Sunday, March 8, 2015

Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters (PS3/PS VITA)

Ghost hunting, and the theme of ghosts in general are two topics that are explored in a lighthearted fashion within the world of Toybox Inc.'s new interactive visual novel, "Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters". The tale itself begins rather abruptly with you put in the thick of it's plot as the main character 'Ryusuke Touma'. You are given little explanation of why it is that you are there other than the the information gained through your initial tasked duties of conversing with the Kurenai academy students, and staff who appear before you. This commonplace RPG socialization which is done through multiple choice actions, and reactions (via two five point wheel apps) gets you acquainted with the main characters of interest, and helps you eventually become a part of a secret ghost hunting society known as "The Gatekeepers Inc". It is this rag tag group of individuals led by Chizuru (a mature secretary type woman) who ultimately discovers your unique ability that enables you to see ghosts, and in doing so they recruit you for a job that is not unlike that of a Scooby-Doo, or Ghostbusters team member. There are plenty of otherworldly hijinks as you, Chizuru, Sadoi the driver, Sengen the support specialist, Kyosuge the rocker, Mifune the troubled school girl, and the rest of the gang do business as modern-day exorcists for hire. Between the tasks of organization, the actual job completion, and the breaks thereafter the episodic track by track set of encounters will draw you ever closer to finding the truth about the life hereafter, and those who work with you behind the scene as mediators, "The Gatekeepers Inc".

Past the opening intro, and the layout of credits you, Ryusuke Touma (or a character name of your choosing) are abruptly placed in front of Kurenai high school without a clue in the world as to how you got there, or what the hell it is that you should be doing. This actual entry point into gameplay follows a brief theoretical perspective on the spirit world, and it's existence, or lack thereof. At your disposal, in this new face forward environment that is littered with photo-realistic imagery are a couple of onscreen apps that each house a unique set of five symbolic actions, and reactions for answering character driven inquiries in a two fold mix, and match combination. As fate would have you begin your story by bumping into a female character who immediately quizzes you about who you are, and what you are up to. Through this chance encounter, and your applied multiple choice actions, and reactions afterwards you meet yet another female friend named Sakuri Mifune who ultimately opens up even more chance encounters which eventually gets you in league with a mysterious group of seemingly normal individuals who call their organization, "The Gatekeepers Inc". With the aid of your new acquaintances you find that ghosts are a very real threat in your world, and through your newly found friends you team up to fight for a cause that is oddly driven by monetary income.

When it comes to "Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters", and it's partial visual novel approach you will find that things are divided by episode/track, and are sub-divided even further by the tasks required of Ryusuke, and his team members. In each episode/track (which is titled accordingly) you will start off with a series of dialogue driven character encounters that setup the plot, and help you to understand why it is you are doing what you are doing. This usually includes a business deal with a frightened person, or persons who are being haunted by a malicious spirit. They seek out the help of Ryusuke, and Gatekeepers Inc in hopes of finding peace. Of course with the services comes a set price, and an expense management on your behalf.

Aside from the decisive apps used for character, and story based interactions (which take in account actions, and reactions via corresponding symbols) you will find that your job also has you setting up cost efficient exorcisms. Each exorcism in the game basically, which is funded by those seeking your company's help requires that you use the provided funds to buy traps, and set them in place via the floor layout plans of the locale which are made available in the 'Briefing' menu of the 'Gatekeeper's Inc' operations HQ (headquarters). Once you get the required dialogue interactions knocked out of the way you will be tasked with consulting this briefing file of the job, and will be required to take care of all that needs to be done therein before setting out to complete it. The hub, or housing for all of the in-game tasks (aka, the Editroial Department) will also allow you to build upon your stats through training, and partake in some virtual board gaming (Hypernatural). Other department tasks of beneficial reward includes talking with teammates, visiting a select few places outside of the HQ for additional supplies, and equipping your teammates with armor, weapons, and items via the "Locker". As far as stat building goes within the HQ you will find a 'whiteboard' with which you (Ryusuke) can assign yourself to training with other teammates using applied TP (Team Points). Using the whiteboard feature will build upon your RPG business stats through brief dialogue interactions, and will also earn you some coupon items (equipment, traps, ingredients ...) which can be utilized during and before exorcism outings.

Along with the 'Whiteboard', and 'Briefing' file you can also play a board game called "Hypernatural" that will earn you TP (Team points) for your participation. Team points which can be used in the 'whiteboard' training area of Gatekeepers HQ. Unlike dialogue interactions of the story, and the grid/turn based exorcism combat which I will explain later, the "Hypernatural" board game itself acts as an entirely separate gaming experience within the main game. Within "Hypernatural" you will find an 8x8 squared off gaming board that features a select variety of terrain based tiles with various movement costs, four hunter player cards with specific health points, and four ghost cards that also have a specific number of health points, accordingly. Your goal in the mini-game is to be the first to deplete the main ghost's health markers completely after locating them through their cries (aka, dialogue & voice-overs). This entails moving across the board via cards that you draw using the card's MOV (movement) points, and attacking using the card's ATK (Attack) points when you land on a square that you think a ghost is on.

Ghosts, like hunters can also attack, so it's best to use your cards to your advantage. When I say "to your advantage" I simply mean that your 32 card pile which you draw from each turn has cards that have multiple functions within the game that include movement, attack, and abilities. Some cards will help you to track the ghosts while others will refill lost health, and even change tiles so that ghosts can't get to you. Ultimately the person who kills off the marked main Ghost wins. Players who kill off lesser ghosts will only win +1 points used to increase their attack, and movement. Winners are kept track of on the Hypernatural hunter/ghost assignment board, and are marked with a numerical icon, respectively. Like the core exorcism combat portion of "Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters" this board game acts as a turn based strategy RPG. The fact that you'll initially choose a character card (Ace, Scientist, Nun, Brothers) with accompanying health markers for yourself, and one for three other AI hunters along with the one designated Ghost AI that are each played by Gatekeepers Inc employees further implies that it is such an RPG experience.

