Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo seems to have snuck up on all of us. When my editor passed it over to me and asked if I’d be interested, I had trouble figuring out what it was supposed to be from the press materials, trailer, and even store pages that had sprung up. Square Enix is one of the few monolithic publishers that doesn’t shy away from mid-budget releases, but Paranormasight seems like such a small project that it’s surprising to see it outside of the indie sphere.
It’s a visual novel. The staff on Paranormasight aren’t huge; not in the AAA industry, and not in terms of Square Enix veterans, at least. Most notably, the writer, Takanari Ishiyama, worked on the Tantei Kibukawa Ryōsuke Jikentan series, which remains Japan-only.
Whatever led to Paranormasight being greenlit, we need it to happen more often. The world could use more visual novels as stylish and captivating as Paranormasight.
Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo (PC, Switch [Reviewed])
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: March 8, 2023
The story kicks off by sending you on a killing spree. As Shogo Okiie, you find yourself in possession of a “curse stone.” The Feast of Shadows has kicked off, and anyone with a curse stone that collects enough “soul dregs” by killing others will be granted the rite of resurrection. The entire prologue of the game has you piloting Shogo as he treks around the Sumida borough of Tokyo, killing people with his curse.
But that’s just one possible outcome used to teach you what Paranormasight is all about. After this prologue, you’re introduced to the storyboard, where you navigate the tales of multiple protagonists as they experience the Feast of Shadows. There’s grieving mother Harue Shigima, hard-working detective Tetsuo Tsutsumi, angsty teenager Yakko Sakazaki, and one other that I won’t ruin for you. Along with them, they’re often partnered with awesome supporting characters who sometimes steal the show.
You don’t so much control the actions of the protagonists but rather just influence their actions. You’re essentially a spirit that exists beyond the fourth wall, so as you learn information from another character’s path, you can impart it elsewhere to influence what’s happening. In a way, you’re investigating these timelines for information that can be used to uncover a way to mitigate the damage of the curses.
Despite the fact that Paranormasight is a visual novel with few bells and whistles, it manages to be stylish without them. Even full voiceover is eschewed, being text-only. However, it incorporates full panoramic backgrounds for you to scan around, and a camera system that makes used of it.
Rather than just having a pair of talking characters bordering the screen, the camera will pan across them, adding drama to every scene. The characters themselves may be largely static 2D images, but the added movement and angles make everything greatly more stimulating visually. It also makes use of chromatic aberration and distorted lenses to bring its 1980s setting to life. These are all rather small flourishes that have a big effect on how well it grabs your attention.
Another appealing aspect about Paranormasight’s approach is how rooted it is in Sumida City. Backed by the Sumida City Tourism Board, it does a great job of transporting you to this place. As the title implies, it delves into the Seven Mysteries of Honjo, a collection of legends both mundane and macabre. The Seven Mysteries have a big impact on Japanese storytelling in general, and having them reinterpreted here provides interesting insight into their culture.
The whole narrative takes parts of history and entangles them in such a way that it’s almost difficult to extract fact from fiction. At a few moments in the game, I picked up my phone to research some of the things in the game to see if I could gain greater insight. All of this is compiled in an index that you can view at any time, giving you access to a wealth of knowledge, both real and fictional.
The focus is largely on the story. There are investigative bits, and a few places where Paranormasight essentially quizzes you on what you’ve learned, but the majority of your time will be spent reading dialogue and watching the story unfold.
There were a lot of points when starting the game where I was feeling skeptical. First impressions weren’t the greatest, but they didn’t last long. When Paranormasight kicked into gear, I had trouble tearing myself away. It was constantly surprising, kept me thinking, and has some pretty great characters to boot.
If I have one nagging complaint, it’s that I’m not a fan of the mouse-pointer interface on the Switch version.
Paranormasight makes me feel like the visual novel genre has been held back by largely adhering to a formula first created 40 years ago. It makes its evolutionary steps seem effortless, simple, and long overdue. But more importantly, it tells an excellent story that defies expectations. So, as long as you’re up for some reading and a bit of thinking, Paranormasight is one you shouldn’t miss.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]