Playing as a Japanese high school student has somehow slunk its way into the video game genre, with great success. People are clamoring for Atlus games and weird offshoots from other developers like Aksys Games. I miss being in high school, so I am a bit partial to these games, plus I’d like to get to Japan one day and these games are a cheap way of somewhat experiencing that right now. Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters is another “play-as-a-Japanese-high-school-student-while-battling-some-form-of-evil” game. In this game you fight and destroy evil spirits, all while getting your high school diploma.
The game begins simply enough, you’re walking to school and bump into a few students. You learn that you are the newest transfer to this school and that there is something everyone keeps secret about the place. While slowly coming to the realization that not all is right, you meet Chizuru Fukurai, the editor-in-chief and CEO of Gate Keepers Inc. She seems out of place in a high school, but reveals to you that she’s there for some interviews about the strange occurrences that happen at Kurenai Academy. In homeroom you’re introduced to Masamune Shiga, a wheelchair bound student, who is very keen on finding out if you believe in ghosts. You are also introduced to the class president, Sayuri Mifune, who gets you into a whole mess of trouble while begrudgingly taking you on a tour of the school. She leads you to the fourth floor, where a suicide took place, and there you encounter “the girl in the sundress” who leads you to your first evil ghost encounter. She tells you that you must find and defeat “the man in the red coat.” This is where you find that everyone is more than meets the eye, Fukurai is a ghost battler with the help of Shiga. Together, after being given an Ouija Pad, you hunker down and battle this “man in the red coat.”
This is where the game fell apart for me. The battle system is a mix between battleship and soothsaying. Instead of having a face to face confrontation with the ghost you must first seek it out, guess where it may move, then hope that you have chosen wisely. If you miss the ghost, you lose a turn, if the ghost finds you, you take damage, and if you find the ghost, you damage it. When the battle begins you are thrown into your Ouija Pad and must use little arrows to control yourself and your teammate. For me it was very difficult to grasp and I barely beat my first ghost. I was hoping for a more straightforward battle system, where combat was based on attacks, not on luck. I really didn’t enjoy this system at all, I would rather have faced them down and chosen what tactics I wanted and what not. Another flaw in the controls is the way you speak to the supporting cast. When you are asked for a response you are given two circles to chose an answer from, the first one shows a fist, tears,a heart, etc. The second has a nose, ears, hands and such. When you are shown this option for the first time in the game you’re kind of taken aback, I didn’t know what to do and it took me a bit to figure it out. Even deeper into the game I still mess up and offend a fellow character because I smelled them instead of shook their hand.
I’m use to cel-shaded games of this variety, like Persona and Conception, this game however went a more realistic approach. The art style is definitely anime, but they paint it so that it looks much more realistic. The animations are great too. If you sadden or offend the person you are talking to, you’ll know it by subtle gestures in their face and body posture. Plus the background art seems to be taken from the real world, and a splash of digital paint added to it. It shocked me when I first saw it, but as I saw more and more of it, it grew on me. The super realistic backgrounds mixed with the painted anime characters really worked for me. I enjoyed my time wandering around the school, meeting the students and hanging out at the office.
The game, despite the flaws I found in the controls, was still very entertaining. I enjoyed my time that I spent in this visual novel, learning about the characters, uncovering the mysteries and going to high school again. I gritted my teeth each time I had to fight a ghost or communicate properly with my compatriots. For fans of games like Persona and Conception and Mind Zero, this is a definite must buy, you can kill some time while waiting for Persona 5 to grace our shores. For someone who isn’t as use to, or into these types of game, there isn’t enough polish in the controls to keep you entertained long enough to unveil the truth about the school.