19 years old and already retired, that’s the life of Kobayashi Opera. In his teenage years he was a promising detective who used his Toys—Basically a magical power—to solve many high-profile cases. He lost this power in a battle with his nemesis and was then forced to give up his crime-fighting life. However, it soon turns out that not everyone was prepared to give up on the super sleuth quite yet.
Tantei Opera Milky Holmes is a visual novel tie-in for the Milky Holmes anime. It was released as a PSP-exclusive in late 2010 to coincide with the anime’s season 2 finale; with a second game following in 2012.
To call this game a “visual novel” may not be entirely representative. It’s more of a game in the style of Ace Attorney. You do read through a lot of visual novel segments, but these are broken up with investigation sequences, quizzes, and other mini-games.
The story sees Opera being roped back into the detective life when he is summoned by the student president of the Holmes Detective Academy. Phantom Thief activity is on the rise and these villains are getting increasingly organized. To keep combating these thieves effectively, detective agencies around the world need veterans like Opera to train their students. Thus Opera is put in charge of a very special team: Milky Holmes!
This visual novel is basically a peek into an alternate reality where the Milky Holmes franchise took itself at least a touch seriously. The cast of characters is largely the same, but their personalities have been tweaked to be less extreme. Cordelia is reinterpreted as a responsible (though impulsive) senpai who frets over the well-being of her younger team members, Nero is coldly analytical, and Hercule is basically herself minus the idiocy.
Sherlock seems like she changed the least of all, but actually has an interesting plot going on. Her telekinesis powers are weak and lack utility, which bites into her self-confidence. She acts lively and erratic, mostly as a way to not have to think about how she holds back her team.
Throughout the story you’ll get many opportunities to talk with the girls and pick your dialogue options, which influence how they perceive you. For example, Nero is initially standoffish towards Opera. If you choose to nag her for eating too many sweets, she’ll naturally be even more annoyed. Support her reasoning, however, and you may just break the ice between Opera and her.
I quite enjoy this alternate take on the Milky Holmes universe. As much as I like the over-the-top wackiness of the anime, it’s also nice getting to see the concept of magical detectives versus master thieves being done more seriously. It’s also not like the comedy is gone entirely. The characters are still plenty funny, get into all kinds of silly situations together, and have an abundance of charming dialogue.
So how do you fight crime in this game? Well, there’s quite a few steps to it.
When chasing a mystery, the game frequently breaks up its storytelling to give you challenges. You might suddenly get a timed quiz where you need to quickly decide if a new plot point is suspicious or not, or choose the correct option in a dialogue tree. You also get investigation sequences where you help the Milky Holmes squad investigate the details of a crime scene. You’ll talk with them about their findings and then you need to click on the correct environmental details to point out clues or discrepancies.
My favorite segments are the chases. You’ll rush after a fleeing criminal and need to tap in the direction they are about to run in to keep up the pursuit. While doing so, the thief will set off traps and other diversions. When this happens, you need to quickly tap the button that matches the girl whose power could counter it. For example, when a security door suddenly closes on you, Hercule’s super strength will come in very handy. It’s little more than a QTE when you think about it, but it feels rewarding to make snap decisions like this based on your understanding of the characters.
These mini-games combined with the fun mystery stories do a good job at immersing you in Opera’s character and role. However, I wish the game wasn’t so formulaic.
It’s cut up into several chapters that all begin and end with songs, almost like you’re playing episodes of a TV anime. Unlike a proper anime, though, each episode follows the same sequence of plot beats. You get a few visual novel segments to set up the latest crime, then you get an investigation sequence with the exact same number of interactions each time, then a chase where each Milky Holmes member gets 1 opportunity to use their power.
Difficulty also wavers all over the place. The quizzes for whether a detail is suspicious or not often had me stumped; wondering if the fan translation had mixed the answers up somehow. By contrast, the investigations are often hilariously easy. Actually important clues are often front and center—sometimes even enlarged for emphasis—whereas red herrings could be literal stones on the ground or the wallpaper in the back.
Fortunately, the presentation makes up for a lot. Visually, the novel is simply outstanding. The character sprites look nice and receive many different poses and little animations. There are also full-screen pictures to depict more complicated scenes and several fully-animated cutscenes; easily on par with the original anime. There are even funny alternate scenes for when you mess up in the chases. The entire game is also voice-acted and has some very excellent sound-effects.
On the flipside, the voice-acting and audio-mixing can be mediocre at times. Inner monologues or whispers are often inaudible and the extras often had grating voices. The game retains many of the voice actors from the anime, which presented a difficult challenge: how do you get actors that played these same characters in an over-the-top comedy series to suddenly act them out as if it’s a normal detective story. Most manage quite well, but series antagonist Arséne phones it in way too hard. She sounds too plain, lacking the charisma and inner frustration that made her such a captivating villainess in the first place.
So should you play Tantei Opera Milky Holmes? Fans of the anime definitely should and will be delighted to learn that there is a fan translation that you can easily acquire. However, the game is also interesting for people outside of the fandom. It does a great job at introducing and selling you on the franchise’s colorful universe, with strong presentation and gameplay to back it up. Especially fans of Ace Attorney or other visual novels with interactive elements to it will find this an interesting game to experience. Just give the anime a try after, would you?