By Michael Gray / December 4, 2011
So, there’s a guy, his name is Mr. Stewart. He’s some kind of millionaire industrialist, and he wears a gasmask. He’s pushed around in his wheelchair by his servant. When he speaks, he only speaks to his servant, who then relays the message to whoever he’s talking to. The servant only speaks in rhyme. At some point in his life, Mr. Stewart committed some sort of sin. We don’t know what, but we know that he feels a great deal of guilt. So much guilt, in fact, that every day he visits the local diner and orders a Jelly and Cereal Sandwich. This is known as “The Sinners Sandwich”. Confused? Don’t worry — by the time this happens it fits perfectly within the utterly insane world of Red Seeds Profile.
Red Seeds Profile (known as Deadly Premonition in the West) defies explanation and divides critics. The main game is a Shenmue-style exploration of a small town as you meet the inhabitants of Greenvale and try to solve a murder case. This is combined with some third-person shooting sections, the occasional QTE, puzzle solving, car racing and item hunting.
In many ways, it’s utterly dreadful, and yet it’s brilliant at the same time. Some games are considered "so bad it's good", but that’s not the case here. The bad parts of Red Seeds Profile are just plain bad. You’ll find yourself driving slowly across town, following a suspect for ten minutes in real time. You’ll run after a dog in the street for what seems like hours. You’ll roam around a police station looking for a keyring with a squirrel on, only to find six different sets of keys, with six different types of squirrel. You’ll come to want to throttle the police officer Thomas every time he describes in detail why the squirrel you’re looking for is not the one you found. And you’ll get slightly seasick as you notice that everyone in the game sways gently from side to side. All the time. Gently swaying, in the breeze.
In fact, the graphics are the first thing you’ll notice. If they look like a Dreamcast/PS2 title, that’s because Red Seeds Profile spent so long in development hell and was originally intended to be a PS2 game. The character models and animation are very basic in comparison to the current-gen titles that Red Seeds Profile is competing against for your attention. Consider the main character, Francis York Morgan. See how he waves his finger in exactly the same way at everyone, regardless of whether he’s arresting them or saying a cheery hello. See the expression of shock on Francis’ face when he sees a corpse that has been hung against a wall by its own veins. That’s the same expression of shock he displays when he eats The Sinners Sandwich and finds it’s actually delicious.
The music, too, is utterly insane. There are a number of excellent pieces of music throughout the game, but for the most part, you’ll hear the same tracks over and over. From the totally inappropriate jazz music to the excited whistling of “Life Is Good”, the music, often so loud it drowns out the voices of the charaters you’re talking to, is always just wrong enough to make scenes unintentionally hilarious.
Or maybe it’s all intentionally hilarious. It’s so difficult to tell.
Because when you look past the obvious shortfalls, Red Seeds Profile is exceptionally good. The game has obviously been a total labour of love for the developers, who must have set themselves some extremely high goals, most of which would seem to be unattainable with the resources they had. But this is the reason why Red Seeds Profile works so well — once you stop laughing at the unintentionally bad music, the crazy scenarios and mad characters, you’re left with a game that's totally engrossing. The developers achieved their goals, and then some. Once the comedy of the unusual presentation starts to wane, you realise you’re totally absorbed in a fantastic game, with fascinating characters and a phenomenal storyline. It’s like an utterly insane Shenmue, with a story and characters that easily beat the huge-budget huge-profile Western flops like L.A. Noire, Heavy Rain, and Alan Wake [Because Japanese gaming, as we are told, is dead. -Ed], all of which are essentially attempting to achieve the same thing.
The town of Greenvale initially seems small, but as you start to meet the inhabitants and explore, there are a great many locations to find. Each of the characters you meet has side-quests to perform, although none of this is explained in the manual. These side-quests award prizes including better weapons, a faster car, trading cards to collect and even parts of a skeleton which you can give to a ghostly gravedigger. You’ll be asked to attend locations at specific times, but won’t be punished if you decide not to go until a few days later. And if you don’t shave and change your clothes, you’ll be docked pay for being a “Stinky Agent”.
And as the game continues, you realise that the world of Greenvale, and the lofty goals of the developers to make a free-exploration world with life-like characters has been achieved. In fact, it’s incredible.
Red Seeds Profile’s weakest element is the Biohazard 4-like shooting sections. They are very basic and would have seemed poor even back in the PS2 era. If these sections appear tacked on to the main game, that’s because they were — Red Seeds Profile was originally intended to be a pure adventure game and the developers were told to add the shooting sections to make the game more appealing to a Western audience. It’s not all bad news in this regard — some of the shooting sections are unintentially hilarious, especially the ghostly wail of “Don’t want to dieeeee” that has to be heard to be believed. Later in the game, the addition of QTEs and some genuinely unsettling chase sequences add welcome variety.
But the real failing of the shooting sections is that the game actually begins with one — 30 minutes of tedius exploration and poor graphics — offputting to most players, presenting you with a game that looks like it’s just plain awful. I wouldn’t have stuck with it if it wasn’t for a good friend of mine who’d already completed the game and warned me about the terrible opening.
Red Seeds Profile is a game that rewards your patience many times over. It’s absolutely the best game I’ve played in its genre, and it’s overall one of my all-time favourite games. There were times at the start where I had to pause the game and compose myself because I was laughing so hard at the intentional and unintentional comedy. But when the joke wore thin, I continued to play, so utterly captivated by the characters, the story, the twists and turns and the curiosity of being unable to guess where the insanity would lead to next. When I finally solved the case, I drove my car back to the hotel and contemplated where to go next. I felt empty. I really was going to miss spending time in Greenvale, and as I got back in my car the following morning and drove out of town, I felt genuinely moved by the things I’d seen and the people I’d met. Powerful stuff.
Red Seeds Profile is an astonishing game in every way. In a strange way, the crazy music and unusual graphics and animation end up being just as important a part of the experience as the incredible storyline. It just works as it is, and I wouldn’t want to change a thing. If this game was remade, in a similar way perhaps to the GameCube Biohazard remake, I think I’d prefer the original. It’s unique, with all the elements coming together to make something totally unlike anything else you’ve ever played.
I love it.