into it. Oh, and forgot the directions given to you? You're out of luck, since it's only told to you once.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Implied with Ooki, a stripper who is by far the most cooperative and useful of any of the witnesses.
- Immersive Sim: It was the first game to have most of the key immersive sim elements, making it the Ur-Example. It was a first-person adventure game with an open world, character AI, choices and consequences, non-linear game design, open-ended narrative told through notes and diaries, interactive environments, emergent gameplay, allowed multiple ways to achieve objectives, and lacked fail states.
- Informed Attribute: Inevitable given the games very slim characterisation, but Yukiko is mentioned to have been a delinquent who had recently reformed. No evidence of this is ever shown in the game, other than possibly explaining her rather hostile and unpleasant behaviour towards the detectives.
- Locked Room Mystery: The victim was found in a room locked from the inside. In reality, the room had never been locked. Fumie just made it look that way after the body was discovered.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Implied to be Yasu's reaction after he learns that Kouzou had in fact become The Atoner.
- Pixel Hunt: There are four items you need to find to progress with the game. Of these, at least two aren't linked with an obvious visual cue.
- Police Are Useless: Downplayed. Yasu is enthusiastic, but tends to assume the simplest solution to the case without much follow-up. Thanks to Multiple Endings, you can do the same. Granted, Yasu's trying to get the case solved as quickly as possible so he doesn't get caught.
- Police Brutality: Values Dissonance for many modern players; the interface has an actual 'hit' button, which (among other things) you must use on suspects during interrogations in order to proceed.
- Police Procedural: While not remotely accurate (you freely use brutality in interrogations, for instance), the game focuses a lot more on this aspect of play than many later entries in the genre; the core gameplay loop consists of collecting evidence and witness statements, then bringing in a suspect and interrogating them.
- Red Herring: Two examples are required to be pursued to progress the story:
- Toshi is the only four of the initial suspects who has a clear motive (inheritance money), and his alibi is easily proven false through basic investigation. Turns out he's just a drug dealer, however, and otherwise has no connection to the case.
- Hirata has a clear motive for killing Kouzou, no alibi and dissapeared the night of the murder, all pointing towards his guilt. Turns out he'd committed suicide before Kouzou even died.
- Say My Name: The game closes on Yasu and Fumie calling out each other's names.
- Shout-Out: The maze you explore at the end is a shout-out to Wizardry; in particular, at one point there's an inscription on the wall saying that a monster leaps out at you (it doesn't.)
- Sympathetic Murderer: Yasu killed Kouzou and Kawahara as revenge for them driving his parents to commit suicide.
- Unbuilt Trope: Compared to most of the genre of visual novels it inspired, the Portopia Serial Murder Case is far more of an open-world game and much less of a "novel"; it also plays around with the concept of a videogame interface, which was still relatively new at the time, through its Diegetic Interface.
- Unexpected Genre Change: At one point, the game unexpectedly shifts from a pixel-hunting detective mystery to a 3D-ish Wizardry-style maze explorer (though with no RPG mechanics.) This is because Yuji Horii actually created the game after being impressed by Wizardry itself at a demonstration in the US; his ultimate goal was just to make enough money to fund what would eventually be Dragon Quest.
- Unreliable Narrator: The story is told through Second-Person Narration. In the game's twist ending, it is revealed that the narrator was the culprit all along.
- Visual Novel: It is the Trope Maker of the visual novel genre.
- Wide-Open Sandbox: Portopia was the first adventure game to feature an open world.