Ghostwire: Tokyo Review
There in Spirit
Although Tokyo has been the setting of a great many titles at this point, Tango Gameworks’ version of the metropolis grants it a paranormal spin. Fully immersing players in a city devoid of people as the spiritual and physical realms come together, Ghostwire: Tokyo provides a unique and fascinating take on the theme. Though a couple of the game’s elements run dry towards the end, exploring the city, learning more about Japanese spirits, and witnessing the burgeoning partnership between its main characters makes for a thoroughly engaging experience.
Ghostwire: Tokyo plays out through the eyes of Akito, a young man caught up in an incident where a mysterious fog descends upon Tokyo and causes its populace to disappear, replaced by the menacing humanoid-looking Visitors. Meanwhile, ghost hunter K.K. ends up sharing a body with Akito in his urgent necessity to find another one before he disappears. The two are forced to work together for their differing goals: Akito to find his hospitalised sister Mari and K.K. to stop the man wearing a hannya mask who is responsible for what’s going on.
While a few additional characters come into play throughout the middle portion of the game, Akito and K.K. are easily the most significant ones. The evolution of their relationship, from their clashing of goals to a supportive partnership, is nice to see unfold. However, the main antagonist ends up being a one-note character whose motivations and goals are left rather weak, and it’s not at all clear how his machinations are exactly meant to work.
Though the mainline story doesn’t hit great heights and ends rather abruptly without giving players much inkling as to what truly happened or what is going on with the Visitors, there are still plenty of interesting narrative elements to be found in its side stories. These see Akito and K.K. helping out the various spirits of people around the city that are unable to move on. Many involve particular Japanese supernatural beings or hostile spectres while providing plenty of interesting moment-to-moment stories as players get to learn about these beings’ quirks or behaviours, or how some ill-advised actions have caused misfortune. There is always a satisfactory feeling to completing these side missions as Akito and K.K. give the spirits their much needed closure.
Significantly aiding the experience of these missions, and the game as a whole, is Ghostwire: Tokyo’s audiovisual immersion. Its reproduction of the city looks fantastic and is a welcome, fresh take on it. The juxtaposition of the modern neon world with the shrines and torii gates connecting it to the spiritual realm is superbly realised, and the distorted human designs of the Visitors ensure that there is always an eerie sense of danger in the back of players’ minds. Amongst other abilities — such as the spirit vision that highlights anything of interest nearby even if hidden from optical view — K.K.’s spirit allows Akito to glide between rooftops, and the 3D exploration of scrambling up and traversing buildings high and low remains fun throughout. Human character models in cutscenes are a bit less impressive, but the designs, lighting, and environments are otherwise excellent.
The game also makes strong use the PlayStation 5’s 3D audio capabilities and the DualSense controller to both put players in Akito’s shoes and complement the gameplay. The music is generally understated, but comes in well when the time comes and adds some welcome emotional weight to certain events, allowing the sounds of the city that remain to make players feel part of it. Meanwhile, the unearthly sounds of the Visitors are appropriately spooky and unnerving. The Japanese voice acting is solid; there is an English voice over option available for those who want it, but it feels a little out of place in such a fully Japanese setting. The DualSense vibrations link up very well with both the audio and gameplay, giving a notable little bit of extra weight to the immersion.
Combat has Akito making use of K.K.’s elemental ether powers to take down the hostile Visitors. These come in three forms: a somewhat quickfire wind projectile, a close-range water slash, and a heavier fireball. Each of these has limited usage based on Akito’s current ether levels, but more ether can be readily found from out-of-place or floating items scattered all around the city. The game encourages players to use stealth when they can. If he can sneak behind a Visitor, Akito can seal their core immediately, and he also gains early use of a bow that lets him strike down enemies from afar before they know he’s there.
The combat is strong throughout without being spectacular in itself. It’s at least visually stylish, thanks to the hand movements Akito makes to unleash his attacks, when he manages to expose the Visitors cores and seal them away. It settles into a standard tactic of Akito maintaining sufficient distance from his enemies to pick them off. When enemies do strike, he is able to block, and well-timed blocks are rewarded with a brief stagger for the enemy. The game contains a good balance of difficulty settings that cater for the vast majority of players, including a special challenge mode, while there’s just about enough variety in the enemies. New forms are introduced at a decent rate to hold for the game’s twenty-odd-hour run time, assuming players do all of the side missions available.
Ghostwire: Tokyo brings with it an RPG-style character growth system that adds a bit of depth, though it doesn’t do anything approaching dedicated character builds. Experience gained from combat and completing missions will cause Akito to level up, granting him a small health boost and skill points, with additional skill points also being obtained from finding certain items in the city. These unlock a variety of boosts and abilities, such as extended gliding time and more powerful attacks. Health-replenishing items can be found or bought from shops and stalls staffed by nekomata, and there’s also a light accessory system, plus the ability to customise Akito’s clothing in cutscenes or the game’s photo mode. The UI is clear and responsive, although it’s easy to press the wrong button in the menu and accidentally switch a different tab layer than intended.
On top of the side missions, there is much for completionists to do across its open world, but the game does a good job of giving players the option to hunt things down without it feeling like an obligation. The biggest collection task comes from the over 200,000 spirits of regular people that have been trapped by the fog. Akito is able to rescue them — usually in batches of around 100 — by putting them into paper katashiro dolls and taking them to modified payphones. These spirits are placed around the world in such a way that the search itself is rewarding, though the experience and monetary prizes are certainly welcome. Akito flits around the city, moving from place to place as he collects them and beats up on Visitors. There are plenty of other things to find as well, such as gathering up a scattered group of tanuki, searching out yokai, or collecting special items requested by certain nekomata, but it always feels up to the player how much time they want to devote to it.
Ghostwire: Tokyo is a fascinating and very worthwhile new title from Tango Gameworks. While there’s plenty of room for improvement in the main narrative and in establishing its antagonists, the content of the side missions ensures the game remains interesting throughout. Its ability to transport players into its supernatural Tokyo is not to be understated, and uncovering the different Japanese spirits while helping those unable to move on gives the game a thoroughly engaging loop that is hard to put down. In an already strong gaming year, Ghostwire: Tokyo is another title absolutely worth investing time into.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Great audiovisual immersion
Superb blending of modern and traditional spiritual Japanese elements
Few elements run a bit dry