When it comes down to the core combat scenarios of the game, or the exorcisms (if you will) the gameplay is done in simple fashion via a top-down view of the before mentioned floor plans via the "Ouija Pad" device. Like the Hypernatural board game experience you will find that each floor plan is squared off into smaller squares, and that it houses furniture, doors, rooms, outlets, and windows like any building plan would. Upon each mapped out area is also a set of marked X's where sightings of the ghosts have been witnessed. These marks are placed so that you can better guess where you should apply traps, and detectors for containing, and spotting the ghosts movements. Much like the Hypernatural board game you will be facing multiple ghosts with a four person team. You'll find that each character on said team can move, and act much like that of any SRPG built character. As such you will be moving about the premises trying to guess the ghosts next move (Forecast), and trap them so that you can deliver an attack that will send them sailing back into the hereafter. Ghosts will also be trying to attack, evade, and corner your characters in the process as well. Luckily each character on your team has a set of unique upgradeable abilities that includes various types of attacks, and healing/restoration abilities that can be used to aid a teammate that is in trouble.

The catch to all of this is is that you have a set time limit with which to forecast, attack, and kill off the main spirit which is marked as a red flame when visible. This time limit is governed on a turn by turn basis meaning that after each turn (all teammate's movements/actions included) a minute will be deducted from the timer getting you closer to a "Game Over". In order to successfully navigate, forecast, and trap the wayward spirits in time you will have to utilize the traps, and detectors that you set prior to engaging in the battle. Forecasting can be done by observing the highlighted blue path projections that surround each ghost flame while delivering the "Coup de Grace" is geared mostly towards the team effort that is surrounding said ghost so that enough attacks can be dealt successfully. Keep in mind that it also helps to have your characters leveled up through training, and equipped with the best of armor, and weapons. At the end of the exorcism various stats will be tallied including the time it took, money spent, and any damage that was done to furniture during the exorcism. Your rating (E-S) of course will be graded accordingly, and your earnings alongside of it. However you choose to approach the situation will greatly affect the outcome of your income, so spending lightly on traps, and avoiding any costly damages could get you a high "S" ranking along with a special reward.

That is the game in a nutshell. With each track/episode you will be greeted by a cinematic intro, will play through character dialogue tied to a specific story arch, will work on character development via Gatekeepers HQ, and will prep for an exorcism before completing it in the same headquarters. It's a short-lived process with the only true time consuming elements being character, and task management as well as exorcism combat, and Hypernatural mini-game gameplay.

Graphics & Sound ...

The graphic style incorporated in "Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters" is a mixture of photo-realistic backdrops, and animated anime character designs that are more akin to something you'd see in a Vanillaware game. During the dialogue driven scenes the characters are usually shown one by one limiting the visual eye candy of the game significantly. With applied special effects, and art panel based storytelling elements the gameplay is kept interesting enough though. Even in the exorcism combat the developer adds a 3D third-person perspective with animated 2D enemy art representations to make things more interesting. I would have preferred for it have been full-on visual RPG combat, but the simplistic floor plan combat scenarios do get the point across once you figure out what the heck it is that you are supposed to be doing. As far as sound goes the voice-overs are Japanese only, and the dialogue is in English. Unlike most visual novel style games you will be glad to know that this game is also easy on the eyes with less text, and reading requirements.

The Verdict ...

From the beginning forward I clued into the fact that there was little to no explanations regarding the game's various gameplay features, and functions. When you first begin, for example, you will be given the use of two action, and reaction decision apps. Two hands-on apps that will in no way affect the character relationships between Ryusuke, and the Gatekeepers members. By this I mean no matter what choice you choose to go with the plot will move on as intended, only with different dialogue replies from supporting characters. In fact I'm baffled at why there were even multiple action/reaction choices made available when the story continues as if everything means the same thing. The added fact that there is no breakdown of the symbols included on each app  UI (user interface) makes things all the more puzzling, and somewhat pointless as well. Despite my generalization of their usage I still do not fully understand what each of the symbol choices on the dual app UI mean due to a lack of a proper in-game tutorial. This initial lack of information, which was bad enough, is then followed up with a lack of a thorough tutorial based description of what the heck it is you are supposed to be doing at Gatekeepers Inc editorial department. That, and an over-simplified explanation of the exorcism combat made for some truly frustrating gaming situations.

Aside from those complaints I eventually warmed up to the game a little once I gained the gist of it. Mind you I'm not totally in love with what the developer has done, but once you grasp enough of an understanding it's not entirely bad. I personally liked the characters, and their art design. The episodic stories, while short-lived were interesting as well. I just wish the core character development, and the intermediate tasks were made more of a focal point than they are. Looking back everything seemed a bit rushed to me. Nothing really motivated me to invest in character development via the Gatekeeprs HQ other than the fact that I knew I needed to improve upon my party to defeat the more powerful ghosts in the game. I'm so confused folks. I don't think this was a great game, but I also don't think it was too terribly bad. The introduction of gameplay elements were just not explained well enough in my opinion. This game is unfortunately going to be a "Rent" worthy title. I don't think it's worth it at the $40 mark, but at a little less later on it might be good enough for you to pick up.

*NOTE: The only real differences from the PS3 & PS Vita version of the game is the screen size*

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