“Where do we go when we die? Heaven? Hell? Or do we wander forever as ghosts? No one knows. No one’s ever reached that place… Nor do we know what happens to those who die. Maybe nothing is certain in this world. But… Ghosts do, in fact, exist. Especially <there>. Amidst uncertainty lies the truth. And therein lies the key to solving the mystery. “
Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters is a weird game – weird in a good kind of way, but weird nonetheless. I’ve started the review with the first scene of the game, just to show how the game doesn’t take itself lightly and wants to pick your curiosity. Being a Vita owner, there is nothing quite like that on the platform – and it’s worth noting that while I started the game hoping for a visual novel with gameplay, my final impression was something else altogether.
The story is divided into chapters, which in turn feel like separate episodes (much like anime or even your regular TV show). At the beginning of the chapter, the introduction will play and when you finish the chapter, the ending plays to signify that the story is solved. You’ll meet new people, face new ghosts and maybe even solve the mysteries by choosing the right combination and achieve your sixth sense.
The game though, starts with you (the protagonist) on your first day of school – meeting new people and getting to know your surroundings. In your first day, you meet the snarky class president, a calm and collected young guy in a wheelchair, and the CEO of a magazine that focus on the occult; all of whom will play an important role in your school life. At the end of your first day, you’re involved in a supernatural event by running into a real life ghost… and this is where the story truly begins.
One of your new classmates appears after the encounter and explains that ghosts are real, you’re one of the few people that can see them, and that he’s part of a group in charge of defeating the ghosts haunting the city – heavy stuff. Without giving away most of the story it’s up to you and the other members of this group to get rid of the ghosts that appear on the city, as they’re misbehaving by haunting and hurting people everywhere.
The gameplay for the title is therefore divided into two sections: dialogue bits and battle bits. For the dialogue bits, it’s your standard visual novel with a twist; you talk with other characters, advance the plot and make a few choices along the way. The twist here is the way you interact with people during the dialogue however, as due to the senses system they’ve implemented you can angrily smell them, listen quizzically or even lick them sadly. It’s weird and it’s fun, and that’s kind of the point.
The way it works is that whenever the choices are presented, you have to choose one of five emotions and one of the five senses. Emotions are divided into sad, angry, loving, friendly and investigate. The five senses are the standard ones: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. It’s also worth noting that you can also do nothing when the choices are prompted and you’ll end up ignoring the character, but where’s the fun in that?
By choosing one emotion and one sense, you make a combination – which will then have an effect (either positively or negatively) on your relationship with the character you’re interacting with. Friendly touch will result in handshakes and hugs; good and harmless choices that will work most of the time, however angry touch will revolve in punches and hitting people, which is not a good choice in most situations. You can also choose the creepy love and taste combination, that’ll scare the characters and make them call you a pervert. The choice is yours to do with as you please, and that’s what makes it interesting as a mechanic.
The battles on the other hand are a far more tricky subject, and I can see a lot of people dumping the game after the first couple of chapters because of the difficulty curve in learning how to battle. They’re rather complicated at first, which mostly boils down to a lack of a proper tutorial or indication of how most of the systems work. Even the ailments aren’t explained properly, and you’ll have to discover practically everything on your own.
If you do happen to endure long enough to “get” the battle however, you’ll see that the combat is rather easy and is simply a game of “predict where the enemy will land on the next turn and attack that position beforehand”. The game will show you the tiles where the enemy might move to and if you manage to attack the right tile just before it gets there, you’ll hit it and maybe even take it down.
Each character uses a different weapon and every weapon has a different range. Stronger characters will have a limited range of close-quarter attacks, while weaker characters will be able to target enemies from a long distance – but it’s still just a matter of attacking the right place at the right time and hoping the enemy will move to that place.
There is a limited amount of turns to each battle though, called “minutes” for the sake of being a bit more real. If the main character dies or you run out of turns though, it’s “mission failed” for you. From that point you either get to retry it right from where you began if it’s a story mission, or you’re kicked back to the club room if it’s a side mission (and penalized a few dollars).
During the visual novel sections and the attack segments, lustful and lively animations will occur. Those animations have their own name; Graphical Horizontal Object STreaming, or GHOST for short. The characters aren’t the static cut-ins that we usually see in these games, and even though they are in a loop (if you stay in that screen long enough), it’s a sight to see and gives the scenes much greater depth.
As for the soundtrack, while it’s great at first, like most of its kind it gets repetitive with time. You can change the background music for the combat while you’re preparing for the battle however, though I found that I was just fine with the main one and didn’t change it that often.
The game itself isn’t long for your average visual novel or even RPG, but that’s not a bad thing because in turn it doesn’t overstay its welcome. In the end, you’ll even get a small surprise if you’ve built up enough of a relationship with any of the characters – either platonic or otherwise – so make sure to nurture those social links (as you should be).
Looking back however, the game doesn’t shine as a visual novel or as a role-playing game; it could be something else altogether, but it doesn’t quite get there. If the battle system was more fine-tuned (with a more helpful tutorial at the beginning of the game), and if the story went deeper with the mystery and included a few more plot twists along the way, the end result would have been a more well-rounded game that may have appealed to more people.
As it is though, Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters turns out to be a game that satisfies neither the visual novel nor role play itch, and instead finds a niche as a unique Vita title unlike anything else for the system. It’s not great, but it’s worth experiencing.