Crime and justice are both big themes that run throughout gaming, and entertainment in general. Put the TV on tonight and I bet at least fifty percent of your viewing will be spent dealing with these subjects. In games dealing out justice or trying to solve a crime – whether you’re Batman or Sherlock – is a very successful trope that we love to play. But I don’t think anyone has made a game in which we are preparing a case for court, sorting through all the evidence, interviews, and law books. At least not until now. You see, here you don’t catch the criminals and you don’t even interrogate them. Strangely though it’s very compelling and a bit addictive. Welcome to the Legal Dungeon.
You play as Jane Blue, newly promoted from the police academy and now found working from the bottom at a station in Salem. You are in charge of the CIS (Criminal Investigation System) which comes into force after a crime has been committed, as all the evidence is placed on computer to be analysed. These include statements from victims and accused, as well as the witnesses. Jane’s job is to cross all the I’s and dot the T’s to make sure that the small details – like addresses and names of the parties involved in the investigation – are all in place. From there, you have to find out what crime has been committed and align the law with the accusation involved. You can use the CIS database to find out options for this and click the right law which is appropriate for each crime.
When all these details are aligned and correctly entered, the next section goes into the Legal Dungeon side of things, playing out like an old-school RPG fight section. You are on one side of the screen, and the accused is on the other. You each have a small number of hit points each and the first to go to zero, loses. Standard stuff. To break down the hit points of the accused you have to provide the correct evidence from the investigation from a certain question. For example, at one point you will be asked to prove the accused’s ‘intent” to commit the crime. This requires you to look through all the reports and drag examples of what that might be from the statements. It’s tricky and you find yourself looking through the statements, again and again, working out the clues and trying to get the right answer. If you get it wrong you lose hit points, get it right and you have enough of a case to be brought forward to prosecution.
At the end of each of the cases, you then get the result of each investigation, how the trials went, the verdict, and the punishment. You then get points for your performance, promotions and coins for the decoration of the UI. Each case is different and very complex morally about what is right and wrong. Some cases seem – from the outside – to be a case of “they didn’t mean any harm”, but actually are breaking the law. And if you convict, we see the consequences of these prosecutions within the narrative of the story.
There is also a narrative told through text boxes before each case, with this involving Jane Blue working her way through a dreadful police department, dealing with corruption and ill-conduct. This is an interesting sidebar from the cases and is entertaining.
The actual gameplay mechanics are quite simple but involve a lot of selection and dragging of highlighted text, quotes, or laws across to the right boxes. This is, of course, going to be so much easier with a mouse than a controller setup, but that found in Legal Dungeon is something you get used to after a while.
Visually you are presented with three screens. The first is the narrative dialogue screen where you are given the progression through the cases and the narrative. Dialogue is presented through boxes for you to read. The next is the CIS UI screen which is like playing through Football Manager, ticking different boxes with your case notes, to-do boxes, and sub-menus, all nicely designed and easy to access. There is a little pixel character of Jane Blue walking around at the bottom of the screen for some reason, which is a bit annoying as she gets in the way of things you want to select. The third screen is the dungeon-styled RPG bit that happens in one of the boxes; a little animated section that looks like Final Fantasy from way back when.
Legal Dungeon is an unusual and unique game, one that you may not think you’ll enjoy. But it does manage to hook you in, as you get involved in each case. The idea of going through the finer details and trying to work through some very nuanced cases is certainly interesting to play. The control system might put some off and visually it’s very simple, but Legal Dungeon is worth giving a go, especially if you’re a crime fanatic.
Legal Dungeon is available to download from the Xbox Store