Tokyo Dark is a choice-driven horror adventure game that follows a detective named Ayami Itō as she searches for her partner.
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Horror Adventure
Release Date: September 7th, 2017
Tokyo Dark is a choice-driven horror adventure game in which players take on the role of Detective Ayami Itō, whose partner has recently gone missing. After weeks without leads, she finally gets one. Upon following up on it, it becomes clear that the circumstances behind her partner’s disappearance were not at all what they seemed. As her life begins to fall apart, players get the chance to continue the investigation into the disappearance of Itō’s partner, making choices that will affect not only the outcome of the story, but Itō herself along the way.
- A dark, twisted story – experience a dark, twisted story that is not at all what it may seem.
- Choice-driven gameplay – almost every action is a choice that will affect the way that the citizens of Tokyo look at Itō and even Itō herself.
- Beautiful anime style – explore a well-realized world rendered in a beautifully animated anime style.
By Matt Chelen
If everything were falling apart around you, would you still be able to make the right decisions or would you simply make selfish ones out of the misguided notion that they would ease your suffering? Would you even stay sane? Tokyo Dark dares to ask these questions, throwing players into the life of someone who is suffering and asking them to continue on despite that, but it’s a little bit different than other stories like it.
Tokyo Dark places you in the role of Detective Ayami Itō, a police officer in the Violent Crimes division that is constantly looked down on because she’s a woman. At the beginning of the game, her partner is missing and she’s following up on the first lead that they’ve had since his disappearance. In the process of following up on said lead, she learns that his disappearance is tied to a case from six months earlier, the resolution of which caused her to fall into a state of some disrepute. After that night, she falls into even more disrepute and her life begins to fall apart. Nevertheless, she continues to investigate her partner’s disappearance.
I don’t want to spoil too much, as it is a dark, horrific story that will have the most effect on you if you’re unaware of what’s in store. It should suffice to say that it is not what it appears to be. The story twists and turns, masterfully providing you with the tiniest slivers of information that you can use to piece together the madness that is the truth behind everything that has happened to Itō. It’s a well-crafted story that should keep even the most intrepid investigators guessing for quite some time.
Gameplay is a combination of point-and-click adventure gameplay and the typical visual novel format. You are able to explore small areas in a side-scrolling format and interact with various objects and people. A radial menu of sorts will appear when you approach an object or person that you can interact with, displaying the various ways you can interact with the object or person in question or the various dialogue options that you have. Each area has a few buildings that you can enter, which are usually displayed in a static, first-person format. Dialogue is presented in a visual novel-esque form, with Itō displayed on the left and whoever she’s talking to displayed on the right. You travel between areas by using a world map, which often restricts you to visiting only the areas that you need to be in at that point in time.
Over the course of the game, you will solve several major puzzles and be offered several optional ones. Most of these are confined to a single area, but some will require you to jump back and forth between several areas. Due to the fact that all of them have multiple solutions, none of them are particularly difficult, but some may have complex solutions available that may take some time to piece together.
Gameplay may seem fairly standard, but what really sets the game apart is the fact that nearly every choice you make has an impact on your character. The game utilizes a stat system called SPIN or Sanity, Professionalism, Investigation, and Neurosis. Sanity is a measure of how stable Itō is, which is usually affected by the amount of violence that she is subjected to. Professionalism is a measure of whether you are making choices befitting of a proper detective or not; while I can’t confirm it myself, the game heavily implies that this affects some of the dialogue options that you will get throughout the game. Investigation is a measure of how well you investigate your surroundings; I’m not certain, as I managed to keep this stat fairly high throughout my entire playthrough, but this may affect whether or not certain clues are even available to you. Lastly, Neurosis is a measure of how often you repeatedly perform the same action or find yourself circling a specific area; if this stat gets too high, it will act as a multiplier for decreases in Sanity. Almost every action has an effect on these stats, be it positive or negative, and many of the game’s more significant actions will affect multiple stats at a time, often increasing one while decreasing another.
Amusingly, the game lets you get through the entire first scene before it tells you anything about the SPIN system. Because of that, I went through that scene solving puzzles however I could. If I came across a solution, I used it, cringing as I watched my Professionalism drop nearly every time. This lead to some amusing dialogue later in the game, but, despite that, I do wish that the game gave you even the slightest indication that you maybe shouldn’t do what you’re doing before it sent you off to solve puzzles with multiple solutions, some of which could have long-lasting negative effects. However, once you’ve completed that first scene, the game explains the system and I found that I was able to make much more informed choices. SPIN stats are persistent throughout the game, but I didn’t find recovery to be too difficult, other than my Professionalism, which remained slightly negative for just over half of my playthrough.
To my surprise, the SPIN system made the entire experience much more nerve-wracking than it otherwise would have been. Choices that affect gameplay aren’t new. Stat systems and stat checks in adventure games, and choose your own adventure games, in particular, aren’t new either. However, the exact manner in which the SPIN system was designed and the exact manner in which it affects gameplay complemented the game’s story incredibly well. It made me truly feel as if I was making decisions as the character would, torn between a sense of duty and the grief-driven need to keep searching. The struggle between doing things the easy way and doing them the right way—and, consequently, simply hoping that “the right way” would lead anywhere—was prevalent throughout the game, largely because the SPIN system made it so that I had to carefully calculate the effects my actions would have on later endeavors.
The game goes one step further in adding weight to your actions by auto-saving after each and every significant one. Distraught by the results of the choice that you made? You’ll have to live with it, as it is permanent. This is an absolutely great idea, as it removes any element of save scumming or replaying certain parts of the game until you get the results that you want. However, because you can’t use saves to return to major crossroads, the game does offer a New Game+ mode, which allows you to experience each of the game’s 11 endings without having to replay the entire game to unlock them.
Complementing the game’s dark story and nerve-wracking stat system is a well-realized world. The game’s blend of brighter, anime-styled characters and darker, grittier, and more detailed surroundings creates quite the visual effect. Various lighting effects further enhance the already beautiful scenery. Furthermore, characters are animated extremely well; even details such as breathing during dialogue are modeled.
Unfortunately, I did experience a few technical issues during my playthrough. There were a few times that choices would lock up and, although they displayed and I could click on them, clicking on them did nothing. In these cases, all I could do was exit to the main menu and come back, which, fortunately, solved the problem every time. A few times I also had issues with choice menus not displaying correctly, requiring me to move a certain distance away and come back before being able to use them. Oddly, there was even an issue where a certain loading screen towards the end of the game seemed to mute the game, but didn’t change the actual setting in the Settings menu. The only way to fix it was to lower the volume and then set it back to full volume afterwards—even restarting the game did not bring the sound back.
The English dialogue also suffers from a number of errors. There are quite a few instances of improper conjugations, poor grammar, and outright missing words throughout the game. I even happened to notice that a particular line of dialogue was displayed as a line that Itō had said, whereas it was clear that it was in fact the other person in the conversation that had said it.
Tokyo Dark is a storytelling masterpiece. It managed to not only get me to evaluate the decisions that I was making, but also who I was and why I was making those decisions. It managed to truly cause me to be torn between two selves that I was painfully aware that it was trying to create. Even as I made one of the game’s final major decisions, I knew that I was making the wrong choice, but I simply had to know what awaited me; I had to see it through. I’ve dreaded my decisions in many a game, but I can’t say that any game has had quite that effect on me before. It is one of the best of its kind and, as such, I have no choice but to recommend it.
Release Date: September 7th, 2017
Kickstarter Start Date: May 11th, 2015
Kickstarter End Date: June 10th, 2015
Game Engine: Construct 2
Length of playthrough: 5 and a half hours