You’re supposed to stop when the light turns red, but in Ghostwire Tokyo, that’s where things get going. Visitors come out to play – or, more precisely, going out for “rip your body apart and send your soul to the underworld for eternal punishment.”
It’s not the ideal tourist destination, but you’re uniquely positioned to explore the murderous city and its mysterious wonders through a near-death experience and flashy supernatural powers. Ghostwire Tokyo doesn’t lack supernatural panache, and even if it comes at the expense of substance in some key areas, it’s still a joy to play.
Ghostwire Tokyo Review: Trapped Tourist
Ghostwire Tokyo begins as the city seems to be coming to an end. A mysterious fog blankets Tokyo following a series of disasters, and everyone it touches has their souls ripped from their bodies. Akito, the protagonist, is on the brink of death, a perfect shell for KK, a dead ex-cop ghost hunter, to occupy — or so he thinks. Akito is still very much alive, which leads to a struggle for control of his body and ultimately an uneasy peace where KK guides and Akito takes action.
The story is quite simple. Hannya, the masked villain, wants to perform a dark ritual of salvation using the harvested souls of the citizens of Tokyo. KK just wants to stop it because he is a ghost-hunting policeman (death), while Akito has a more personal reason: he wants to save his sister, a burnt victim who is also the vessel chosen by Hannya to perform his rite.
Despite the end of each chapter and the major turning point, the story takes a back seat to the town itself and the wonderfully quirky inhabitants you’ll find there. Their bodies may be gone, but what remains of Tokyo’s population still needs help, and your mastery of the elements just happens to fit the bill.
Ghostwire Tokyo probably has a bit too many side quests and extras — the small size of the map belies a staggering amount of things to do — but they are at the heart of the Tokyo vision of Tango. One of the first quests sees you clearing a bathhouse of invading visitors to prevent pent-up negative energy from flooding nearby streets and attracting even more visitors. Another is to find tanuki hidden around a festival area by searching for tanuki-shaped objects, identifiable only by the tails they have sprouted.
ghost yarnThe quests cover a surprising range of emotions and ideas, from greed and human failure to folklore, to the exploitation of the vulnerable and other social issues. It’s not as in-depth as something like Yakuza, for example. You’ll solve the immediate problem and usually get insightful feedback from KK, but even if he stops short of saying anything meaningful, he still solves problems in a way that most games never even try. — even if it is only a question of enlightening it and recognizing that it exists.
When you’re not finding and completing side quests, you’ll be exploring Tokyo itself, which is a bit of a mixed bag. During my premiereI mentioned the possibility that exploration and discovery will become a bit stale since ghost yarn mostly revolves around a few variations of the same basic tasks: find and recover lost spirits, free them, find more spirits, fight off visitors, repeat.
Ghostwire Tokyo is absolutely beautiful and full of personality although everyone is gone but even with a map full of icons and points of interest, there’s just not much to do.
Most buildings are closed to exploration, and the ones you can enter for quests usually don’t have anything very interesting. Going out of your way to explore the map is sometimes a reward in itself as you put Ghostwire unique traversal methods to good use, and that’s a good thing since the typical reward outside of that is more spirits or one of a variety of collectibles like a Jizo statue, a relic or an investigative note, among many others.
I would have much preferred a smaller town with more interesting finds and deeper quest lines, though. ghost yarn still manages to practically ooze character and charm. Each item has a long description delving into its cultural origins and meaning.
Visitors who are not quite out of Japanese folklore are instead born out of a collective negative energy stemming from certain social archetypes — the repressed student or the aimless businessman, for example. The yokai cats run the shops in town, while the living cats share their thoughts and maybe a riddle if you talk to them, perhaps pointing to a Tanuki just around the corner.
By far the best way to live Ghostwire Tokyo is spontaneously, ignoring the map icons and just pursuing something that looks interesting to you. Explore the streets if you wish, chase the interesting sounds you hear, feed the dogs, and happily watch them dig into the concrete to bring you money or report a hidden Oni. ghost yarn wants to surprise and delight, which makes its association with standard open-world design a bit disconcerting.
There’s also a similar sense of wanting the fight, which is engaging and lacking at the same time. Akito gains proficiency in a handful of elements, including wind, fire, and water, each with their own unique attack styles. Wind is a basic shooter-like style, where Akito fires blades of wind, while fire launches huge lances of explosive flames. Each element has its own ether meter and a charged variant that alters how it works, but even with Akito’s skill tree, it never scales too much.
The bow and arrow add an extra layer of strategy and allow you to take down enemies potentially without drawing attention. The rarity of arrows means you can never completely rely on this tactic and still need to plan carefully. ghost yarn also has a handful of talismans to augment your abilities, like distracting visitors so you can sneak past or stun them to create an opening. I didn’t find they made a huge difference, but I still appreciated the extra options.
Running away from enemies and shooting deadly elements over and over feels boring, but it’s the live-action that’s fun, thanks in large part to Tango’s excellent enemy placement and encounter design. Every encounter feels deadly, as if one wrong move could spell the end — usually because it is possible. “It’s only one visitor, Akito, how much harm could it cause?” you might wonder, but even a faceless and tortured businessman can end Akito and KK’s quest for revenge faster than you think. Take into account the restricted arenas and the different types of visitors ganging up on you, and fights get tense very quickly.
Ghostwire Tokyo Review – The Bottom Line
- A beautiful and unique world.
- Strategic and fun combat.
- Absolutely packed with character.
- Socially interesting side quests.
- Not much to do in the world.
- No substantial rewards for exploration, and not much to find either.
- The combat and story feel a bit basic at times, like part of something that should have been bigger.
Ghostwire Tokyo is basically what I thought it would be, for better and for worse. It’s charming but empty, ambitious but overly formulaic, and it has the most personality of any game I’ve played this year. I sincerely hope that Tango has more ghost yarn in stores, as DLC or as a sequel. Despite its problems, there is nothing else like it.[Note: Bethesda provided the copy of Ghostwire Tokyo used for this review]