Tokyo’s population has vanished, and deadly supernatural forces prowl the streets. Use an arsenal of elemental abilities to unravel the truth behind the disappearance and save Tokyo.
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Reviewed on: PS5
Also available for: PC
Cast: Cory Yee, Stephen Oyoung, Anne Yatco, Feodor Chin, Jenny Yokobori, Judy Alice Lee, Max Mittelman
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Director: Kenji Kimura
Writers: Kenji Kimura (plot), Syoji Ishimine (scenario), Seiji Ebihara (scenario), Takahiro Kaji (in-game)
Executive Producer: Shinji Mikami
Lead Game Designer: Suguru Murakosh
The marketing for Ghostwire: Tokyo was confusing. After initially revealing the game as being “spooky” at E3 2019, Tango Gameworks’ follow up trailers were a mixed bag of action and supernatural elements. Maybe we were looking for the horror within as Tango is a team known for The Evil Within, a pure survival horror franchise. But Ghostwire: Tokyo isn’t a horror game at all. It’s a supernatural action-adventure game where you cast magic spells and do battles with creatures inspired by Japanese folklore.
We’ve seen a fair bit of Ghostwire: Tokyo’s combat on display in trailers, and it’s both the most refreshing and disappointing part of the game. Protagonist Akito can cast wind, fire and water spells from his hands to blast enemies until their health is low enough for him to perform a spectral action pulling out their “cores.” It’s all very exciting over the game’s first few hours as Akito gets access to the different spells one at a time. The wind attack is more or less your basic pistol equivalent, the water attack is a shotgun, and the fire attack is an RPG. As a first-person game, watching Akito move and weave these attacks and perform different animations makes you feel like you’re performing kung-fu, but for magic. Akito also has access to a bow for when he’s out of magic-ammo, but it feels clunky to use, and I barely touched the thing.
It took me around 12-13 hours to roll credits on Ghostwire: Tokyo and the difference between what I’m doing in combat at that time and the earlier hours of the game is nothing at all. Tango Gameworks created this combat system that initially feels very different from your typical open-world FPS but never builds on the basics it establishes in the first hours of the game, leaving Ghostwire: Tokyo’s combat to feel stale and repetitive. The game ends up feeling very limiting. Imagine you’re playing the latest Far Cry game but only with access to a pistol, shotgun and rocket launcher, without access to any other weapons or ways to build upon or upgrade those weapons in any meaningful ways — that’s how it feels playing Ghostwire: Tokyo.
Akito can defeat regular bad guys like the creepy Slender Man looking dudes in suits with umbrellas by hammering them with a few spells, and uh, the boss battles can be defeated by also hammering them with a few spells. Given the use of three elements in the spells, I was legitimately surprised to learn there weren’t even a couple of enemies that needed to be hit with a specific attack to break their shields or deal more damage.
Ghostwire: Tokyo draws from Japanese folklore for the design of its ghosts, yurei, and yokai. There’s the creepy dudes I mentioned just before, but then headless school kids dancing around, ghosts floating in the sky, weird animal-like creatures with sharp claws, and an asshole of a lady with giant scissors. From a different game, and even in screenshots, you’d think they were from a horror game, and they could be, but within Ghostwire: Tokyo, none of them are scary, even if they look creepy. You’ll always face them head-on, and the game never goes for a jumpscare.
Akito isn’t born with or a master of the dark arts; instead, he gets his powers after being on the brink of death following a car accident and being possessed by KK, a supernatural detective who recently passed and needs a new body to keep fighting. There are not many choices either, as bodies are disappearing fast as a fog sweeps throughout Tokyo and lifts souls from their bodies, leaving nothing but the clothes off people’s backs. It’s a lot to take in within the game’s opening minutes. Although the set-up of two souls stuck in one body working together to fight the supernatural army that has just taken-over Tokyo is prime for intriguing character work, the relationship with these two never really goes anywhere.
You learn very quickly that Akito has a sister in the hospital, and after racing there in the first chapter of the game, you meet the big-bad, the guy in the mask on the box-art, who has taken a fascination with Akito’s sister. The history between Akito and his sister is dolled out very slowly over flashbacks throughout the game, but he never really talks to KK about her. Similarly, KK’s moment of actual emotion comes in the few instances he mentions his family, who it’s obvious he feels he let down. You don’t get much out of these two brooding characters written as men who don’t like to talk about their feelings.
I didn’t care much for the story of Ghostwire: Tokyo, as none of the characters were particularly engaging. And even if his reasons were sinister, big-bad, a guy named Hannya still comes off as a comic-book villain. Even if their mission design was paint-by-numbers, I did find the side quests to make up for the main path. In these, you get to talk to souls trapped in Tokyo for various reasons and help them. These can range from serious themes like defeating the evil spirit of a child molester taking up home in an apartment to silly like tracking down toilet paper for a spirit stuck on the toilet. Whatever it is, even if missions feel very samey, the stories behind them and getting to interact with the people of Tokyo add a needed human element to the game you’ll miss if you blast from the main questline, which would probably only take 5-6 hours.
Tokyo is a sandbox ready to be explored with many collectables, but it’s not a place that feels alive or reactionary to the player like more recent open-world games. Still, exploring Tokyo is my favourite part of Ghostwire: Tokyo. For fans of the Yakuza series, this feels the next best recreation of real-life locations and places. The way the game uses Japanese culture, history and beliefs also feels more respectful coming from a Japanese developer than more recent games set in Asia, by Western developers. You can get a sense of the history of Japan from exploring and seeing the mixture of old Japanese buildings and homes paired with the massive skyscrapers for businesses and shopping centres.
Ghostwire: Tokyo is a massive collectathon if you want it to be, and although I think there are too many things here, there’s that part of my brain that can’t help but want to get everything. There are about 240,000 souls you need to gather using a Katsuhiro from either completing side missions or finding around Tokyo’s streets or roofs. Then there are relics, voice logs, Jizo shrines to pray at, and even a group of Tanuki hiding all over Tokyo. Thankfully the game gives you more than enough tools to find everything hidden across the map, but it’ll still take you just as long to collect them all as it would to beat the game.