I’m pretty confident that Japan does this to troll English speaking audiences. They get the development team together and name, grab an English dictionary and pick out 5 to 8 random words and tell us that’s the English title for the game. Let’s break down that title shall we? So we’re in Tokyo, during twilight probably. We’ll be hunting ghosts. Then there’s…daybreak? Wasn’t it twilight a minute ago? And what’s a special gig? Are we a band that fights ghosts? You know what, forget all that. A band that fights ghosts sounds like a great idea for a game. Make it happen Japan!
I picked this one up on a whim. I knew it was a visual novel with ghost battles and a supposedly good soundtrack so I grabbed it on sale. And I tried to like it, I really did. For a while I’m pretty sure I was into it, but it didn’t last for oh so many reasons.
I don’t mind visual novels at all. Most have really quirky stories and a gameplay mechanic that is completely absurd (I’m looking at you Danganronpa) in the context of the story. Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters (I’m just going to avoid writing the full title anymore) fails in the first part and only occasionally hits in the second. You play as yourself, having transferred to a new school and quickly make friends with a bunch of people who can see ghosts because you can too! Convenient! Before long you find they write for an occult magazine who do a secret side business in exorcism under the name Gate Keepers. You prove yourself by fighting off a ghost in the school and are signed up as a full employee! Well done you.
The game is split into episodes in which you and your team will find out about a ghost, investigate it and then try to take it down in the actual gameplay section. Here’s the first problem though, I played through 10 out of the 13 chapters (I gave up, you’ll see why later) and there was seemingly no connection between each of them. This lack of connection during the story put me off as I felt no particular reason to return after completing a chapter. There was no drive to discover more. Sure, your colleagues were interesting and some of the ghosts had back stories to find, but I didn’t feel a sense of curiosity to push me forward.
This being a visual novel, the interaction is limited to the ghost battles and the occasional conversation inputs. The latter is sometimes simple, sometimes utterly confusing. Some of your interactions will have you select a statement which is fairly standard, but sometimes you need to respond using body language. This is achieved by selecting an emotion to convey and which of your five senses to use. Sometimes this was obvious such as aggressive touch being a punch, or a sad look conveying how you feel. But it’s possible to curiously sniff someone. Or aggressively taste them. These are weird enough combinations, but you can’t always be sure what combination will do what. I could chose curious look, expecting to look for clues in an area, but the game decides I want to look at the person in front of me in a quizzical way. The player feedback is really rather poor here.
The main gameplay is the ghost battle scenes, which play out using a turn based “we go” system. The map is set up in a grid, with arrows showing your characters and the ghosts, assuming you have located them. You set each character’s movements and attacks before setting everything into motion with both your movements and the ghost movements happening together. This means you’ll need to guess the ghost’s movements to ensure you land a hit. And I do mean guess, more often than not I found myself restarting battles due to the time limit running out as I chased ghosts around trying to land a hit. You can lay traps before the battle to force ghosts to move in certain ways, but as you don’t know the ghost’s starting location, this ends up being even more guess work. When I got it right it was satisfying, but for the most part it was just dumb luck.
The characters you take with you level up as you use them, but you quickly realise which characters are the most useful. Characters with wide attacks mean you have a much better chance of hitting a ghost, whilst some can self heal and detect ghosts out of visual range. Occasionally though, you are forced to take characters on missions, whether they are leveled up or not leading to some truly frustrating battles unless you spend huge amounts of time grinding your under-leveled characters up (assuming you’re even allowed to!). Then there are the wild difficulty spikes that were the final nail in the coffin for me. Going from manageable battle to one in which the ghost can take out all of my team when counterattacking was just too much for me to put up with.
On the plus side, the art work is great in the story sections (less so in the battles) and the soundtrack is full of fun J-rock music and has the occasional voice work. The characters are quirky and interesting to meet and interact with who have different motivations in each chapter. It’s just a shame the chapters didn’t seem to be building to anything before I finally gave up. Having said that, if your story isn’t grabbing me after 15 hours then I don’t think it ever will.
Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters was developed by Now Productions and published by NIS America (in Europe anyway). I played the game on Playstation 4 and wouldn’t recommend this at all. It’s irritating and dull for the most part, even when you consider the dreaded Staring Man Eating Ambulance ghost. What the hell Japan?!