Late last year I got to see an in-depth demo
of Trauma Team’s endoscopy operations and a quick look at bone-drilling orthopedics. Atlus isn’t done previewing their latest medical game, because I got paged a few days ago with an urgent appointment to the ER. This time I got a look at forensics, courtesy of Atlus rep Aram Jabbari.
Dr. Naomi Kimishima first appeared in Trauma Center Second Opinion, but her return in Trauma Team isn’t all tongue depressors and lollipops. Diagnosed with a terminal illness, Naomi left the operating room behind and is now director of forensics. It’s her job to solve the mysteries of the dead victims that the hospital couldn’t save.
What this means for gameplay is a slicked up, more serious take on the interactive novel—just imagine Phoenix Wright without the goofy characters and a heavy dose of Trauma Center’s near-future professionalism. Naomi isn’t an amateur investigator stumbling through a case with the help of her spirit medium sidekick—she has a neatly organized office and the tools of the trade.
As Naomi, your job is to collect pieces of evidence and build a clear, consistent and logical picture of what happened. The most obvious way to do this is to visit the scene of the crime, which is presented in true point-and-click fashion as a detailed panorama. Here you can tease out minute details of the environment or reveal hidden clues with a high-tech black light.
The next step is to examine the victim. In the morgue you can rotate the victim’s corpse in full 3D, which usually turns up strange inconsistencies with the assumed cause of death. You can also look at the victim’s clothes and personal effects in the same way. The view has the same clean simulated appearance as the body diagrams from previous Trauma Center games but with more in depth.
Naomi’s third method of gaining evidence is through eyewitness interviews. In classic murder movie style these interviews are played back on a tape recorder. You can stop the playback at any time and examine each individual statement for connections or inconsistencies—it’s a lot like Phoenix Wright pressing a witness during cross examination, except the recording is static so the witness can’t freak out and change their story when caught in a lie.
Whenever you uncover new evidence it will be recorded as a card and placed on Naomi’s PC desktop. Each piece of evidence has a star rating, starting out with only one star, which means that it’s pretty tenuous. As you research an evidence card more or connect it to another card, it will gain more stars until its star count is maxed out; this makes it “solid evidence,” which will hold up to the closest scrutiny. This system also makes it easier to keep track of your progress and figure out where you need to go next. Aram said that the development team worked hard to keep players from getting hopelessly lost; one of the common problems in graphical adventure games. From what I saw case progression is smooth and intuitive, and as long as you use deductive reasoning you’ll never get stuck.
Linking evidence cards or taking a hard look at them will typically present Naomi with a multiple choice question about the case. These questions test your ability to think logically—they start out pretty easy, like confirming an alibi or drawing an obvious conclusion from a wound on a body, but as the case gets more complex you might be scratching your head. The heart meter from the other medical branches is present in forensics but represents your credibility, like the exclamation points in, again, Phoenix Wright. Mess up too many questions and Naomi is kicked off the case. Thankfully, you aren’t completely on your own.
Every investigator needs a good operator back at HQ, and for that Naomi has Little Guy. I’m not sure what his real name is but he’s displayed as a Mii on Naomi’s desktop. Little Guy will analyze evidence for Naomi and offer his insights into the case; there’s a humorous banter between Naomi and her tech that reminds me of medical dramas like House. Little Guy often notices things that Naomi missed, or he’ll bring up new questions between pieces of evidence. In any case he’s a lot more helpful than Nurse Angie and her constant nagging.
Like all of the other disciplines in Trauma Team, the forensics track has a colorful dramatic story presented in manga style, played out in moving comic panels. While there are speech bubbles for all dialogue there is full voice acting to go with them, and it sounds markedly more professional and low-key than the melodramatic “let’s begin the operation!” dialogue in previous Trauma Center titles. The presentation is the most cinematic and even-handed I’ve seen in the series so far. It’s also great to see Naomi again, after her relatively brief but interesting appearance in Second Opinion.
Trauma Team launches on April 20th and it’s looking to be the biggest, most diverse and robust entry in the Trauma Center series by far. Forensics is just one of the medical tracks in the game but with six cases for Naomi to sleuth through, the forensics segment alone rivals Hotel Dusk or any of the Phoenix Wright games as a fully-fledged interactive mystery.