A Japanese studio shows its history on its sleeves.
Ghostwire: What kind of game is Tokyo? The latest from Tango Gameworks, the studio known for its in-game evil and founded by Resident Evil Mikami Shinji, initially looked like a horror game with all its disturbing mythical creatures attacking you and moody atmosphere. You’d be forgiven if you thought this was a straight-up horror game.
While horror is certainly an important part of a game’s DNA, it doesn’t tell the full story. Ghostwire: Tokyo is also an action-adventure game with open-world tones and immersive simulation elements. It has a lot of moving parts, it’s been delayed multiple times since it was announced in 2019, and it’s understandable that we as players haven’t seen a lot of it until this week.
Android Central was able to participate in a 30-minute hands-on gameplay demo of Ghostwire: Tokyo, where we were able to check out the beta version. Game director Kenji Kimura says it’s in the final stages and just needs a little polish. While I wish we’d had time to actually play the game, especially with such a focus on combat, we’re at least seeing a lot. It’s unclear how much the final product will change, but given how many elements we’ve seen in this relatively short preview, it paints a fairly complete picture.
Ghost Line: Tokyo – Action and adventure in another world
Ghostwire: Tokyo Story is not one playable hero, but two. The subject you will inhabit is Akito, a young Japanese who finds himself also inhabited by the spirit of a ghost hunter named KK. Akito is now imbued with supernatural powers and appears to be one of the only surviving people within Tokyo after events caused the city to be overrun by spirits and yokai (Japanese demons). As you try to unravel the mystery of what’s going on, what happened to KK and their loved ones, and how to stop a masked mastermind named Prajna, you’ll encounter various spirits that you must fight. To win, you grab their core, which causes them to crumble and disintegrate.
Since we haven’t experienced the game in person, we can’t tell what it’s like to play, but it looks like a standard, first-person, action-adventure game from the demo. You either use your magic or bow-like weapons to defeat enemies.
There are many types of encounters. The lower ones seem to be “visitors” who look like ghostly salarymen or headless schoolboys under umbrellas. They block roads, obstruct the corruption you have to get rid of, and deny access to places like shrines. To defeat them, you can weaken them and grab their core, or sneak up behind them and take them out in one hit. Unfortunately, tourists also have a habit of trapping souls, so defeating them not only helps you get from one point to another, but also gives you another way to save Tokyo’s population.
You can absorb the soul in an item called a Katashiro, which in Japanese mythology is a ritual object or vessel. In Ghostwire: Tokyo, these pieces of paper are collectibles that players can find in shrines, or buy at shops that can be filled with souls. You dial a seemingly ordinary payphone at a certain point, and the soul inside is removed. In a one-off thread, you are told that now that they are free, the soul will return to the outside world intact. Judging by the preview, there are a total of 240,050 spirits to transfer.
While horror is certainly an important part of a game’s DNA, it doesn’t tell the full story.
You can also help the spirit in other ways. In some side quests, you can help unfinished work or bound spirits in various parts of the city. In one example, the game has you help an older lady who wants you to put a cookie in a bowl summons a zashiki-warashi, a house spirit or yokai that brings good luck. However, the ghost of her landlord is holding it hostage, so you’ll need to exorcise him as a reward before gaining the monster powers for yourself.
Throughout the 30-minute demo, we also saw many other conflicts that players had to face. In addition to the enemies on the street, there is another world, a space that is out of sync with physics and reality. In one segment, you must escape an apartment building as a mysterious barrier slowly crushes the space. You have to find and destroy the hanging barrier stones, which you can find in various apartments. It sounds simple given how crowded these Tokyo homes are, but obstacles can disrupt your sense of space, make hallways appear longer, add rooms that shouldn’t be there, and disrupt your sense of gravity and orientation. Parts like this provide a break from just walking the streets, but it also hammers home how twisted the world has become. In my opinion, nothing is more disturbing than impossible spaces because of how unnatural they are. These Ghostwire: Tokyo sections showcase the game’s enormous potential for creating tension and disrupting the brain.
In the confrontation with Prajna, you will also be teleported to another world. While we’ve only seen one cutscene in the preview, it shows just how powerful this enemy is, even if we’re not entirely sure why he’s willing to give the entire city to Soul.
Japanese myths in fashion packaging
Everything you do seems to be designed to progress and travel through the city, unlocking new areas and gaining new powers and skills. The cores you collect from your visitors are entered into the green progress/experience meter in the upper right corner of the screen. The souls you save can also help you gain experience. Also, you can collect coins from around the city to buy health supplements and tablets in the store.
It’s standard gaming fare, and thankfully the colorful and drab cityscapes are mesmerizing.
It’s standard gaming fare, and thankfully the colorful and drab cityscapes are mesmerizing. The buildings themselves are usually slate gray, and visitors feel like faded, unbalanced versions of the average person, but the monsters and spirits you encounter are designed to be colorful to make them pop.Swirling fog and halo around monsters and elves
Westerners will be introduced to an extensive catalog of yokai and other concepts from Japanese mythology. For the uninitiated, Yokai will play with our general understanding of what a “demon” is and the concept of good and evil – which will introduce a small but necessary shake-up to the horror genre in this part of the world. The fact that it comes from a Japanese studio means there will be a lot of small details that only players with eagle eyes or ears will notice. For example, the preview showed tracks from the game’s soundtrack, and everyone was amazed. One participant pointed out that it sounded like gagaku, a type of classic court music that dates back hundreds of years. Later, it was confirmed that the soundtrack used a lot of Yagaku-style music with more modern beats.
While the stakes are high and there are horror elements, the game still manages to find room for light. Akito walks into a convenience store and encounters Nekomata, a floating cat monster who calls you “humeown” and continues to sell you merchandise while dropping more cat puns. The relationship between Akito and KK is also multifaceted. While KK is the expert in the scene and Akito plays the player insertion role, their personalities clash. Akito is eager to save his sister, but KK has attachments he doesn’t want to mention (and will definitely explore in the full version). He appears rude and aloof, while Akito is willing to help the older lady mentally with the housework.
In many ways, Akito and KK are like Ghostwire: Tokyo itself: a mix of seemingly conflicting elements, but when executed well, they work together. With so little playtime in the preview and no hands-on time at all, it’s still up in the air whether it’ll all work.
However, what I saw intrigued me. I love horror, and while Ghostwire: Tokyo isn’t a full-fledged horror game, it uses a lot of local elements that Western audiences rarely see in the main release. Japanese mythology and its yokai and urban legends are in full force in the game, and while we can only see tourists in preview, along with several other monsters (and a cute cat), other footage shows how dangerous and horrible. It’s a first-person game, but with a focus on magic and hand movements rather than physical weapons, and a deep knowledge and understanding of Japanese culture, it wants to change things up in the action game space.
In the long run, it’s just a problem. Will Ghostwire: Tokyo be a complete, diverse game that fills the PS5’s catalog of some of the best games, or will there be an identity crisis?
Ghostwire: Tokyo will be released on PS5 and PC on March 25, 2022.
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