When it comes to visual novels, I typically prefer the types that offer a more passive leisurely experience, requiring very little– if any, command inputs from me aside from periodically being prompted to make selections from a menu of choices that can alter the narrative enough to create a meaningful custom experience for myself based on my decisions, or at least make consequences from decisions matter enough to make multiple replays worthwhile. Portable devices, particularly PSVITA, is the preferred platform of choice for me for this genre since visual novels are lengthy and text-based. Although, in most cases nowadays the reading is accompanied by lushly animated cut-scenes, voice acting and soundtracks to help boost atmosphere, blurring the line between visual novel and audio plays– and actually getting as close as possible to being an actual anime TV show, without the interactivity of course.
Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters: Daybreak Special Gigs, isn’t just an ordinary visual novel, but an all-in-one game featuring visual novel, adventure game, and strategy role-playing game elements. Developed by Toybox Inc. and published by NIS America and Arc System Works. Tokyo Twilight revolves around a Ghostbusters-like team specializing in the occult that calls themselves the ‘Gate Keepers’ who accept requests to exorcise ghosts from haunted businesses and residences around Tokyo for money. As you seem to have an innate sensitivity to the paranormal–you can see dead people, the Gate Keepers quickly recruit you. The group specializes in ‘trapping’ ghosts. More specifically, the team plans exorcism strategies by thorough pre-planning work, analyzing blueprint layouts of each haunted locations, designing necessary equipment, and strategically placing traps to draw out and corner ghosts, limiting damages to personal property as much as possible. The actual battle scenarios involve classic RPG turn-based combat, with your party, made up of traditional roles: tank, ranged, healer, etc., and enemies and bosses encountered can inflict status effects.
Tokyo Twilights main story scenario follows a fairly linear structure. It doesn’t really allow you to interfere with the main story narrative in a meaningful way. The main scenario of the game is composed of several isolated short stories, or isolated mystery cases to solve. Each case begins with the opening musical title theme of the game, then introduces a ghost mystery that is typically resolved by performing an exorcism, then ends with ending credits, like the end of a TV episode, then on to the next case.
Within each case, or chapter, you can investigate scenarios further by interacting with the environment and NPC characters via the ‘Sensory Input System’. Tokyo Twilight doesn’t offer up dynamic branching dialog options to progress the story– it’s pretty static, but instead lets you interact with characters and environments by utilizing a simple icon based sensory system that allows you to input one of 5 emotions: love, friendship, anger, sadness, anxiety and combine it with one of 5 senses: taste, smell, hearing, sight, touch. Experimenting with different sense and emotion combinations will elicit different reactions from characters. Combining ‘Friendship+Hug’ might lead to either a handshake or hug, for example. This can strengthen relationships with allies. You can also utilize the sensory system to further study clues left behind by ghosts. You can touch or smell clues left behind, for example. The SI systems seem fairly limited, and quite obtuse as it is one of the frustrating parts of the game that isn’t thoroughly explained in tutorials.
As you progress through the story, you’ll meet new allies to recruit into your party for battle scenarios. These allies, as in most RPGs, vary in class roles, weapon specializations, combat range, and movement. Once you have access to your headquarters, a cramped and cluttered office that serves as your base of operations, you can equip different weapons, tools, curative items and armor, as well as access a shop to purchase healing items and ingredients to craft new ghost trapping tools, etc. Once an exorcism request is accepted, you’ll have access to a blueprint of the location where you can purchase and place many different types of traps in strategic locations to give you the edge in catching the ghosts as quickly as possible without causing property damage.
Battle takes place over a similar blueprint schematic, with a top-down view, and follows the game flow of a standard strategy role-playing game. Movement is tile-based, and your allies have a varying degree of movement and attack ranges, like chess pieces. Once a ghost appears, you have to guess which direction they will move next and set your attack range to cover the predicted area of enemy movement. If the enemy stops within your attack range, the battle screen switches to a first person view and you get to see the ghost in full view. You take turns selecting attacks using special abilities or items until the enemy HP reaches 0. You typically have a limited number of turns to catch and defeat each ghost, which adds to the challenge.
I feel a little indifferent about the merger of RPG and visual novel here. The advantage to adding an RPG system is to help you level up if you find the game too hard, however, after a few easy battles and smooth story progression, the game suddenly threw me into a very hard battle with a very tough high-level boss with a limited number of turns to defeat it. It also wasn’t possible to go back to the hub area of the game to level up by completing extra ghost hunts without reloading a previous save. Battles reward you with experience points to spend to boost party member stats, but needing to stop to grind before progressing the story was quite annoying. It also didn’t help that the tutorials were somewhat lacking in explaining the obtuse mechanics.
Tokyo Twilight is an unusual visual novel featuring adventure game and RPG gameplay elements that really complement its ghost hunting theme. Daybreak Special Gigs is a revised version that adds new content like scenarios, characters, and combat adjustments. The RPG elements and combat are solid and make up the core of its gameplay, so the lack of dynamic story elements more than makes up for it. Another praiseworthy element is the art style. Tokyo Twilight takes place in and around Tokyo, and the background images seem to be photographs of real locations that are artistically altered to fit art style of the world which adds to the surreal atmosphere. The character art is wonderfully animated and feels as if they’re rendered in 3D, even though they are 2D. The nuances of slight character movements, like tugging glasses, chest movement when breathing, hair movement and facial features all helps make the characters come to life. I especially liked the creativity behind creature and monster designs. The rock-heavy soundtrack also fits the youthfulness of the characters quite well.
This review is based on a review copy of the PS4 version of Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters: Daybreak Special Gigs by Toybox Inc./NIS America/Arc System Works
- RPG Elements
- Art and Sound Design
- Fixes to Previous Version
- Linear Story