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August 28, 2015

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (Part 1)

I saw it that day. I don’t remember what day, or what hour. I just know I saw it one day. I felt intrigued by this game’s cover, which showed sketchy characters on a black and white background. An impression of a film noir waiting to happen. A sense of mystery emanating from these characters. I decided to buy it, hoping it would be worth the price.

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is a type of game called a “Visual novel”. For all intents and purposes, it tells a story, and prioritizes that over gameplay. Said gameplay consists of moving around, speaking to people, getting answers to questions, picking up items for later use, completing puzzles and mini-games once in a while, figuring out what to do next, and solving the overaching mystery of the game. Anyone who has played through an Ace Attorney game knows what it’s like. However, unlike Ace Attorney, Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is grounded into reality, and its characters are anything but flamboyant or cartoonish. Andf these characters interact within a complex story that sucks you in with ease. So complex, in fact, that I might be forced to skip a few details here and there. Also, spoilers; but if you’re a regular around here, you already know I spoil a lot. Follow me on this quest, as my deductive skills are used to solve the grand mystery hidden within Hotel Dusk and its Room 215.

First off, this game tries very much to play like a book. This is why the Nintendo DS is held sideways, and all the actions are done on the touch screen on the right.

This game opens on Kyle Hyde talking with a colleague of his, raising his weapon, and shooting. I’m lost. Thankfully, the actual book inside the game’s box offers some information; Hyde’s partner and friend, Brian Bradley – Accidental alliteration? – betrayed his team during an undercover operation. He sold out his allies, so Kyle shot him. They never found the body. He never retrieved the buddy. Kyle left the force, hell-bent on finding his partner. Or rather, he joined a sales firm named Red Crown. His new boss, a gruff man who answers to the short name Ed, also has a side-business in finding secrets about people, and making them pay so that he keeps his mouth shut. Something shady, I tell you. This story begins three years later, on December 28th, 1979. I wasn’t even born at the time. And there’s no way a Nintendo DS game could be this old.

Kyle gets called by Ed and learns he has to deliver a package to some place called Hotel Dusk. There’s just something about that name that makes Kyle think he might find answers here... On his way, he sees a teenage girl in white walking down the road. A lost angel in this dark world. This is strange. Here is the hotel, so Kyle parks his old car and enters the place.

I think I never saw a dustier hotel. For a moment, I felt the need to come out again and check the large neon sign to make sure Kyle had not accidentally stopped at Hotel Dust. But no, this is the right hotel. Besides, Kyle appears incapable of opening the door to leave the place. The first chapter begins, with a caption “5:00-5:30”. I conclude that all chapters in this game are contained in a certain period of time. Probably to help with continuity, seeing as most players will spend longer than the said period of time on each chapter.

Remember to check every single thing everywhere.
Kyle heads over to the front desk. For all readers who have never seen this game before, allow me a quick description of the features. Kyle Hyde moves around with the directional pad, or by moving the stylus on the touch screen. Four pictograms appear at the bottom of the touch screen. First is a door, which lights up when he goes to open a door. Second is a silhouette, which activates when he speaks to someone. Third is a magnifying glass, which allows him to take a closer look at every object around, thus allowing him to find details that couldn’t be seen, open drawers, inspect some items a little closer. Last but not least, he can check his notebook, and write down information he finds. The notebook: The detective’s most trusted ally. The journalist’s trusted ally, too. It’s time Kyle buys a new one, it’s got only three pages left. As for the options here, we can choose between left- and right-handed, which allows to flip around the entire game. You can also look at the items collected thus far, the characters met, the notebook, the hotel’s map (once you get it), and of course the option to save or load a file. Pretty much a requirement for long games like this.

So, we head to the front desk and ring the bell. A gruff man shows up; his name is Dunning Smith. By the way, when characters are discussing, we get animated pictures of them. I do believe, if my limited knowledge doesn’t trump me, that these are sketch drawings. And they appear to squiggle, like certain animated television series do.

This is what appears when you are asking questions
to other characters.
Kyle asks for a room, and Dunning convinces him to get Room 215. The old man claims this room grants wishes. Now, I have a logical mind, which is why I feel tempted to call bullshit... but we never know, the man has good rhetoric. Kyle fills out the form, and Dunning expresses surprise at seeing his new guest’s name. Kyle settles for Room 215, gets the key, and even receives a pen and a brochure (with a map) from the hotel’s owner. Dunning even named each of the rooms, ain’t that sweet. So, there’s also a restaurant here, and a bar. Pretty sure none of this will ever be of any importance in the story. However, after recounting a story of crooks using Dusk as a dropoff point for stolen goods, and how it ended up with cops storming the place and shooting left and right, Dunning expresses his policy: No crooks, no cops... I’m suddenly feeling a lot less welcome. Oh well, time to see this special room.

