DecaPolice might just be TGS 2023's Game of the Show

Perhaps more than any other company present at this year's Tokyo Game Show, I was most excited to see what Level-5 had on offer. It wouldn't be an exaggeration that the publisher has fallen on rough times in recent years, especially when it comes to their western releases; so with a slew of new games on the horizon I was eager to have a chance to see if any of them stuck with me. I was already excited for DecaPolice going off of the information revealed through its trailers, but the last thing I had truly expected heading into the experience was the realization that the game might just have been my game of the show.

DecaPolice is hard to categorize as any one genre; it's an RPG, certainly, but its mechanics are varied to the extent that I was worried that they might collapse in on themselves like a stack of cards. You have an unorthodox ATB battle system, a fairly in-depth investigation system wherein players are not only tasked with gathering evidence around crime scenes but also deducing the events that occurred with the Case Board, and all of the little nuances that players will have to pick up along the way.

Level-5 calls the experience a "Crime Suspense RPG", and that's as apt a description as any other; but it really can't be overstated just how much the game takes its theme and runs with it. Our demo session comprised of a relatively simple jewelry store heist; but even this small task comprised of first investigating the state of the crime scene just before the incident through the power of the Deca-Sim, apprehending a suspect after they burst onto the scene in a bear costume through the use of the combat, before further investigating the scene in the aftermath as main character Harvard Marks deduces that the situation might not be quite as simple as it looked.

Combat is perhaps the most unique aspect of DecaPolice's design; from the get-go, you're told that as a member of the police your job is not to decimate the enemy, but rather to restrain them. What this means will depend on each individual fight, but in this case the suspect was shrouded in a defensive shield which necessitated us first shattering it with skills of the same color. Skills themselves will cost charges of an ATB gauge, and each party member will only ever have one skill per color.

While controlling any individual party member you can freely roam te battle field, though if you're in the process of using a skill movement will pause the cast time. Enemy attacks can be dodged in real-time by switching to the party member targeted and simply dodging it; leading to a sort of hybrid ATB and action system that might be hard to get the nuances across, but certainly seems promising for later in the story.

Compounding matters was a later combat encounter with two rogue Police Robots and an accomplice and true mastermind to the jewelry theft; after going through an entire process of deducing who might've been helping the previous suspect and why, down to determining specific characters and pieces of evidence and how they each tie into core aspects of the case as a whole, we then went head-to-head with the cause of the incident in the first place as a reward for piecing together the case's secrets. 

The combat encounter against the mastermind came with a twist showcasing how some enemies can catch members of your team off-guard, putting them in a hostage situation where weapons won't be the answer, and instead, players will be tasked with using skills to get his guard down before lining up the perfect shot to un-restrain your party members and leave the enemy open to arrest by running up to the enemy and question once stunned and holding down the right button to restrain them.

Even with the few battles we had under our belt from the demo, it was very easy to see the potential that the combat system holds, especially considering that going by the pop-up, the mission we tried was only the second major case of the game, of who knows how many overall. It was also very easy for all of the disparate elements to feel disjointed, yet the balance between the games unique combat and surprisingly deep detective mechanics felt like they were married well in the end.

There's still any number of ways that DecaPolice could go wrong in the end, but the stylish and ambitious demo that Level-5 had on hand for the show left us with nothing but confidence that the final release could end up something truly special for RPG fans. As for when we'll have a chance to get our hands-on the game next, it would be anyone's guess. While Level-5's official website still lists the game for a 2023 release date, one of the representatives at the booth noted that there was a very real chance that the game could slip into 2024. Notably, the game's User Interface looks quite different from how it was showcased in the game's reavel. Regardless of when it ultimately launches, however, RPG fans might want to keep an eye on this one as the company readies its launch for PlayStation 4, 5 and Nintendo Switch.