Innovation is a coveted component in the entire entertainment industry, no less video games. Yet as we have seen, fun is not a guaranteed byproduct of innovation. In its commitment to doing something original, a game may very well sacrifice familiar components and proven foundations, but the risk here is that the new system may not hold up as well as the old in terms of functionality and fun.
Where it concerns the combat, Arc System Works’ risks with Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters: Daybreak Special Gigs haven’t paid off tremendously well it seems, but that doesn’t blemish the more familiar visual novel elements of the title, which are surprisingly polished.
A re-release of last year’s Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters, Special Gigs is a repackage including allegedly improved combat, additional content and more. Having not played the original I can’t comment directly on any changes, but this seems for all intents and purposes to be the best version of the title. In the game you control a high schooler with special powers like in so very many Japanese games.
In the beginning of the game you learn that your character has the eyes to see ghosts and other spectral entities invisible to regular people. This makes you prime estate for the Gate Keepers, a publisher of occult books and magazines by day and veritable Japanese Ghostbusters by night. From your base of operations you take on requests from the public to exorcise various ghosts and demons.
The game has an interesting episodic format for the main scenario, complete with an anime style opening and ending that you’ll view several times throughout the course of the game.
Narratively speaking, the game is pretty interesting. Your crew consists of various characters with a variety of character traits and personalities. Character dialogue is entertaining and the game frequently mentions people and events from real world history pertaining to occult matters (where appropriate), which adds more depth to the game. This game has elements from various genres but for the most part it is a visual novel. The characters do have some depth and the events are entertaining, but you can’t build stronger relationships with characters more directly like you do in some other titles. For example, you can’t go on dates or buy gifts for characters to get to know them better.
You do however get various options for responses thanks to the game’s unique five senses system, which unfortunately lacks a complete in-game explanation. Most of the time when the player needs to enter a response in the game, you don’t choose from words or phrases but you first choose an emotion, such as love or sadness, and then choose a sense, such as smelling or touching and that comprises your response. It at first seems like a really deep and unique premise but the lack of an explanation and the utter uselessness of so many of the choices (like sadly smelling something, for example) make the system seem needlessly complicated.
If the sound effects were any indication, a friendly look was a good enough response for most of the queries. You’ll infrequently be able to use the system to investigate rooms or scenes, but overall it just doesn’t seem that useful; however, since you can get quite a bit of dialogue tailored to your action, it presents a big undertaking for completionists that may want to read every line of text in a game.
The visuals in TTGH:DSG are what help it best stand out from the several visual novels on the market today. Rather than the static images used for character portraits in almost all VNs, this game uses dynamic images. The characters fidget and glance around as you talk with them and offer a variety of unique facial expressions that change depending on the context. The beautiful art style presents a diverse array of character designs. Although some of it is reused quite a bit, the game also has really cool dynamic event artwork.
The way the camera moves and the animations in the stills make the visual novel parts of the game seem polished and entertaining. There are also some animated scenes, although these were very scarce. The production in the visuals, many of the scenarios, and the episodic format of the game all come together to make the title’s strongest moments feel just like a good episode from a dark anime. The game also features disappointingly miniscule voice acting.
There could be more ways to learn more about the main cast and develop better relationships with them, but generally speaking the scenario was quite enjoyable. If TTGH:DSG was a pure visual novel, I would have far fewer complaints about the game and thus liked it more overall. But this game tries to be something of a hybrid by including a combat system complete with RPG-style character building. That is precisely where the problems come in — many problems, in fact.
If it manages to do nothing else, the combat in this game at least succeeds in being unique from literally every game I’ve ever played. Turn-based battles are carried out on a grid. The objective of defeating the enemy ghosts is deceptively simple. You must first locate the ghost in each battlefield before you can attempt to take it out. The stages come in varying sizes, some larger than others. To find the ghosts, you have a few tools at your disposal. Before you begin each battle you can look at a map of the arena and even place traps of varying effectiveness.
Some of these traps impede enemy movement or reveal areas, but not all work as advertised. For example, the table salt claims to stop enemies from passing over it, but it never seems to stop anything. I inflicted paralysis on a ghost, which should have rendered it useless for at least one turn, just to have it attack me the same turn.
Enemies easily move through or upon spaces occupied by your own characters, and the game handles these collisions by letting the enemy take a potshot at you. Enemies can also counterattack from increasingly ridiculous ranges and beat on your characters with impunity most of the time, while you can only deal damage if you initiate the attacks. They’ll also inflict crippling status effects with practically every attack, while your success rate with inflicting ailments is far lower.
Depending on the size of the field you may spend the first several turns simply trying to locate your foe — turns you really can’t afford to spend thanks to the game limiting each battle with a turn count. If you take too many turns to defeat the main ghost, the game ends and you can retry. These elements alone hurt the game considerably. Since you can only guess where the ghosts are before each battle, the player starts at a tremendous disadvantage. As I burn through turns checking empty rooms and peeping around corners for the enemy, I come ever closer to losing the battle.
If the game played just like this but introduced a standard attack system at the very least, it would be almost passable, but I haven’t even gotten to the worst part. Once you actually locate your enemy, you need to guess where it will move in order to attack it. In this game you choose all of your actions first and then they’re all executed at the end of the turn simultaneously with the opposing team’s actions. This means that by the time you’ve moved your character to where the ghost is, the ghost is moving to another area.
Once you’ve spotted the ghost you can see a movement range encompassing all the spaces the ghost “could” move to. Most of the time this range is too large for you to cover each space within it. With this information, and (if you’re lucky) a pattern you noticed, you are expected to guess which space the ghost will land on and have preemptively sent a character to attack that space. This plays out as poorly as it sounds. You’ll be restarting battles countless times and praying for correct guesses in efforts to simply hit the enemy and move on with game.
To make matters frustratingly worse, the enemies can have their way with you, attacking from the shadows, interacting with stage elements to move them several turns away instantly and jumping up several experience levels between events. When one campaign enemy is fifteen levels stronger than the last one, the only way forward is grinding. Grinding. The game has one of the worst combat systems I’ve seen and now I have to grind.
These battles are necessary to move forward with the scenario. Grinding is at least easy in theory since you can accept various free battles between main scenarios. Focusing on attack power will make your main character strong enough to two or three shot most enemies in the game, but you can’t influence the stat growth of your party members. The creation system hinges on grinding which (God bless the soul that chooses to partake) renders it useless and the variety of equip slots is wasted when you can’t regularly find better equipment to upgrade to.
Training with members of the main cast will let you transfer skills to the main character and increase unique stats; the planning stat for example lets you set more traps before each fight.
The multiple endings and unique action dialogue seem to offer replay appeal, but thanks to the horrendous combat, even the gorgeous art and entertaining scenario couldn’t get me to play Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters: Daybreak Special Gigs again. The visual novel and RPG elements do not blend seamlessly here but rather clash discordantly and the poor flow of the combat at times speaks louder than all the high points of the rest of the game. This is perhaps the first game I’ve ever played that I genuinely think would be better without the combat.
There is fun to be had here, a good deal perhaps, especially for fans of visual novels. The beautiful visuals, compelling dark atmosphere and interesting story and dialogue are all strong reasons to give this a go. Be aware though that the jarring combat breaks up the flow of the game and sends the fun factor plummeting. It’s unfortunate that it would be so much easier to recommend as a simple visual novel.