When Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters originally came out last year, it was something that sort of pinged my radar, but I didn’t get around to picking it up at the time. That turned out fortuitous since a version with additional content came out. A blend of visual novel and SRPG sounded like exactly the sort of game that was made for me, so I couldn’t help but slowly enter it – I mean, play it.
The plot revolves around the group Gate Keepers, which masquerade as an occult publication but also act as a Japanese version of Ghostbusters. Each chapter is an an episodic format focusing on a case brought to the group, complete with opening and closing themes. It plays out like a slice-of-life anime, and the characters get plenty of interaction with each other. They also get more focus in Daybreak chapters, which are new to this version of the game and are interspersed between the regular chapters. There’s also real Japanese ghost stories and occult history sprinkled throughout the narrative. The protagonist is rather nondescript, as you choose a bunch of defining traits like his name (default name is Ryusuke Touma), hometown, favorite class, measurements (including eyesight), blood type, and clubs.
Instead of dialogue options, you respond and interact with things using two wheels: senses and emotions. The senses wheel has, well, the five senses, while the emotions wheel has love, friend, anger, sadness and curiosity. Love touches tend to translate into perverted (or at least overly friendly) actions. Friend touches tend to play out as handshakes, which seem like a safe bet when meeting new people (though Sayuri seems iffy about being touched at all except in certain conditions). Friend options in general seem to be a safe bet when you’re not sure what the person’ll respond to best. Any of the senses and curiosity results in you inspecting something with the selected sense (yes, including smelling or tasting it). It’s also possible to just do nothing at all by not inputting anything and letting time pass, though this doesn’t seem to have any real benefits. It seems a bit obtuse to use at first since there’s no explanation, the game just springs it on you. Fulfilling certain sixth sense requirements unlocks scenes from the ghost’s past. Some are not at all intuitive (yes taste the bright green slime, it’s totally healthy!), but some can be, though you might need a guide to unlock them all because some are rather particular.
During story portions, visual and aural presentation are rather polished. Each chapter has an opening and closing animation, like an anime episode. The art has a watercolor look to it, and character portraits are more animated than you’d see in most visual novels. In contrast, battles are presented more simply, with everything being presented on a grid with icons representing your characters, the ghosts, and objects. While it does its job, it’s a lot more drab to look at compared to the nice art in story scenes. You have to rely on the sidebars listing your characters and the enemies to tell who’s who, either with color coding or putting your cursor on it. The soundtrack has a rock feel (to go along with the rock heavy game logo), and the tracks generally fit the context of the scene they play in. You can pick the song that plays during battles in the car before you drive off to the site of the next battle. There’s no full voice acting, only partial voices with brief phrases or noises when a character starts to say a new line.
You know the complaint that modern games have too many tutorials? This one could actually use more, especially for the dialogue wheels and battle system. The battle system takes adjusting to, as you must predict movement of ghost by paying attention to movement range and color of the scream light next to the ghost’s HP. You enter all your actions at once, and after you confirm your commands, everyone moves at once. That means it’s a common scenario for ghosts to move out of attack range, depending on how you positioned your characters and aimed their attacks. You only have a limited amount of time to complete each battle (with each turn taking up a minute in-game), so landing hits is important to finishing battles before the ghosts get away. You can end up doing property damage that comes out of your profits if you miss the ghost. I’d recommend prioritizing INT for the extra AP (and more chances to move and attack). Do make sure to throw some points towards increasing your durability and damage output for whatever weapon type you choose (I prefer ranged weapons for the extra coverage in attack area).
Before most battles, you’re given a recommended configuration of traps and you can modify these to your liking (though note that traps cost money). This feature apparently wasn’t present in the original version of the game, and while I tend to leave the trap placements alone, not being able to make any changes to them seems unnecessarily inflexible (thankfully that’s not a problem here). However, there are times (particularly in the Daybreak chapters) where you have no time to prep or make any changes to the trap layout, so you just need to work with what you have. You can also equip USB charms that provide different buffs like more reward money or stat boosts.
Besides regular battles, you also build up skills and relationships with your other party members through whiteboard training. After these training sessions, you’ll get an item (if you’re lucky, you might even get a piece of equipment). You can also acquire skills from your teammates, which is nice in that you can give the protagonist a healing spell and skills that inflict status ailments. In addition, the board game Hypernatural also afford opportunities for experience and relationship building, though victory seems to hinge on chance. Essentially you have four players, three hunters and one ghost (the protagonist cannot be a ghost). The one acting as a ghost moves three ghosts around (which you cannot see), with one being the target ghost. Defeating the target ghost ends the game, and the ghosts spout comments vaguely hinting at their locations. A player can be taken out by either running out of cards or by having their HP depleted.
You can only save in your office or van. I’m probably spoiled from most visual novels allowing you to save anytime, but I really wish there was at least a quick save option. This is somewhat alleviated by the ability to put the Vita to sleep if I need to stop for the moment, but that’s not as much of an option for those playing on PS4. I encountered one strange little bug. In the second chapter, after getting to the office the first time, there was nothing on the briefing desk, so I couldn’t proceed to the story battle. I had to close the game and reopen it before it would show up. I never came across anything like that again, so that could’ve just been an odd fluke.
The learning and difficulty curve in this game can get steep. There’s a noticeable difficulty difference between regular chapters and Daybreak chapters. For example, at one point my highest leveled character was level 30 and the boss was level 45 (and that was with me stopping to grind every chapter). You’re also more likely to be tossed straight into battle without time to prepare. You can access requests by pressing L+R simultaneously on Gate Keeper’s site. These requests are a good way to grind and earn money. After I got the hang of the battle system, it did feel satisfying to take down ghosts (especially with level discrepancies like the above). However the amount of grinding needed to stay on par with the ghosts (and to keep all your party members up to par) drags down the pace after a while. In addition, if you miss too many attacks during battles and damage too much, it’s possible to end up in the red after a battle (I never had that problem, but I definitely did destroy things indadvertedly). Overall, while the game does try to do some different things, the mechanics can feel obtuse.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters Daybreak: Special Gigs tries to mix up the formula for an SRPG/visual novel, and in some respects it succeeds. The presentation is polished, and the plot and characters are interesting enough to keep you engaged. However, it does come with a steep learning and difficulty curve and throws you into the deep end with no in-game explanations. While the response wheel is workable once you figure out the emotion and sense combinations that net you the general sentiment you want to get across, battles can take more getting used to. They require you to be able to predict enemy movements to land enough attacks to defeat them before time is up. If you have the patience to deal with those issues, this could be worth checking out.