Can a tomboy detective crack cases that fool the cops? Does she have enough spunk to fight after facing the worst abuse? Most importantly, does her story make for a good game? Let’s take a look at the Detective Girl of the Steam City.
The steampunk City of London is filled with criminals, whose numbers and ingenuity overwhelm the abilities of common police officers. To their aid come, private detectives, trained individuals with a passion for filling the gaps and a talent for seeing through lies. During her father's absence, the young detective girl Sophie takes over the family agency and begins to earn her reputation, as the Detective Girl of the Steam City.
The game was published by Kagura Games, and made by the increasingly popular developer Clymenia. Their specialty being RPG Maker games that often follow a singular theme, in this case, the detective trope. In the Detective Girl of the Steam City, you will guide the up-and-coming detective Sophie through a series of increasingly challenging investigations, as you try to fight the corruption within the City of London.
The first two cases that introduce you to the game are The Puzzling Death of an Aristocrat and The Mystery of a Missing Prostitute. These will teach you to interrogate your suspects and investigate the crime scenes. They will also give you a primer on the game’s two opposing factions: the police, which mainly takes care of the wealthy, and the Black Dogs, a vigilante gang trying to maintain peace where the police don’t bother.
Following the introduction sequence, the game opens up considerably. You gain access to Sophie’s office, where you can rest and accept new cases, with more becoming available as you progress through the game. Each case presents a fairly believable short story and often features unique gameplay elements. Sophie will be tasked with anything from fixing broken friendships, to posing as a prisoner in order to investigate rumors of an abusive staff.
Some of these quests will play out as lengthy cutscenes, others will have you following a series of tasks or combat challenges. While engaging, the gameplay is never demanding. You can fail with singular cases, but there aren't any actual game overs, and the list of tasks in the corner of the screen tends to drag you by the hand.
Sooner or later, Sophie will face her criminal rival, the mysterious Phantom Thief — who announces her plans through letters, challenging Sophie and the police to stop her. This is when the game’s narrative forks; you can work with the police to catch the Phantom Thief, but this will force you to sell out the gang. On the other hand, if you continue working with the gangsters, they will have to take over for the police.
Both of the two routes feature unique cases and tackle different sides of the overall narrative. After completing either one of them, you can transfer back to the moment you made your choice while retaining progress made during the route. This makes the distinction non-invasive and lessens its impact on the game.
Following the police, you will partake in more typical detective cases. They will demand some basic logical thinking, and even feature a simplistic car chase at one point. I found this side of the story much more enjoyable, as, despite its short length, it hits all the narrative beats you’d expect a detective story to have, with typical tropes and turns.
The gangster route plays completely differently from the rest of the game. It tasks you with liberating nine districts of the slums, which a rival gang has taken from the Black Dogs. This quest is introduced as a stealth section, but it soon becomes clear that you need to level up in order to defeat the boss at the end of each slum. This requires a decent amount of grinding. The easiest way to do it is to maximize one of three skills that allow for instant victory in combat: espionage, eloquence, or charm. All three of these skills accomplish the same thing with a different flavor. Aside from them, Sophie can learn medicine, observation, and lock picking, all of which come in handy but are never necessary to complete a case.
Combat in Detective Girl of the Steam City is extremely basic. Sophie can unlock a small assortment of skills, she rarely has any allies to work with, and repeatedly fights the same enemies. In fact, despite there being nine slums to liberate, the game features only two bosses, who you will have to face regularly, with only extra goons by their side to spice things up.
Detective Girl of the Steam City tries to distinguish itself with its theme, by granting Sophie three steampunk gadgets: night vision goggles, the steam knuckle, and a hookshot. These tools can be upgraded with materials found around the slums, and are disappointingly underutilized. The goggles are solely for convenience, and the hookshot is predominantly used to get extra loot at the cost of SP. Alternatively, the knuckle comes in handy much more often, as it’s Sophie’s only offensive ability, but there’s no depth behind its usage or improvement.
Another feature common in erotic RPG Maker games, and Clymenia’s works in particular, is a progressive degradation of the heroine’s morals and sexual inhibitions. In the Detective Girl of the Steam City Sophie’s morality is portrayed by the reason value, which lowers every time she does something erotic. At certain points, the decreased reason allows Sophie to progress in the sexually compromising cases and introduces new variants to defeat events.
The development of Sophie’s sexuality in the consensual scenarios is sweet, slow, and natural. She grows accustomed to her own body and more comfortable with nudity, eventually developing an interest in men and an understanding of other people’s more unusual fetishes. Conversely, the non-consensual scenarios are just as grim as the consensual ones are cuddly. The concept of abuse is horrifying to Sophie until she becomes glad to get away with being raped rather than killed, gradually begins to enjoy it, and finally takes advantage of it.
As far as the presentation goes, the CGs in sexual encounters are mediocre. Their strong suit is the regular use of perspective, though, the lack of backgrounds and often unnatural angles of penetration regularly detracted from my enjoyment. Additionally, they all fail to capture any impression of movement, making them look disjointed from the narrative and accompanying sounds.
The sprite work fares much better in this regard. While the art style is typical of what you expect from an RPG Maker game, it's been put together well, creating a steampunk city that easily captures the industrial atmosphere. My only problem in this regard is the blatant lack of anything typically associated with London in the entire game, aside for the city’s name.
I must also praise the music. The ever-present jazzy sounds of pianos, violins, and drums gave the game a proper amount of vigor when it needed it. There are just enough songs present in the game to distinguish each area and emphasize critical moments of the story. I can't say the same of the sound effects, as they're typical stock effects you have likely heard in other RPG Maker games.
My overall judgment of Detective Girl of the Steam City is mostly positive. The game won’t make you feel like you’re being a detective, more as if you’ve dressed up as one. The varied stories and gameplay scenarios, coupled with Sophie’s unbridled determination to suffer through any abuse in order to bring criminals to justice, made me enjoy the five hours I had spent on my initial playthrough — and the additional two hours it took me to gather the remaining unlocks. There’s no reason to play the game more than once, and it never tried to become more than a good RPG Maker game, but if you enjoy this niche, it’s one of the better entries within it.
For those of you interested in taking the game for a spin, you can purchase Detective Girl of the Steam City on JAST USA and Steam for $14.99. For the Steam version, adult content has to be installed separately, in the form of a patch available on Kagura Games’ website.