Visual novels are great, and they have been steadily making their way to North America in more forms on more consoles than ever. Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters is not what I would consider a true visual novel, because there are some additional game elements that make it more of a hybrid with a strategy game. That is not a bad thing at all, and these blended genres open up the door to a wider audience and hopefully in time pave the way for even more games like this.
That is not to say Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters is without flaws. For a game that leans so heavily on its narrative, it falls short of some of the better examples of the genre out there. Things get off to a promising start as you assume the role of a new student at the school. On your tour, you encounter a spirit in a vacated recess of the school, and along with a handful of others, you vanquish it and set events into motion.
It turns out that this group of people operate under a guise as publishers, but in truth are a modern day Tokyo-based set of Ghostbusters. The premise actually works quite well to establish the game going forward, but the story itself is just good, not great. Some of the characters are more memorable than others, and I found myself caring more about them than some of the events taking place around us. The game is broken up into chapters that have a distinct Freak-of-the-Week feel to them. It is only during the stretch run that the overarching storyline really feels like it is coming together.
Because of the segmented nature of the story, I feel that certain things get glossed over and some story points are not delved into quite as fully as I would have liked. Thankfully there are other elements to the game that stand as unique choices and give players something more to do than just read. Probably the most innovative of these is the reaction system. While there are still some instances of text choices sprinkled throughout the game, they are far less numerous than many other narrative-heavy games. Instead here the system gives you a wheel that allows you to react in different ways – usually incorporating a sense into the emotion. You can act wary, but you can also approach puzzle elements with a sense. You can look at something, smell something or taste something to understand what it is.
The problem with this choice wheel is that like the strategic combat, neither system is very well explained in the game itself. A handful of basics are glossed over, and then the developers seem to wish you the best of luck. I am all for some trial and error, but that approach lends itself more towards action or platforming games. Here, where you are trying to experience a narrative and make intelligent choices, it would be nice to know exactly what you are getting into.
Despite the walls and walls of text, Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters is every bit as much strategy title as visual novel. The strategy aspects are actually pretty basic in appearance, and there is a lot of luck involved. You get an overhead view of the location on graph or grid paper. Team members and ghosts are marked with icons on the map and then you make decisions. In similar style to turn-based games like Frozen Synapse, characters then move into action. Sometimes you will trap and battle the ghost, other times it will skitter off into another direction to avoid combat. Because these sessions are handled with a timer ticking down in the background, the largely luck-based system can become somewhat trying, but victory is rewarding as you gather experience and items.
The experience can be used to help customize your lead character (your comrades all are automatically handled by the system as they level), and items are actually a big part of the game. I will admit that in most RPG games, I do not use ninety percent of my inventory. Here I felt compelled to dig into my bag of tricks much more frequently, and this left me buying more items at the headquarters hub between missions. Each episode is built around one of these major encounters, but there are plenty of side missions that can be done as well to help boost your team. Thankfully I like to grind, and while there were certainly moments of bad luck that grated my nerves briefly during combat – most of the time I found it rewarding.
In calling Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters a visual novel, I feel that the game is being sold somewhat short. The strategy elements are significant and you spend just as much time in this part of the game as you do reading the story. In fact, the strategy elements actually hold up better than the primary narrative, which surprised me and was actually the opposite of what I expected going in. That being said, a surprise is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, overall Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters proves to be a pleasant surprise that generally does more things right than not, making it a unique entry for strategy/rpg/visual novel fans.
Review by Nick