The western release of Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters is a breath of fresh air. Largely a graphic novel, it’s a game genre that doesn’t often get localised outside of its native Japan. Thanks to NIS America, Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters is available in the UK on both PS Vita and PS3. But is it worth hunting it down?
In Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters, you play a transfer student just starting at a new high school. You play as yourself – you can use the character’s default name or choose whatever name you’d like. There’s no character to represent you – the whole game is in first person. The story is broken up into individual chapters. Each chapter is almost a fully-formed story in its own right, with a very formulaic set up, made to feel like a TV drama. You’ll meet a new character, who has a ghost problem. You’ll talk to them and “investigate” the haunting, then you’ll fight the ghost and wrap up. Every chapter follows the same pattern, is roughly the same length and even has opening and closing credits for that authentic TV episode feel.
The gameplay itself is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Although the graphic novel game is a popular genre in Japan, it’s not something we see over here very often so it’s pretty unusual compared to the rest of the Western market. Around 75 per cent of the game is simply following the story and engaging in dialogue. You’ll talk to the characters, sometimes get text prompts of what to say, or have to choose how you react to a particular conversation. The options here are a little shady and you’re given absolutely no direction when beginning the game. Instead of the usual text prompts we’re used to seeing in conversations, you’re given an “emotional and sensory input” wheel. The wheel has five icons to begin with, each icon representing a different emotion (love, friendship, anger, sadness or anxiety). You choose the emotion you want your character to express, and then you’re given another five choices representing senses (taste, smell, hearing, sight and touch). Each combination wields different results – for instance, choosing friendship then touch might prompt your character to offer his hand for a handshake, whilst choosing love then taste might drive you to randomly lick the person you’re in conversation with.
The system really is as bizarre as it sounds, and, given no information on this at the start of the game, you’re basically expected to figure it out on your own. The results aren’t always logical, and rarely do you get a response that resembles what you actually want your character to say. Your actions do apparently influence the game somewhat, with regards to character development and what kind of actions the characters may carry out towards you, but doesn’t seem to affect the full story so much.
The other 25 per cent of the game is spent in combat – a word that’s used very loosely here. The battles are more like a strategy puzzle than anything else – but one that’s based purely on luck. You’re presented with a map of a room, with all objects and your characters’ locations mapped out. Before each battle starts, you can choose to lay various objects, such as traps, locators and barriers to aid your fight against the ghosts. On each turn, you plan out each characters’ attack, and upon execution all characters – and the enemies – will all move simultaneously. It means that you’re never sure where the enemy is going to be, so unless you can plan an attack to cover a vast area all at once, you’re basically attacking blind… and whether or not you manage to hit the enemy is down to sheer luck. Of course, since you and the enemies all move at the same time, there’s a chance you can both land in the same spot. When this happens, the enemy is favoured, and will automatically attack you. Rather annoying, as there’s no way to predict exactly where the enemy is going to move to, so you can’t always avoid this.
The graphics are fairly basic in Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters. As a graphic novel, the entire game is primarily a 2D animation. Characters are usually static on screen as dialogue plays out, with the odd few animations thrown in for good measure. That said, the character models are fairly nice. The art style is simple, but it works well. Every character has been thought out, has unique traits and is visually stimulating in some way. The enemies are even better; the designs here are wacky and interesting, and will at least evoke a smile or two. I mean, in how many other games do you get to fight a demonic stiletto shoe, or an enraged dead rockstar?
The locations and backdrops in the game vary somewhat. Some of the backgrounds are very high quality and nice to look at – some almost photographic, with lots of attention to detail Others are poorly pixelated and rather bland. As the majority of the game is static, some high quality consistency would have been nice, as well as some more engaging backdrops. Still, it doesn’t detract much from the story, which is the crux of the game.
The story itself is fairly engaging. The characters are well-written and likeable, so keep you wanting to devour the story rather than quickly skip through it. Thanks to the episodic layout, the game is fairly easy to pick up and put down. One episode can be completed in less than an hour (depending your luck with the battle, that is) so is well-paced to do just one episode at a time.
One thing that does shine in this game is the music. Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters features a pretty eclectic soundtrack, and if you’re a fan of more rock-y music, you’ll find something to like here. The songs are quite memorable; even the legendary Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu has had his hand in creating the music, being credited with the theme song. The only downfall is that sometimes the music doesn’t always seem to fit contextually with what’s happening in the story. A little more atmosphere and tension created with the music – which tends to remain largely upbeat and chirpy – wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Overall, Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters provides a refreshing experience for those looking for something a bit off the beaten path. If you enjoy a good story, with a bit of humour and strategy thrown in for good measure, then definitely give it a go. The well thought out characters, story and music all help to keep the game engaging, but the annoying battle system and strange choice of dialogue mechanics hold the title back from being as good as it could have been.