ust apologize for yet another small lie on the title of this post…I didn’t *just* play this game; I did it about 4-5 months ago. Well, some may consider it viable to consider it wasn’t that long ago, but still.
Anyway, the reason I wanted to talk about a game I played almost half a year ago (besides having tried to write it at the time and then leaving it in the backburner until now) is because I enjoyed my time with it a great deal, and the reason for that enjoyment comes mainly in the form of the way this game conveys and presents its various elements and mechanics to the player. It’s something that games have done before, but that I wish more of them made a bigger effort to try and implement. But before that, a small introduction on how I came to know about it is in order.
I was searching for something on Amazon one day, as you do, when Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters caught me completely by surprise. It wasn’t released overseas at the time, but that distinctive name and logo prompted a google search, and then the art style and the visual novel elements sealed the deal for me. Despite being categorized a visual novel, it actually has quite a bit more to the gameplay than that could have you believe.
This game is divided into two major portions: the visual novel-style interactions and dialogues and the ghost-hunting missions. The story puts you in the shoes of your typical Japanese high-school student, who just so happens to have a slight inclination to being able to see and interact with ghosts. That leads to you to get in contact with an agency known as Gate Keepers, who act as an occult-themed magazine during the day and a ghostbusting agency during the twilight/night hours. For this reason your main hub in the game is the Gate Keeper’s office, run by the amazing Chizuku Fukurai.
Tokyo Twilight (which I now realize sounds like a light novel) is structured much like the season of an anime with every episode playing the intro and outro songs, and this game actually manages that into the flow of the narrative pretty well – which has some hiccups of its own but we’ll get there. Every episode has one main job, with several side-jobs being available over time as your agency becomes more well-known and stories about your services start spreading. These side-jobs are also a good way to bridge the time that passes between episodes – immersion is working, well done, let’s keep going.
And it’s in the office where you manage all of this. From there you can access a variety of sections. There are some more obvious ones, like the locker for changing equipment, the briefing desk for accepting jobs and the shop you can get to if you leave the office, and there’s also a photo album for re-watching cutscenes and the poster is where you save (each episode is presented as a different poster.
But then you have the PC, from where you’ll be accessing the company’s website and choosing your side-jobs. And here you can really see that investment in and the attention to some small details that made it that more immersive for me. So you connect it, the Gate Keepers homepage opens and you can choose to read summaries for some recent articles, the description of the company and even a message from Miss Fukurai herself. In case the Gate Keepers need to travel somewhere, their service Coopa Go tells you about the expenses you can expect on that front, in relation to the area they need to get to.Maybe they can take th magazine right to your door?
Hm? Wait a minute, what’s that (L+R ???) prompt?
Yup, for those in the know who are looking for an exorcism, Gate Keepers has you covered (which is actually why they’re letting you know about travel expenses)! This is where people post their requests and where you choose the side-missions from. Quite a number of people seem to be in need of help dealing with a ghost, but I always try to make my customers happy, whose appreciation comes in the form of all this positive feedback, like the ones I got from two crossdressers and a dirty deliveryman. While the text for the requests and feedback can get repetitive after a while, but they can be pretty funny and there are quite a number of jobs and with increasing difficulty, so I don’t have a problem giving them a pass for that.
Before accepting a job you can check out the places’ layout, so that you’re able to set traps and decide where to position your characters. Yes, a lot of people seem to be living in identical places, but when you take the time to tell me the age of the building, the cost of the rent and its specs, it’s all good. After you complete your job, you issue a receipt explaining detailing your performance, expenses and income so that you may receive compensation for all that hard work.
I honestly love this stuff – it does wonders for making me get immersed and invested in the world of the game. You even get to choose which song plays during battles through a selection of tapes you put in the company's van! But since I’ve begun talking about it, let’s get to the combat elements of this game, shall we.
The way it works is you visualize your characters and environments through an Ouija board (of course), where, as I said before, you can decide starting points and lay traps. But what you can’t see right away are the ghosts. The way this works is you’ll have to guess where they’ll move to next, in order for you to successfully hit them. Right, in the beginning this may seem absurd – even more so because you get almost no explanation about how it all works. Your gorgeous (future) Boss approaches you and says “Here you go, a metal pipe coated in salt. Now help me take them down!”
