Saturday, May 2, 2015

Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters (PS Vita) Review

Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters seeks to mix visual novel stories and characters with expansive dialogue options and even grid based strategy battles.  While the concept is neat, there is a lot of missed potential in the game.

The game starts off with some story and a lot of dialogue.  They set up some of the characters, the story and you even do a sample battle all before you can save.  It took about 45 minutes to get to that point.  It's not horrible, but a little strange for a handheld game to go so long without a decent pausing point.  Thankfully the Vita has a wonderful suspend function.  Anyway, at many points throughout the story, you are presented with dialogue choices, and here is the first of my gripes with the game.

While this is fairly standard in RPGs nowadays, TTGH has a unique input to choose many of the responses.  A selection wheel appears that has icons representing the five senses.  Choose one and then pick an emotional response, like anger or friendship.  On the surface, that's pretty neat.  You see a weird spot on the wall, you can touch it, think about it or smell it (ghosts apparently smell like sulfur).  Cool.  Now I should mention the game doesn't label these interactions, or even have a tutorial on them, so I had to do a few before I even started to understand what I was doing.  Yuck.

Oh, and you can't go back a selection.  So if you pick touch, but then decide you should look, too bad.  Plus, a lot of times the selection just doesn't fit.  If a character asks you a question, I would like to say "yes" or "no", not sniff their hair.  Best I could do was either contemplate it or offer a handshake.  The choices you make seem to affect how the characters react to you, so I was not doing any favors when trying to be nice to the main girl by trying to lick her.  In my defense, I thought the mouth option might be speak, since that makes more sense than trying to french kiss a stranger, but I guess not.  It also seems like taking too long to choose will just move past it and others think you are just spacing out.  You just can't win, can you?  It could have been a really awesome and unique dialogue system, but it seems like they intentionally messed it up.  Adding a tutorial before the first dialogue choice, labeling the choices, or letting the player back up would improve it enough to make it workable.

While you will converse many times with your various teammates, there is a lot of time devoted to battling ghosts and earning money for doing so.  The battles start off fine, and there is a decent tutorial that teaches you what to do.  However, it's not really clear on why to do these things, which makes actual battles not near as easy as the scripted tutorial one.  The basic idea of each fight is to defeat one or more ghosts inhabiting a set area, all from a top-down perspective of a grid.  Seems pretty straightforward, right?  Well, in a way it is.

Unfortunately, I feel there are four things working against you in the fights.  First is the obstacles in the area.  The arenas, for lack of a better term, are things like shops and apartments.  There are walls, rooms, tables, chairs, counters... you get the idea.  You cannot move through these things, but the ghost can.  Fair enough, that makes perfect sense.  This shouldn't change, and I can work around it because it is logical.

The second thing working against you is the random nature of the ghosts.  At the start of each turn, the "visible" ghosts will show a projected move pattern designated by blue highlighted squares emanating from their present location.  That's fine, but they don't seem to follow it very well.  Granted, it is "projected", but it can be really frustrating trying to line up attacks so you can actually fulfill the mission.  Trying to move into position can be a crap shoot.  If a ghost moves through you, it is a free attack for them, and you don't get to retaliate.  You will only attack where you have targeted, so if you path crosses a ghost, you won't stop to take care of business.  I don't really like this system, but again I could learn to deal with it, as I did get slightly better as the game went on.  I didn't fully "get it", but there was improvement.

Third is the AP system.  Moves and attacking all require a certain amount of AP.  Ok, I've dealt with that before, so it should be fine, right?  Not really.  Moving taking AP, fine.  Turning taking AP?  I'm less inclined to agree with that.  However, the turning adds up very quickly to make the system borderline ridiculous.  Each panel takes 1 AP, as does turning.  Want to sidestep?  A simple enough motion that should take 1 AP, 2 at most.  Well, the game treats it as turn, move 1 square, turn again.  That's three, and that is overpriced.  Just trying to navigate around a simple chair costs an absurd amount of AP, and you don't get much each turn.  It also doesn't seem to roll over, so you can't store it up and then chase down a ghost once you find it.  Again, this by itself isn't deal breaking, but definitely not fun or user friendly.  In fact, I could deal with this and the above two if not for the fourth obstacle in battles.

There's a time limit.  Each battle has a set number of minutes you have to complete the battle, and each turn is 1 minute.  Remember how easy it is to waste turns because of the AP system?  Remember how annoying it can be to try and guess where the ghost is going so you can actually attack it?  Yeah, those are as annoying as you might suspect when coupled with a time limit to get them done.  As it stands, I could live with just one of theses getting fixed.  If the ghosts weren't so random, it would be easier to dispatch them in the time frame.  If AP was not so restrictive for simple actions, I could chase after them quickly.  If there wasn't a time limit, I wouldn't mind as much spending turns to side step and attack while trying to hit a non-corporeal baddie.  Unfortunately, you (and I) have to contend with all of them, and it definitely sours the experience.  At least you can instantly retry any failed battles.

Admittedly, I don't hate the game.  Sure big chunks of it have enough problems that make it worse than it should be, but it's not all bad.  The story itself seems pretty interesting, and the whole package is very unique.  Each story section is portrayed as an episode of a TV show, complete with the intro and credits.  Strange that two recent games have had that same thing, but I do like it as an interesting take for a video game.  There is also a lot of randomized side jobs you can do for extra money, so it is very easy to grind.  The way you access these side quests is pretty cool too, as you have to use a button combo to find the "secret" webpage in the office.  Plus, the overall presentation is really nice.

Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters has a cool concept: travel around with your group of ghost hunters and fight ghosts.  The dialogue wheel is also a neat idea, although it would need some usability tweaks to make it work.  The random nature and time limit of the battles severely limit the fun to be hard there, which is sad.  I wanted to like the game more than I did.  A few tweaks to the dialogue choices and the battles would make it a good game, but as it stands, it's just a little disappointing.  At least the trophy list is pretty cool and filled with Ghostbusters references.

1 comment:

  1. Missed potential in games is a thing that always saddens me. It's galling to feel that a game could have been much better with different design choices and a few tweakings here and there. Still, I think I'll purchase this game, if only because the concept sounds like nothing I've played before.

    On a more light-hearted note, I nominated you for the Liebster Award. I hope you don't mind! :)