Written by Natalie Houghton
Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters is a new IP released in Europe by NIS America which follows the story of a third year student who has just transferred in to Kurenai Academy. Things move very quickly as you are introduced to a number of classmates straight away, one of these is Masamune Shiga - a wheelchair bound ace student who as it turns out, provides you with support and intelligence during battle. You also meet Sayuri Mifune, the rather reserved and slightly stand-offish class president who immediately gives you a tour of the building where low and behold, you encounter your first ghost. At almost exactly the same time, Shiga and a mysterious woman turn up and you end up tagging along to exorcise the ghost.
This woman turns out to be Chizuru Fukurai - the CEO of an occult publishing company known as Gate Keepers. To the legitimate world, they publish an occult magazine every now and then, however their real job is to take on exorcisms and exorcise ghosts for a fee. You and Sayuri join Gate Keepers as you both have the ability to see ghosts - this concludes the first chapter of the game.
In total there are 13 different chapters lasting approximately 30mins to 1hr each, each chapter is a standalone story in its own right, although they do all tie together at the end of the game. Each chapter has a slightly different theme - from murdering vengeful spirits to ghosts who simply want to hear a song performed before they rest in peace.
There is an incredibly wide cast of characters which ensures that the dialogue never gets stale with approximately one new character being introduced per chapter, there are Otaku, Yakuza, Magicians, Shrine Maidens, Bishounen, Gay twins and even taciturn Chess obsessives. Unfortunately, given the length of each chapter and the amount of development that each character gets, this can become slightly overwhelming and it makes it a bit difficult to remember who exactly is who.
From the get-go, it is quite clear that this is a very Japanese game (good luck fitting in your name... obviously this was made for Kanji/Kana!), your character stats include all of the usual things and a few extras, you have to choose your specific prefecture and there was even a visual stat which I had never seen before which as it turns out, is a very specific eye test that only seems to be performed in Japan.
As each chapter plays out in the standard Visual Novel fare you sometimes receive the option to interact with the scene via the use of your 5 senses. This isn't explained at all, although depending on what combinations you use, you can get some quite strange results and reactions from other characters... at one point, I was licking a wall in an attempt to investigate a ghost found at a rehearsal studio but most of the time, the path forward is fairly obvious. At times, you will have a chance to activate your 6th sense by choosing the correct options on the sense wheel.
The artwork presented throughout each chapter is very nice indeed, it is both presented in the standard anime style and yet also quite realistic at the same time. Character's move fairly fluidly, hair flows naturally in the breeze, eyes appear fairly natural and the overall actions and stances of characters is quite realistic.
After the bulk of the story has played out, you'll get the opportunity to return to Gate Keepers HQ which is beautifully rendered especially when all of the characters are present, every detail is intricately drawn and sublimely coloured. From the HQ you can save your game, load up on items from the local convenience store, create items and weapons, equip your characters, level up the skills of your comrades, talk to them in order to try and improve your relationships. You can also challenge a number of never ending randomly generated exorcisms which you'll definitely need to do from the mid-point of the game onwards.
Each story related exorcism must be completed in order to advance to the next chapter which are completed by subjugating the main plot-related ghost. The battle system is only explained in a basic fashion, in fact there is only a limited explanation of everything in the whole game which can be quite frustrating at times as you're simply left figuring it out for yourself. The exorcisms take place in areas that are divided up into grids, before the battles themselves you can prep the area and strategically place a wide variety of traps that will have some sort of an effect on the ghosts if they come into range of the trap.
Once all of the traps (or not) have been set, you'll enter battle. You and the ghosts take turns to move around the grid. Initially you cannot see any of the ghosts, however your support character will provide hints as to where the ghosts are located. Attacking indiscriminately is ill advised as you'll incur a fee which will be deducted from your exorcism fee if you destroy any items which are in the way. Once you've detected or bumped into a ghost, it's up to you to take it down. You aren't able to tell where the ghost will move to, it will only show a predictive radius of where it may move so you've got to plan attacks strategically and attempt to make your attacks encompass the greatest radius possible so that you have the best chance of hitting the target ghost. It is akin to chess in the sense that you never know what your opponent may do - if you manage to successfully hit a ghost or vice versa, the camera will switch to a 3D view where you'll see the actual attack taking place. The designs of the ghosts are quite inventive themselves, have you ever seen a ghost crocodile or mobile phone?
The only option for dialogue is the Japanese soundtrack which is limited to a few fairly standard phrases and odd words placed here and there in the story section and a few reactions during the battle which can get repetitive quite quickly. Soundtrack wise, most of the tunes are performed by a rock band called The Key Project and there are enough songs to keep it interesting - I also quite liked a couple of the battle themes, I really felt like I wanted to kick some butt!
Overall, gorgeous artwork backed up by a solid plot and decent soundtrack along with an engaging tactical battle system that is only really let down by there being absolutely no semblance of a tutorial anywhere in the game. Once you've got the hang of it, everything will be fine but for a while, I'm sure you'll be spinning around in a daze of confusion especially as the battle system itself is unlike anything else out there.