While the visual novel’s stateside popularity is a relatively new phenomenon, the medium has been building momentum in the U.S. for quite some time. From games like Lost Odyssey– which used sections of text to reveal backstory, to amalgams like Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love and Riviera: The Promised Land, where role-playing elements were blended with passages of exposition, fans of Japanese games are likely to have experienced this kind of language-rooted storytelling. Today, entries in the BlazBlue series continue to provide a visual novel component that help to cultivate the fighting franchise’s roster of combatants.
One slightly overlooked hybrid of turn-based, role-playing and text-based storytelling was 2015’s Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters. Told with a serialized approach which even included closing credits after each episode, the game centered around a transfer student who was thrust into becoming a member of the Gatekeepers, a for-profit ghost busting organization disguised as a magazine publisher. Periodically, players engaged in turn-based battles where teams tracked down and subdued wandering yurei. At least one of the reasons why the title might not had made a bigger impact was that the game wasn’t vert welcoming. Largely, players had to figure out how to make their own way through the game’s social interactions and ghost busting.
Regrettably, the release of Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters Daybreak: Special Gigs on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and PS Vita doesn’t remedy that core problem. Instead, the update boasts an added scenario, more characters, and a fleshed out plotline. But if gamers are determined enough to dig into the game’s digital manual and actually role-play like a Japanese student turned ghost hunter, they should be able to make it through the campaign relatively unscathed.
Like the original iteration, Special Gigs breaks up the conversation with the intermittent bit of branching dialog. Here, the responses are robust enough to indicate a direction, and you should be able to guess whether your choice will please or piss-off your conversational partner. But more frequent and ambiguous is a two-part, icon-based interaction system. Using the directional pad, you’ll first selection from one of five emotional states, following by option to link the choice to one of five senses. Sure, despondent inhalations and angry tastes might be hard to wrap your head around, but at least the system is more complex than the three or four retort tradition of most VNs.
Soon, you’ll probably discover that Western sensibilities might be offensive to the team of Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters. Japan is a rather touch-avoidant culture, so it’s not surprising that selecting ‘affectionate physical contact’ results in an invasive fondle. Once you’ve exhausted the comic value of inappropriate interaction, you’ll learn that the game usually is looking for thoughtful observation, rather than inappropriate grope. And once you think about the implications in a high-context setting, it will all make sense, adding a satisfying cultural facet to these interactions.
Largely, the game’s ghost battles won’t be conquered as easily. Here, Ghost Hunter moves to the Ouija Pad, a rather abstract title-based representation of your spiritual showdown. With basic icons used to symbolize your team of up to four associates, ghosts, environmental elements and traps, reading the board won’t become intuitive until after a few confrontations. While it’s not ideal for the impatient, it seems developer Toybox really wanted to capture the uncertainty of being a student approached and drafted by a shadowy, paranormal squad.
Stick with your newfound vocation, and soon you’ll understand the rudiments- which allows each member to draw from their pool of AP points to move and attack specified areas. The tricky thing is that you have to predict the trajectory of each poltergeist, and you have a limited number of turns to subdue spirits before you fail the assignment. Another niggling detail is that Ghost Hunters drops few clues about how you should approach yurei fighting. Without sullying the role-play experience, let’s just say you’ll want to study how traps and lures can be utilized to manipulate any spectral paths.
The age-old role playing convention of having a statistical advantage and dishing out more damage that your receiving is only part of the solution. Sure, you’ll need to periodically accept free battles to neutralize the difference in attacking power against an escalating succession of enemies. But, largely the title shirks the tit-for-tat conflicts of most games, for conflicts that focus on controlling space and mitigating status effects from your otherworld foes. In execution, it’s a pretty big deviation from role-playing tenet and might not sit well with some players.
Aesthetically, Ghost Hunters Daybreak is competent. Backdrops seamlessly blend photographed locations with hand-drawn elements, and the occasional camera pan or tilt keeps the game from feeling like a sequence of still images. Character portraits are especially well done, with both humans and ghosts smoothly animated and expressing sentiment through facial expression or gestures. The title’s soundtrack draws from a cornucopia of styles, with relaxing melodies during friendly conversational and discordant guitar work signaling an upcoming ghost hunting segment. While a few words of voice work are used to flavor conversation, it would be been great to hear entire conversations.
With the addition of new content layered onto Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters unique integration and combat components, Special Gigs might be a tour worth booking. Just know that before embarking that think can be less than intuitive- and battles, which are required for progress, might not appeal to all players. But as visual novel hybrids go, Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters Daybreak is distinct. So if you value inventiveness, the title might be worth tracking down and taming.
Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters Daybreak: Special Gigs was played on the
PlayStation 4 and PS Vita with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PS Vita
Developer: Toybox, Inc.
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release date: September 20th, 2016
Price: $39.99 via PSN