As Kyle gets to the lobby, he hears noise and turns around to see an elderly woman, wearing an eyepatch, make her way into Hotel Dusk, asking for Room 215. There is no way to get to trade with the lady, so Kyle leaves. He tries to go upstairs, but a child is sitting there. She won’t move until you help her solve a puzzle – seriously? That’s a slightly pathetic excuse for a mini-game... though I have seen much worse. She’s left her room because her dad said she made too much noise. Okay, hand me that puzzle, I’ll do it for ya. Oh cute, it’s a bunny in a diaper. After throwing a tantrum because SHE wanted to do it, the girl laughs again, picks up her puzzle and runs away. She forgot a puzzle piece. Oh well, here we are now on the second floor. Getting to Room 215, Kyle encounters a young adult on the way, but the guy quickly leaves. I never felt so untrusted since my last visit in Montreal. We finally get to Room 215.

Hm, looks neat. If I get a 1½ apartment someday, I hope it is as decent as this. And the phone rings. Cannot a detec-I mean, salesman, get a moment of break? Oh, it’s Rachel, the secretary at Red Crown. Quite the intelligent woman. And gorgeous too, but that’s just a bonus. After the call, Kyle attempts to open his suitcase, but breaks the key. Using a straightened paperclip doesn’t work, either. Suddenly, knocks at the door. It’s the bellhop bringing Kyle’s packages. And Kyle immediately recognizes him as a lowly crook he used to know. Name’s Louis (“Louie”) Le Nono... Er, I mean DeNonno. Used to pickpocket, but it appears he’s found a decent job. Well, as decent as Hotel Dust can offer. Our hero winds up telling him how he quit the force to become a salesman. Normally we wouldn’t bother with that guy, but seeing a familiar face is reassuring. Louie drops off the packages and leaves.

Yep, that's Louie.

However, Kyle realizes the box doesn’t contain his stuff, so he needs to talk to Dunning. On the way, he sees Melissa again and learns, among others, that she’s here with her father, that they’re going to see her mother, that her father is a surgeon, that her mother works at an art museum and is named Grace... whoa, whoa, slow down, your exposition will get a speeding ticket. However, Melissa's father takes her back in their hotel room. Kyle heads to the front desk and sees the teenage girl he passed on the way to the hotel. He tries to speak to her, but she’s mute. Someone else shows up: The hotel’s maid, a certain Rosa. She informs us that the mute girl’s name is Mila, and that she found out thanks to a bracelet worn by the teenager. And Kyle realizes Bradley wore a similar bracelet... The mystery just keeps on thickening, doesn’t it? Maybe Room 215 does grant wishes, maybe Kyle will get to find out where his pal Bradley has been...

Thankfully, once you use a key, you never have to use it
again. It's like the doors never lock behind you.

Apparently, Mila hitched a ride and was dropped at the hotel, and the young man who brought her also took a room. And what a name, too; Jeff Angel. Sounds like a wannabe stage magician, but what do I know about magic aside from a few cheap card tricks. The phone rings, so Rosa answers and finds out someone got Kyle’s missing package, and will deliver it to his room soon. So Kyle simply heads back to his room. On the way, he exchanges a few words with Jeff Angel and then with another guest at the hotel, a certain Iris. And what a Princess too. Though I do wonder what an upper-class woman like her is doing at Hotel Dust. And this odd phobia of having someone take a picture of her... Kyle goes in his room, but someone knocks soon after. It’s the last guest we haven’t seen yet, a Martin Summer. An author who really wanted to get his notebook back. In exchange, we get the box we were supposed to get. We also get that we need to find a swimsuit magazine and a red box.

After which, our detective feels the need to review the events of the chapter. He does that after each chapter, checking the facts and trying to make sense of them. Like any detective would do. These Chapter-End quizzes are rather easy if you paid attention. They mostly serve to remind the player of the most important details discovered so far. Glad to know I can count on Hyde’s reports to help me with this case...

Thus begins Chapter 2. Boy, I sure hope not to take as long to describe every chapter. Not that I don’t like to write, but I wouldn’t want to spend too many parts discussing this game. Kyle leaves his room and encounters Rosa, and the ensuing discussion reveals that there are some shady stories that took place in this hotel before Dunning became the owner. Then again, she doesn’t have time to chat, as she’s always cleaning up (Louie is supposed to help but he hardly ever does), and she’s also the hotel’s cook. It’s a wonder how this woman burns so many calories each day and still keeps this larger frame. Probably has to eat a lot to have the energy to do everything. Rosa then leaves in a hurry.

