Murder on the Marine Express is another visual novel in an increasingly growing field on the Nintendo Switch. I’ve reviewed several titles in this genre, one that continues to intrigue me while also failing to live up to my expectations. Marine Express is a decent enough entry overall, but it needs to improve in several key areas.
The story involves the titular Ranko Togawa, a 17-year-old girl traveling with her prep school classmates on the maiden voyage of the submarine train, the Marine Express. A fun field trip soon leads to a murder mystery, one Ranko takes upon herself to investigate and find the culprit for unclear reasons. The lead is a big part of the success of visual novels, and Ranko doesn’t do it for me. More successful is her friend, Astrid, in a Dr. Watson-type role.
Ranko knows she’s sticking her nose where the police would, but she doesn’t seem to care. Throughout her investigations, we see her being a bit of a bully, disrespectful, and more. While a confident amateur sleuth, Ranko lacks the life experience to warrant such a high opinion about herself. In fact, even though her hubris led me to believe this release was part of a series, this is evidently the first one. It’s one example of my having early expectations that weren’t met.
Another is length. Advertised as “offering 3-4 hours of reading,” I finished it in barely 2 hours. Had I turned off the sluggish auto advance and manually flipped pages, I wonder if I would’ve even hit that number. This makes many of the characters not get enough development time. Most are teen girls with familiar drama, gossip, munchies, etc. There are just shy of twenty, many appearing too briefly to make much of an impact, which led to my struggles in remembering some in detail. Thankfully, you can view contacts on Ranko’s phone for a refresher.
At least the short length (three in-game days) limits pacing issues common to this genre. Although the mid-game section can drag a bit, at least when compared to the quick opening and somewhat captivating conclusion. Along the way, you’ll discover battery, more death, and some themes that definitely earn the Teen rating.
The ending is a bit preachy, but the overall game did just enough right that I’d be willing to entertain some time with Ranko again. I’d like to see her develop more maturity (she’s not nearly as wise as she may think), so perhaps a sequel can be set when she is an adult. It could have some choices as well. This is a straight visual novel lacking any real player input, which is a shame since it would really fit the story.
Regarding presentation, I rather dig the “Retro-feel graphics with pixel art in the style of old text adventure games.” Sadly, the short length means you will see few locales outside the dining hall, similar rooms, and walkways. In fact, the ocean setting is underused, mostly an excuse to keep the girls contained in the underwater sub so the authorities can’t intervene. The teachers are but little obstacles to Ranko roaming about.
Murder on the Marine Express has plenty of issues, an unlikeable lead being chief among them. But, for better or worse, it doesn’t overstay its welcome due to its two-hour length. For the budget price, genre fans can wishlist it and hope for a more developed sequel.