The Portopia Serial Murder Case | AI-driven remake showered with negative reviews

Screenshot of The Portopia Serial Murder Case remake

The Portopia Serial Murder Case is intended as a showcase for Square Enix’s natural language processing AI technology, but this ‘AI tech preview’ appears to have fallen woefully short.


Square Enix released a remake of The Portopia Serial Murder Case on Sunday to an overwhelmingly negative reception. At the time of writing, the game is rated as Very Negative on Steam, with just 9% of 188 user reviews rating the game as positive. The game is billed as a ‘SQUARE ENIX AI Tech Preview’ and is free, although as a showcase for the company’s AI tech, it seems to fall woefully short.

The Portopia Serial Murder Case was originally released in 1983, and was created by Yuji Horii, who would later go on to create the hugely successful Dragon Quest series in 1986. Portopia was a landmark release which is often regarded as one of the first ever visual novels, and it was lauded for the freedom it gave the player. The plot revolves around a murder mystery, and featured non-linear gameplay and branching dialogue at a point when these were rare commodities.

Square Enix’s remake of this groundbreaking game is designed to show off the company’s natural language processing (NLP) AI technology, which “allows computers to glean meaning from natural language” as the game’s Steam page states. The original 1983 version of the game required players to type in simple commands, in the vein of ‘look at table’, and so on, but as with many text adventures of the time, finding the exact combination of words that the game would accept could be frustrating. The idea was that the AI tech of this remake would allow players to type naturally, allowing the game to respond to a wider range of inputs.

However, as PC Gamer reports, the game only seems to be able to understand a very limited range of text, and wouldn’t respond to simple phrases like ‘talk to bartender’ or ‘ask bartender about murder’. In the game’s Steam reviews, users complain about the software not being able to recognise phrases like ‘go to study’ or ‘enter house’, but apparently accepting ‘go inside’ as a valid input. It seems that far from solving the problem of having to find the exact words to advance, this remake replicates it.

Square Enix AI Tech Preview: The Portopia Serial Murder Case is free, and you can try it for yourself on Steam. Let us know how you get on.

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