Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters, a visual novel-RPG hybrid that revolves around defeating ghosts, was one of my most anticipated titles of 2015 by mixing several of my favourite things together and so I’m happy to have been able to review it.
The story revolves around the Gate Keepers organisation, a team who write an occult magazine and take on requests to exorcise ghosts as some of the few people who can actually see them. With each new chapter a fresh face is introduced and you’ll learn about them as you help with their ghostly issues which vary between somebody wanting to find the truth regarding a friends death, or a loved one is being harassed by a malevolent ghost; the chapters each have openings and endings, so it feels similar to a thirteen episode anime series and had me gripped. It’s a small team but they have a strong sense of camaraderie and each character brings something unique to the team, and those who are familiar with anime will be familiar with some of the tropes.
You shape your own character through his choices and name so there’s not much to say about him as character; sadly, the character model is the same regardless of what you do, which is strange considering how easy it would’ve been to include a female model to see in the Gate Keepers office. You’ll be spending most your time with Sayuri Mifune who fits the ‘tsundere’ category to a tee, meaning she’s incredibly harsh with her words but cares about you deep down and in her own way. Wheelchair-bound Masamune Shiga backs you up from the company van but is also the best at communicating on the team as he understands that clients usually won’t be familiar with the paranormal, Moichi Sengen is socially-inept but is a genius who creates the teams tools, and the attractive Chizuru Fukurai is the Gate Keepers owner who values money over all else. Despite their varying interests and personalities, they’re all likeable and mesh well together as a team with plenty of others joining you as the story progresses.
Characters and story are the most important aspects of a visual novel and they check out, being both interesting and exciting, but Ghost Hunters is different in the way that it has RPG gameplay mechanics including battles, stat-building and customisation. You have up to four people per battle who will have unique skills and weaponry, effecting their range and whether or not they’re strong characters or perhaps better suited to healing, but you can carry multiple items so you can heal yourself regardless of abilities. You control your characters by placing them at various spots on a square grid where you have to chase down the ghosts, and when you feel you’re close enough you can command them to attack. If you miss an enemy and an object is in the way though, you’ll destroy it and have to pay for the damages; it’s a job, so take pride and be professional about it!
The battles themselves are quite difficult. The ghosts will usually be running away from you and can flee from battle, leaving you to try again, and cornering them may feel luck-based rather than being a strategic endeavour. Whilst the ghosts constant running away grated on my nerves sometimes, I found that using the various items given to you proves that Ghost Hunters is truly a tactical game where your thinking ahead can lead to easier victories. You place items around the stage before you challenge the ghost and these items can vary from traps, salt to prevent the ghost from entering areas and more. If you take the time to properly plan your battles then you’ll find yourself having much more fun.
Another unique feature is the sense and emotion system which sees you selecting one of your five senses or five basic emotions to reply to people; you can be friendly and shake their hand, or upset and sadly look at someone. This can be a bit iffy too with whatever you’re going to do not being very clear, leading to some awkward moments, but it encourages multiple playthroughs; the game is roughly 12-15 hours long so replaying the game is quite appealing. You can play mini-games in the form of board games with other members, train with them to increase stats, and take on side-missions to get used to the battle system and once again boost your teams stats. There’s plenty to do which helps Ghost Hunters stand out amongst other visual novels, and I really enjoyed its fresh take.
Another important aspect of visual novels is in the name – the visuals. Ghost Hunters stands out in this regard with spectacular and dynamic 2D art which is mixed with what seems to be real life locations that have been edited to fit in with the games world. It’s gorgeous to watch and I made sure to talk with the other characters as much as possible as I love their character design. The enemy design is also top notch and due to the ghostly aspect of the game, where many ghosts will return in places and as things that meant a lot to them in life, you’ll come across ghosts that look like spectacular idols, lost toys, demonic mobile phones and intimidating creatures; there’s a lot to see that always kept me interested, and I was always excited to see what the next boss would be. NIS America also did well with the translation job which included minimal errors and it’s very clear and easy to read.
Ghost Hunters may not be composer Nobuo Uematsu’s finest work, who is best known for composing the soundtrack for many Final Fantasy games, but the music fits with the games occult theme really well. It’s a joy to listen too and I’m especially fond of the intro and ending songs that play with each chapter. There’s no English voice-acting and there’s very little voice-acting overall with most of the dialogue being read like a book – which makes sense with visual novels essentially being interactive books. What little there is present is great though with the voices matching the characters unique personalities and looks perfectly.
Despite my qualms about the battles and how frustrating they can be, I really enjoyed my time with Ghost Hunters and hope to maybe see a sequel one day which sees Gate Keepers take on more paranormal missions. There’s plenty to do and the game begs to be replayed and once you get used to the combat, you’ll find yourself enthralled with it. It’s a fantastic visual novel to own and hopefully NIS America bring more over in future as they also publish the brilliant Danganronpa series, and although I played it on PS3 I imagine it would feel equally at home on Vita.
As someone who finds the paranormal and ghosts to be interesting subjects, I was happy to see that Ghost Hunters respects and approaches the subject with respect and focuses on both the good and bad in ghosts, with the personal reasons as to why the ghosts appear after their deaths varying between sad, spiteful, bittersweet and other emotions as you find out why they’ve not found peace yet in the afterlife. Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters tells a story worth experiencing and although the combat is bound to irritate you now and again, I recommend that you stick at it and learn how it works to fully experience what Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters has to offer.