The Mysteries of Ranko Togawa: Murder on the Marine Express is an upcoming visual novel intended to be the first in a series of mystery visual novels starring a student named Ranko Togawa, and a free demo is available now. Our story begins with Ranko and her classmates boarding a new submarine train called the Marine Express for a relaxing and educational trip where they can enjoy the underwater view and learn more about marine life.
The first thing that stands out about Murder on the Marine Express is its visual style. It uses a retro approach for its graphics with pixel art that really makes it stand out from modern entries in the genre. The visual aesthetic is great, the music seems good as well, and there are a handful of sound effects for important moments. In keeping with the retro look, it uses a smaller screen for the game itself on a background that can be changed from the game’s settings. There doesn’t appear to be any sort of skip function, but at this point it doesn’t feel like the sort of visual novel that would greatly benefit from one.
Several characters are introduced right away, since the story features a class trip. In addition to Ranko, you meet her friend Astrid, several other classmates both friendly and otherwise, and the teachers who are on the trip. So many characters introduced in a short period of time can be a bit tricky to keep track of, but Ranko’s phone (which doubles as the menu) includes profiles for every major character. Her phone also has a chat feature updated at key points in the story with new conversations to show more of the characters and their interactions with each other.
The atmosphere for most of the demo is pretty lighthearted and relaxed, with banter between Ranko and Astrid and occasional run-ins with a group of girls who dislike them. There are some amusing lines, and it gives a good impression of the main characters. However, the tone take a darker tone at the end, when they discover that one of the teachers has been murdered. Dialogue at the very start of the demo, from a later point in the game before flashing back to the events that led up to it, implies that it will get even more dangerous still.
I would have liked to play a little past this point, if only to get a better idea for how the full game will proceed. From the demo, it appears to be a kinetic novel, so I was curious to see if any gameplay elements would be added for the investigation. Right now, my assumption is that there will be no gameplay, and instead we will follow Ranko through the investigation as she solves the mystery, but since the demo ends at that point, I can’t say for sure.
Either way, the demo for Murder on the Marine Express sets up a solid premise for the full story to come. It shows just enough of the character dynamics to make the murder interesting, and the fact that the characters are trapped in a closed environment adds an extra layer of tension. While it’s hard to really judge the story at this point, I’m excited to see where the full mystery will go.
You can download the demo for Murder on the Marine Express from itch.io.