The mythology of Japan has long been fodder for game makers. Japanese demons, the Yokai, combined with the spiritual beliefs of Buddhism and Shintoism, have significantly influenced many of the games that have come out of Japan.
Ghostwire: Tokyo is no exception.
On paper, I was really excited to play this game. As a long-time fan of Japanese horror literature, and a fan of Akutagawa, I really wanted to play a Japanese urban horror game. Unfortunately, after playing the game for several hours, I have mixed feelings about Ghostwire: Tokyo, which especially relates to the gameplay, tone, and repetitive nature of the open-world setting.
Perhaps to its detriment, Ghostwire: Tokyo’s release not long after Horizon Forbidden West and Elden Ring, means that inevitable comparisons will occur. It’s not that they’re similar games apart from being open-world RPGs, but for Ghostwire: Tokyo, this means coming up against two of the best 2022 titles. And while it’s not a bad game, if you have $100 to spend right now and had to choose between these three games, you’re not going to pick Ghostwire: Tokyo.
What is Ghostwire: Tokyo about?
Ghostwire: Tokyo immediately launches the player into the story of Akito, who is involved in a car accident because of supernatural events in Tokyo. At the point of death, he’s possessed with the spirit of a paranormal investigator, known only as KK. This possession allows Akito to wield spiritual powers and attack the Visitors – otherworldly demons that now roam a Tokyo devoid of people.
These spirits are being raised by a vengeful man in a creepy mask, along with his gang of creepy mask wearing sidekicks. The big bad’s motivation in this game is as thin as the spirits that litter the city. Although he’s eventually given the backstory of a grieving father, this kind of character driven mad by grief has been done many times before.
All bad guys should have motivation for doing what they do, so the story doesn’t descend into pantomime, but this is fairly thin. Not to mention, raising the souls of most of Tokyo to bring a couple of people back to life is a bit much.
Added to this, our masked villain has kidnapped Akito’s sister Mari, although I’m yet to see why she was chosen to be a vessel, sacrifice, or what have you. It’s for this reason Akito is motivated to work with KK in exchange for rescuing Mari.
Ghostwire: Tokyo’s narrative is fairly straightforward, and lovers of short video games will enjoy that they can complete this in around 15-20 hours, depending on how many side quests you finish. The main questline is fairly linear: track down clues as to Mari’s location and follow them up, and as you do this, uncover the secrets of what the baddies are up to and save the city. While the game didn’t grab me at first, it grew on me through the progression of the story and the expansion of Akito’s skills.
I’ve been playing the game primarily through the main narrative but took some time to complete side-quests as well. These come in the form of tasks given by spirits who cannot find peace, and range from tracking local Yokai and dispersing them to finding toilet paper for a spirit trapped in a bathroom stall. I found these a little repetitive, and I would have preferred less side-quests in exchange for deeper storylines.
Added to this, some of the main and side-quests involve searching areas for objects or rooms, and by gum, it can get frustrating quickly. Although you have your spiritual senses handy, they don’t help a lot in tracking down the quest objective. You’ll wander up and down stairs, going on rooftops, all to figure out where you need to go, or to find an object tucked away in the corner.
Ghostwire: Tokyo is not a hard game. While I put this on Normal to begin with, in order to get through the game quickly for my review, I actually put it up to Hard. The game was far too easy – in fact, hard feels like what should be a normal setting.
While battles further in the game can be challenging, especially with multiple types of Visitors on the field at once, there’s never anything particularly unmanageable about combat.
One issue is that the demons back off after they attack. I compare this to a game like Days Gone, where the sheer hordes of zombies swarm you, and you need a real strategy to defeat the hordes. That was so enjoyable in a challenging way. Here, they don’t press hard enough. Attacks are easy enough to dodge or block, and a simple strategy of walking backwards as you pick off enemies one by one suffices.
Added to this, many of the enemies can be downed in one swift move if you sneak up on them by purging their cores from behind. This makes them easy to get, especially if they’re distracted by vacuuming up souls from Hellraiser-style boxes.
What is fun about the combat are the dazzling moves. If you’re easily distracted by shiny things (like me), you’ll enjoy dealing wind, fire, and water damage to your enemies, then tying their cores up in a nice shiny bow.
And even in hard mode, there are more than enough resources and snacks to keep your health bar up and your coffers full.
Outside of the combat, there are a variety of mini-actions you take to absorb souls. Removing afflictions from souls can be problematic because of controller issues. In theory, you’re meant to replicate the move on the screen with the PlayStation touchpad or joystick, but often these don’t register the moves, despite doing them multiple times. It should be looked at for future updates.
Tone and Environment Design
Ghostwire: Tokyo’s greatest strength is perhaps in the way it brings Tokyo to life (or death). I was reminded of my visits to the city wandering the streets filled with convenience stores, vending machines, bicycles, restaurants, and shopping centres, alongside traditional shrines and parks. Exploring rooftops rewards gamers and reminds me very much of walking up and down steps of apartment buildings looking for photographic vantage points.
Where this could have been improved was increasing the sinister nature of the city. While the abandoned city is haunting, the streets and interiors don’t feel dark enough. Players are left with short snippets of surreal and intriguing design, especially when wandering the corridors of buildings, but where the game should push further into the horror aspects, it pulls away.
The only living beings left in Tokyo (apart from Akito) are cats and dogs. It’s a small thing, but I can’t state how much I loved the cat merchants in the convenience stores and markets. You can also feed dogs, but you can’t feed cats. As a cat owner, and animal lover, I felt super sad I couldn’t feed the cats when they were complaining about being hungry. Surely, I could give them one of my bounteous snacks?
My only other beef with Ghostwire: Tokyo? What’s the point of having all these outfit changes when you’re playing in first person? 🤷 The stores are bloated with music, outfit, and photo mode add-ons that are unnecessary to the game. They might be enjoyable for some gamers, but I personally would have preferred a tighter, smaller game with more narrative depth, in exchange for these extraneous items.
While Ghostwire: Tokyo grew on me as the story progressed, the relatively simplistic enemies and combat, and the repetitive nature of side-quests meant I was left disappointed by a great concept. It’s a fine game, but in 2022, fine doesn’t cut it amongst the brilliant new releases available to gamers right now.