You talking about me, DeNonno?
I don't swing that way.
Then we hear whistling from a linen closet at the end of the alley. Louie is in there, reading a swimsuit issue. ...Which, let's not be ashamed of it, us men are allowed to enjoy... well, there are the models proper, admittedly, but we can also, uh, admire the artistic properties of such a document, the quality of the photography, and, um... I believe I am painting myself in a corner, so I should move on. In the ensuing discussion, we learn more about Hotel Dusk's bad stories surrounding it. Something that happened ten years ago... Something about a man and his daughter staying there for a night and the girl disappearing... That’s why Hotel Dust is such a dump; it went under due to the stories. We also learn Louie kinda has taken a liking to the mute girl Mila. The talk takes an odd turn as Kyle explains he’s looking for someone who disappeared three years ago, and Louie said he, too, knew someone who kicked the bucket at that time.

Advice from a detective here: Start working on a flowchart. Things are going to get complex.

Louie leaves in a hurry, so Kyle takes that opportunity to take the swimsuit magazine, and then some tools out of a locker. He’ll finally be able to open his suitcase. On his way to 215, Kyle has a chance encounter with the old woman and learns her name is Helen Parker. I hope she’s not some poor nerd’s elderly mother figure. When Kyle gets to his room, he uses pliers he found in the locker to cut a piece of metal from a hanger, and then uses it to open his suitcase and finally get the money he needs to pay for his room. Phew. The hoops you have to get through to achieve anything in this game...

Hm. Free dinner? My stomach says yes.
Time to pay, so we head to Dunning’s office. After we pay, Dunning lets loose the best line of the entire game thus far: “I’m busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.” That, my friend, is true poetry. I wished I could juggle metaphor and vulgarity with such finesse. Would definitely be handy for those times I play “Bad Cop”. On the other hand, for all of Kyle’s troubles, Dunning offers him dinner for free. Apparently Rosa’s a great cook, too. Dunning leaves but forgets to lock behind him. Time to sneak a peek. In Dunning's office, Kyle finds out a guy with his name stayed in Room 217 six months prior. We also find the red box we were looking for.

When Kyle leaves the office, he bumps into Louis. We get another piece of backstory: The LAPD was investigating an art theft instigated by a crime ring named Nile. We can’t learn much as the two are interrupted by Rosa, and when Louie leaves to do some goddamn work for once, Rosa asks Kyle about Louie’s past. Kyle’s a fine guy, so he keeps his lips shut. Small-time crooks should deserve a chance at a better future, leave the past behind, turn a new leaf, see what I mean? Talking about stealing, those things we took in the locker aren’t ours, so if Dunning realizes we have a crowbar stuffed down our pants, we’re toast. Dunning and some others have the power to kick you out of the hotel if you stir up too much... er... trouble.

For some reason, Ed is always framed in shadow, but never
enough so that we can't see most of his traits. All that's
missing is his eyes.
We call Red Crown, and Ed explains to Kyle that three years prior, Louie and a pal of his, Danny, were involved in some art theft, and Nile joined in. It’s directly related to the circumstances where Hyde shot Bradley. What are the odds? Anyway, we go downstairs and find Dunning. He says Louie’s in his room, in the Staff Only section, but he allows Kyle in. So Kyle finds Louie’s room, enters, and wow. To call this place a mess would be disrespectful to messes. Anyway, Louie’s also in there, so it’s Interrogation Time. In this game, at the end of just about every chapter, we get to interrogate one person in the hotel. Here, it’s Louie. How does it work? First there’s some talk between Kyle and the character, in which Kyle thinks up a couple questions, given you respond correctly to what they have to say. You must then ask those questions, but tread lightly. The interrogated person might not take kindly to your questions if you act like a jerk. Going all “Bad Cop” on them won’t help.

While interrogating Louie, we learn that Louie and Danny wanted to become new people, but they needed a load of cash. So Danny took a job from Nile; steal a painting. And Danny got killed by some guy nicknamed J. Nile was doing insurance fraud and J was their ticket to the green. Danny was leaving the Nile warehouse where a certain angel painting was, but J killed Danny and took the money from the heist from him. Oh, and J was a cop. You don’t need a degree in deduction to see where this is going. Not that this kind of degree exists, anyway. If you didn’t figure it out, J is Brian Bradley.

Note to self: I’d like if this game stopped showing the flashback to the night Kyle shot Bradley. I feel like I’ve seen it ten times already, and we’re not one fifth through the game.

Thankfully, if an Interrogation goes well, you get extremely important details and a strengthened bond with the other person. If it goes wrong, you can get yourself hated and get a nonstandard Game Over. No way to continue the crime-solving if you piss someone off. Alas, I fear I’ll have to continue this review on Monday. This makes a lot of information to shuffle through. I’ll try to do at least three chapters in each part, if possible. I wouldn’t want this to stretch into a five or six-part review. Too long.

I believe this is my first review ever not to contain a single exclamation mark, too. Not sure if I should celebrate, I might get too excited, and write one exclamation mark by accident, thus canceling this feat. See you Monday.