This baby knows what’s up. Suffice to say, I got a shit rank on my first mission. But after that, when you start getting more money, more items become available for purchase and more characters with different abilities join the team, this all gets really manageable and what initially seemed pretty much like a gamble becomes more of a calculated move. And I enjoyed it so much that I ended up doing a considerable amount of side-jobs and becoming a freaking millionaire; even if after reaching a certain level it became somewhat mundane, I did it for the enjoyment of it and not because I felt I needed to grind.
I believe now may be time to talk about the narrative. In the beginning of the game you’re presented as a transfer student (the usual) who after your first day get in contact with Miss Fukurai and join Gate Keepers. One of your classmates is already working part-time there, and your newest lady friend – who happened to pass the tsundere academy with flying colors – does so as well. During the course of this adventure you come across a diverse cast of characters, many of which share the same abilities as you and who you can then recruit to your cause. Each episode as you meet a potential candidate, who I call that because you may not get them to join you. For example, of the 10 people who may or may not become Gate Keepers, I missed 3.
I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, unlike your usual RPG where you have a set cast of teammates and then sometimes there’s one or two more who require special conditions to accompany you, here you can miss more than half of the cast. Like Devil Survivor 2 for example (where I also missed 2 people) this gives it a weight that I actually appreciate, and reminds me that I shouldn’t take stuff for granted. On the other hand, the story jobs tend to focus on a small number of characters, and many of the others don’t get as developed as I’d like after their initial appearance.
But you can develop your relationship with your boss and colleagues, through the usual dialogue choices and through the set of novelty mechanics Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters presents you with. Above is pictured what is called the Emotion Wheel (I’m not exactly sure if that’s what it so called so just roll with it) which, in conjunction with the 5 Senses Wheel (roll with it), gives the player a whole new way of interacting. The way you do it is you choose one sense and then one emotion to accompany it. For example, you could happily smell someone or sadly lick the floor, for a variety of effects. In concept, I find this to be a really interesting idea and in execution it works, but much like the aforementioned battles you’re really not explained about it at all: you’re talking with someone and them bam, “here you go, pick something”. I’m all for trying it out and discovering for myself, but some kind of explanation would be appreciated – especially in regard to the emotions wheel, where some of them are not that obvious as they may seem.
There is another way for you to deepen your relationships with your team, but for that we’ll need to get back to the office and choose the whiteboard for training and strategy planning. Doing this will let the other members develop specific skills and will let your character learn some skills from them. By spending this time with them you’ll deepen your relationship, which affects the way they address you and talk with you. This is never mentioned in the game, but here I actually welcome the subtlety and when I found out I was really glad for yet another aspect that really got me immersed – even more so because I made an effort to spending a lot of time with each one of them.
Unfortunately, while the subtitles are a plus and it affecting the ending you get, there’s not much of a more explicit reward for this deepening of bonds. I got an extra small cutscene for one character, but that was it.
Three more things before I wrap this up. The localization seems to be really well done, pretty nice work, but I must say that those supervisor evaluations leave a lot to be desired. Unless there’s some meaning to “You can touch the chair that a celebrity has sat on but don’t break” that I’m just not getting. Maybe their supervisor is Mr. Sadai, writes this after a night out drinking. And yeah, every character has the distinct pleasure of having descriptions like this.
As you can see from the pictures I’ve included here, this game looks really sharp and beautiful. The color palettes of the characters’ 2D portraits, their brief hints of animation (like breathing and small changes in expressions) and cutscenes have a sort of Vanillaware-esque vibe to it; without the liberties they usually take with proportions. The backgrounds seem to be pictures taken from actual locations with some kind of filter over them – which some may call shitty, while I prefer to call it “rustic”. But joking aside, they managed an interesting contrast with the characters’ art that actually works pretty well. And the fact that most of the game happens during the dusk, twilight hours, as the title points out, which happen to be my favorite part of the day!
Finally, like I said before there is a considerable amount of elements and occurrences that get introduced in the story but don’t get any kind of conclusion or satisfactory resolution. At least for me. Even if the main conflict, the one that you’re introduced to in the beginning, does get resolved, after I finished the game and saw the ending credits I thought “Is that it?”, and not only did I found out that yes, that was it, but I also managed to get the most complete ending possible. Sure, ok.
In conclusion, Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters is a game that may keep the player in the dark about some important stuff, but gets and A+ from me in terms of its presentation and the way it got me invested, which to me weighs far more than the rest. Now excuse me, there's a gorgeous lady waiting for me.
Have a nice [insert time of day you're in when reading this] and enjoy life. Yours, preferably.