As a fan of graphic adventure/visual novel type games like Snatcher and Jesus, I’d been meaning to tackle Portopia for the Famicom for many years.
Thanks to our current worldwide situation, I just happened to have plenty of time to do it. And not only did I play it, but I took it apart.
The Portopia Serial Murder Case, originally released as a computer game in 1983 and ported to the Famicom in 1985 by Chunsoft, was written and developed by Yuji Horii (soon thereafter to become famous for Dragon Quest), and is widely credited as being the first Japanese graphic adventure game, launching the entire visual novel genre. While the PC versions used a text parser, meaning users had to type in commands (e.g., TAKE KNIFE), the Famicom version introduced a branching command menu system, which became commonplace in adventure games ever since. From what I hear, Portopia ranks among Hideo Kojima’s favorite games of all time, having been highly influential on his own adventure classic, Snatcher. (Indeed, if you’ve played both, you will see how Snatcher directly references and lifts ideas from Portopia in many areas!)
Portopia wasn’t released outside of Japan — it was quite an adult-themed game for a 1985 Famicom title, with the story involving brutal murders, suicides, delinquents, con men, strippers, and other kid-unfriendly elements — but an English-language fan translation patch by an outfit called DvD Translations surfaced in 2006, and was updated in 2010. It took me until just recently to finally get around to seriously taking a stab (so to speak) at the game. And, well, after just a couple of days, as of this writing, I’ve played through it eight times.
Overall, it’s a short adventure that can be completed quickly once you know how to get through it efficiently. At first, however, it’s actually a bit intimidating, as the command menu contains no less than 14 selections, and there is a cast of 9 characters to keep track of, not to mention the occasional bartender or random passerby that you may have to question. And there’s no Save feature!
So for my first playthrough, I don’t mind telling you that I used a walkthrough to get started. But once I got the hang of the game and got to know the characters, it became much less daunting and actually, there is quite a vast amount of freedom and options at your disposal.
Which walkthrough did I use, you might ask? Well — the only one there is. Yep, I found only a single Portopia walkthrough in English on the entire Internet. And it’s very simple, only mentioning which sequence of commands to use. For being such a revolutionary, genre-launching classic, there is very little information on the game in English.
So that’s why I decided, once I played through the game a few times, to really examine it and see how it works — in other words, I wanted to streamline the process to see exactly which sequence of commands triggered which events, and learn to play Portopia from beginning to end efficiently. So that’s what I did!
With an NES emulator and a blank spreadsheet, I started playing through the game for my fourth time, taking notes of the commands needed to advance, what information and characters they triggered, and what crucial events were triggered by what actions. A few points gave me trouble, as I couldn’t figure out how certain information was determined, as some information is revealed by performing seemingly unrelated actions.
Eventually, though, with enough research through gameplay, I figured everything out, and by the end my spreadsheet clearly laid out a perfect playthrough containing only the necessary actions and their consequences. My document could even be used to cross-reference events and their triggers, if the player is having trouble finding a certain event or piece of information.
That said, there is a fair amount of unnecessary action and hidden information in the game, which, during a normal playthrough, can flesh out the world, or simply throw the player off the hottest parts of the trail. But there is also no way to “lose” Portopia — there’s no Game Over, no direct threat to the player, no serious negative consequences for any actions. There are even a couple spots where your assistant urges you to close the case with false conclusions, but if you do so, you just learn that you were wrong, and pick up the case from where you left off.
Portopia Serial Murder Case is a must-play if you’re the type of gamer who likes digging into the historical roots of gaming (and I’m guessing you are that type, if you’re here). Especially if you’re an adventure game fan, you owe it to yourself to see where your Policenauts and Steins:Gates originated.
And if you do, please feel free to use my walkthrough, and let me know how it worked for you!
A few notes on the walkthrough:
• When at the Police Station, you must use the Call Out command before using Ask on each suspect. I have omitted this step from the walkthrough, as I feel it’s clear from the text who needs to be called for each sequence.
• During the Maze portion near the end of the game, my shorthand for the directions is simple: F# is move Forward, where # represents how many spaces you must move; L means turn Left and R means turn Right. There are a couple points where a wall will close behind you while moving forward; just continue on until the total number of spaces is achieved.
View or download the Portopia walkthrough here: portopia_RGSH_walkthrough
May 6, 2023 at 11:04 pm
Just saying that I appreciated the walkthrough! Gave the NES version a shot after seeing the shambolic new Steam version with a text parser… it is a little weird that the best experience, after getting appropriately stuck, probably suggests using three different walkthroughs: yours, the DVD Translations fansub one, and the GameFAQs bare-bones one (but that does have the best map of the maze). Interesting game.
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May 6, 2023 at 11:06 pm
Thanks for the comment! I’m actually working on a post about the new Portopia right now, should be up soon!