Review by odino
'Hissatsu Shigoto Nin' or 'Professional Killer' as I would loosely translate it, is an adventure game on the NES that was only released in Japan, and naturally only in the Japanese language. It is set in feudalistic Japan where corruption and power played great parts in everyday life among the villages. You start off with a male protagonist having to find a killer and bring him to justice, but the story soon evolves and expands to a much larger scope. Near the end of this epic story of murder and spying, all will be revealed to you.
The control are easy to pick up, it only requires the two main buttons and the d-pad to play this game. If this isn't simply enough, there are only three actions one can do while walking around and only talking to people is used 90% of the time. This makes the game simple, but it is not as simple as it seems. Talking to people may be the only thing you do for most of the time, but it is just part of exploring and investigating the crimes you were set out to uncover. As you start there are only two villages to go, and they house around 15-25 people each. Most of them aren't important, however, and the game make this quite clear to you. If a person has any important information then they will go into a close-up view with more options such as asking about specific things, showing and/or giving items as well as threatening them to reveal more knowledge they own. Thus there are only a handful of folk around the area who help to continue the story, whereas the rest either give clues to what you ought to do (read: talk to that person) or just a useless generic comment you may know from early RPGs.
As you progress in the game you open up more areas which make it a little harder to know what to do, but then if you followed the dialogue it would have given clues where to go. The map is not too large and some locations become obsolete once they have been visited once, or they are obviously just used for certain parts in the game.
Saving is not something old adventures on the NES have as a good feature, they mainly use passwords. Hissatsu Shigoto Nin uses shrines to save which are available in every village with easy access. You will never find yourself needing to rush there, because dying is not something that the game gives you as an option. It is very nice to know what you can save at nearly any point without having to jolt down passwords. They could have done it with a save feature from the menu but the game also does not want you to save at just any point after all, some sections should be done in a large chunk before safety is ensured.
One part of the game that strikes me as its weakest gameplay-wise, is the battle system. You will only encounter a few of these fights in the entire game but every bout makes you feel that this was created as an afterthought, or no-one with any creativity had their hands in it. You only get three options when in a bout, attack, defend, hide. Attacking is obvious and the most-used action, defend and hide are available to enhance the battle system with some strategy in mind. It is supposed to let you give the choice of hiding and sneak attacking, defending if the opponent is trying to get one over on you in this way, but what it comes down to is whoever takes down the 6 health bar quicker and that is usually the person who bashes the attack command as soon as it is your turn. Whereas it is a nice distraction from the usual gameplay and I have to admit that you come across as a badass protagonist after slaying someone, this needs some more work or just be left out all together.
As for the story, the game is split up into four parts with the first being a very short prologue and the rest taking a couple of hours to beat, depending how stuck you get. Getting stuck is very likely in a few spots, although the NPCs around the area tend to give enough hints to what to do. At least twice in the game are you required to find items lying in bushes or on the ground and if one does not know where to look that this needle in a haystack approach could sour the gameplay experience quite a bit. At one point you are supposed to hit up a dog to move the story along, who would have guessed.
The main display is quite ugly, and I mean Dragon Warrior 1 would beat this game in terms of mini characters and scenery. The game is not even that old and for 1990 there could be a lot of improvements made. Other games were already shining in NES glory of the 8-but graphics but this feels it would be one of the first generation of games released on the console.
However, close-up views of characters are slightly better than average adventure games in theirs, and the cut-scenes all but make up for the lack of quality in the other areas. The top-down view does not really have to be much smoother, and I have to admit that I prefer simple look sometimes, but this is just a tad too plain.
The cut-scenes are most likely on-part with the most impressive thing I have seen on the NES, but it is also likely the Kill Bill style slaying alter my assessment. The artwork done in those scenes are really absorbing.
The sound is a little odd to judge, I am not a fan of the 8-bit era for its special effects nor music. I am just too spoiled of modern gaming to going back to lousy beeps that represent tunes. Nevertheless, in an object way I have to quote Lowell Mather from "Wings" when I say: "it is bad". Ok I cannot really give it a fair score. There is only a music piece playing in the background and if may want to mute that after a while because it drones into your ears. With modern music this aspect could be explored really well, with special effect sounds and some more dramatic music. Obviously this is just a theory. Forget about the sound.
Good gameplay and story mixed with a fair bunch of good and bad graphic design (and... some... sound) make this a great adventure to play through within a couple of days. If you have a walkthrough (I made one if you are interested, have a look) at hand then it becomes a breeze to play but also kills (no pun intended) the fun of exploring and chatting up people. Note to the developer: never ever end the game on a silly joke. If it fails like in case, it misfires and reflects badly on almost the entire game you had just played.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Hissatsu Shigoto Nin (JP, 12/15/90)
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