Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters was originally released last year for the Vita and PS3, but don’t take that to mean this is a simple re-release of the original. This new version is not a new game, but instead is an expansion of the original, which adds new story sequences, a remixed combat system, and even some new characters. The game has also made it to the PS4 this time around, so those who missed it on the PS3 have the option of seeing it on current generation consoles. This affords new players the chance to check out the game, and also gives fans another version to consider. It’s time to see if Daybreak is worthwhile.
Ghost Hunters plays out exactly like your typical action anime. You play as a transfer student to a new school, and before long, you discover you can see ghosts, and also bump into a group known as Gate Keepers. They publish an occult magazine by day, and exorcise ghosts by night. From there on, each chapter focuses on a specific case. New characters are added, the nature of the ghosts becomes more apparent, and it starts to tie up with a massive boss fight at the end. Characters include the unimpressed class rep, the power glove-wearing scientist, the usually drunk driver, and more. While the game fits in time for laughs, the tone is usually pretty serious.
What’s going to determine your appreciation of the story is the characters, as while most of them are plain archetypes, the core cast is given room to grow throughout the game. There’s some legitimate growth here, and you might just find yourself getting into it. The only ingredient missing is a central antagonist to tie things together. The downside is that you might start to like a character, only to have him/her immediately fall out of importance in the plot, as many of them only get their own intro chapter before becoming just another option for combat. This makes the game’s multiple endings bittersweet. The idea is to get each character’s ending by building up friendship points throughout the game, which is an interesting idea in theory. In practice, though, since the majority of these characters aren’t involved in the main story too much, the effectiveness of such an ending structure is ultimately less than it could have been. Still, the core cast is more than worth your time.
Visually, Ghost Hunters is a tale of two very different aspects at work. The visual novel sections use fantastic art and more animation than we’re used to seeing from this genre. The battle system, on the other hand, looks like a really low rent tabletop game. For the former, the game uses pretty much the same model for every scene, but includes breathing general and facial animations to tell the story. The backgrounds are a bit fuzzy, and there’s not a whole lot going on, but overall everything looks great. For the latter, battles take place on a white grid filled out with gray squares and various symbols that represent your characters, ghosts, and traps. When an attack lands, the screen changes to a more interesting first person view, but it’s a stripped down version of the visual novel sections. The background is pretty much black, the ghosts only have one animation or two, and you don’t really see the attack taking place. While the stripped down look is interesting, it’s hardly impressive for a nearly full price game on the PS4.
Things don’t fare as well on the aural side of things. For voices, the game has a small handful of clips for each character, and most lines are usually unvoiced. Musically, there aren’t that many songs, and they get used quite often. Each chapter has an opening and ending sequence that features one of two theme songs. These are by far the best songs, but they are the least heard. The good news is you can change the BGM for each battle, so you won’t have to get stuck on one for too long. As for effects, it’s mostly tinny crashes and bangs. It’s not an impressive package by any means, and after a few hours, you might as well play with the sound turned off.
Each chapter plays out in roughly the same way. You start with a cold open, get the intro, investigate the scene, prep for battle, fight the ghost, wrap up, and get a end credits scene. Most of this will be in typical visual novel style, which is to say that you’ll press a button to move the text forward. Occasionally, you’ll be asked a multiple choice question or given a chance to use the “five senses” wheel. The goal with both of these is to pick the answer or emotional response the other character wants. Do that, and you’ll build friendship with them. However, whatever choice you make will move the story forward no matter what. The senses wheel first makes you pick from one of five emotions. You have confusion, friendliness, anger, love, and sadness. Then you pick one of the five senses. So, a friendly touch typically translates to a handshake, while a angry touch results in a punch. Sadly, how this wheel works isn’t explained at all in the game, and it doesn’t end up being consistent. You’re also risking your friendship points by experimenting, which could punish you down the line without you even knowing about it. Certain characters will only be recruited to your team if you pick the right answers, so playing things risky might cost you there as well. This makes for a frustrating experience.
For battle, you control up to four characters on a grid. Each of your characters is represented by a colored triangle and can move, attack, or use items until all of their action points are gone. Movement actions cost one point, attacks/abilities cost three or more points, and items cost one point. For non-movement actions, additional uses will cost an extra action point. So the first attack might cost three points, but the same attack used again on that turn will cost four the second time and five the third time. Also, the movement actions are somewhat limited. You can’t take a step back without spending five points. That’s because the game considers you to have turned, moved, and turned again. It’s not idea. After you’ve input each action for all of your characters, the round begins and everyone acts in turn. Movement actions tend to happen all at once, and then attacks and abilities happen based on a dexterity stat.
Before the fight even begins, you’ll be able to lay down traps. You have a variety to choose from, but are limited by how many you can lay down. There are traps that locate, lure, damage, and instill negative effects on the ghosts. You can even force them a certain direction or block them off of a spot on the map altogether. The trick is you won’t know exactly where the ghost will start, so your traps could be in the wrong spot. The traps also cost you money that is deducted from your earnings. It is possible to win a fight but lose money in the end.
The key to battle is to first locate the enemy and then hope you can predict its movements. There will be anywhere from one to four ghosts per mission, although you only need to destroy the main target ghost to win. Once you’ve spotted a ghost, you’ll be given a clue as to where it my go on that turn via a “ghost cry”. A ghost cry is represented by a blue aura surrounding potential movement places. Some ghosts might run away, while others will come right at you. When you select an attack, you’ll see that attack’s range represented by green and red squares on the grid. If the ghost is in that spot when the attack happens, your attack will land. It’s an interesting concept, but ultimately flawed. Finding the ghost could take several turns, and it’s often hard to cover its entire movement range efficiently. To make matters worse, you’re on a time limit. If too many rounds go by, you lose the mission. That means constantly taking risks like not healing or running into uncharted territory.
Between battles and story segments, you’ll be at the hub. Here you can take on side missions to earn cash and experience, train at the whiteboard, play a simple board game for a little experience, talk to your team, and fiddle around with shops and your equipment. Each character levels up automatically but you. When you level up, you can upgrade whatever skills you wish until you run out of points. These skills work for battles only. At the whiteboard, you can train more meta skills that let you earn more cash as a reward, place more traps, and so on.
The gameplay is close to being pretty good, but it’s held back by two things: difficulty spikes and low reward rates. To put it more simply, the game will jack up the difficulty between levels, and grinding for experience/cash/item drops is too slow. Towards the end of the game, you can expect enemies to jump up five to ten level between chapters, which means you’ll need to take on a ton of side missions to level up. You also can only get the best new gear as rewards and/or through crafting recipes that require item drops. Going through this process eats up several hours at a time. During that time, you’re getting zero story or character advancement. Even worse, characters only gain experience if they go out and battle. When you have up to twelve characters to choose from and only four slots, that further increases the grinding. You can’t even afford to leave someone at a low level because you might be forced to use them for an upcoming fight. This means you’ll end up spending half of your time with the game simply trying to keep up. The battle system isn’t well enough designed to handle that much repetition. It’s a novelty that will wear thin before long.
Short Attention Span Summary
This new version of Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters is full of so much unrealized potential. The story can lag due to lack of direction, the combat is frustrating due to time limits and guesswork, and the game ultimately requires you to spend countless hours grinding for the things you need to move forward. The gameplay is fairly unique and interesting. It just has been placed in a shell that can’t support it the way it needs to be. As such, this is a game that most can pass on. It requires a huge time commitment to appreciate. If you don’t mind that, you might find something of value here. It’s just difficult to recommend this to anyone but the most hardcore.