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Tokyo Dark

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Cherrymochi Game Studio
Release Date: Sept. 7, 2017


PC Review - 'Tokyo Dark'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 21, 2017 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Tokyo Dark is a 2D point & click adventure game, a twisting detective story featuring a multitude of choices, non-linear puzzle-solving, and a deep branching narrative exploring the darker underbelly of Tokyo.

The visual novel is a rather niche genre. Most games ask players to take on lots of action and enjoy cut scenes as either a reward or a means to get into the action, but the visual novel flips things around, so players are taking in story most of the time with some occasional action here and there. Even if you love story in your games, the amount of reading that usually takes place in a visual novel game can be enough to drive away all but the most dedicated of fans. At first glance, Tokyo Dark seems like just another visual novel on Steam with a horror theme. Take a closer look, though, and players will find that Tokyo Dark is more engaging.

Players take on the role of Detective Ito Ayami, a member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department who has gone back on duty after a mysterious incident six months prior. Her return to the department couldn't have come at a worse time, however, as her partner and lover Kazuki Tanaka has been missing for over a week. Following the GPS signal of a phone that has suddenly come back to life, she goes to Shinjuku to investigate when she finds Kazuki tied up and a woman who's ready to slice his throat. From this harrowing situation comes a journey into both the Japanese occult and control of your own sanity.

By and large, a good story drives visual novels, and without revealing anything that may be considered spoilers, the tale in Tokyo Dark is gripping from beginning to end. Part of this comes from the subject matter, which is something you don't see too often in this genre. The Danganronpa series and perhaps the Chaos;Head line of games are probably the closest relatives to this subject matter, but since most visual novels have lighter themes, this title is refreshing. There are some moments of cuteness and levity to create a balance in tone, but this is a much more serious game overall. It also helps that the characters you meet, both major and minor, have a considerable amount of depth to them, so no one is treated as a throwaway plot device.

The other thing that makes this game stand out from the rest is the fact that it blends in elements from western adventure games. You can actually see your character, not just in cut scenes, and you can move her around 2-D environments. Though it can be annoying to move to an area to see the environment's hotspots, you are presented with some basic options like look, enter, and use. This interface also allows you to select your actions or dialogue options when dealing with people, though you're only given actions that will lead to dialogue instead of the actual lines themselves.

This is where the game gets really interesting, as your choices are quite varied. For example, one scene has you trying to get a padlocked door unlocked. The easy way to solve this would be to shoot open the lock. The more interesting scenario would be to somehow disable some security cameras, talk to someone, and distract them long enough to get the keys without making a ruckus. Similarly, you can patronize a bar and have a drink to get some much-needed information out of a hostess, or you can simply threaten to report a missing license to get the same result, albeit with different reactions that go along with it. The number of choices and branches a story can take are probably one of the bigger highlights, especially since the game sports around 11 endings. The game itself runs for a few hours from beginning to end, so it doesn't take too much effort to get in at least a second playthrough to see how different things could be.

At the same time, you'll be surprised to see how much work it'll take to get at least one of the endings early on. Unlike most adventure games or visual novels, Tokyo Dark has a habit of leading you to the spot you need to be, so the story is always moving along. That helps if you don't want to be stalled by something, but it also means a temporary loss of agency for the player. Adventure fans will also gripe about the fact that the game barely has any puzzles. Similar complaints were levied against most of the licensed Telltale games, but compared to those titles, there's a paltry number of puzzles here.

If you're a fan of the visual novel genre, you will have to live with something that you'll rarely see in those titles: constant auto-saving. Unlike other genre games, where you can save whenever you like so you can explore the multiple outcomes at your leisure and perhaps correct any mistakes, this game prevents you from doing any of that. Tokyo Dark saves at just about every opportunity, whether it's entering a new area or making any kind of choice, no matter how major or minor it may be. You have to trust your gut on many of the choices you make, especially since there are times when the pause mechanic is disabled outright, so those who want a perfect playthrough the first time are completely out of luck.

There is one mechanic that doesn't seem to work that well, and that's the S.P.I.N. system. On paper, this is supposed to be a gauge for how well your investigation capabilities, neurosis levels, professionalism and sanity are holding up. Almost every action and choice you make affects each value either positively or negatively, which in turn impacts your choices and how other people see you. Unless you consciously make choices that greatly affect one level or another, you aren't going to see any nuanced changes in play, and while it is nice to see a visual representation of your status in a game where choices matter, it would've been nicer to see that expanded to be more meaningful.

Visual novels live or die based on their presentation, and what's in Tokyo Dark is very good. The music creates a wonderful atmosphere of dread and unease most of the time, while the lighter tones in appropriate areas do well to balance things out. The small snippets of voice scattered here and there are fine, though with most of the game spent without them, it might have been fine if these snippets went missing as well. Graphically, the details aren't as pronounced during dialogue sequences, opting to go for a lighter manga feel as opposed to one where everyone is fully detailed, but it works well for the tone. During exploration sequences, the game depicts both the neon landscapes of the city and the rural quiet of villages equally well, with silhouettes of people going about their lives adding life to the scene — and a sense of eeriness as well.

Tokyo Dark serves as a very good primer for those who are either curious about the visual novel genre or just want more to do than click through text boxes. The multiple endings are certainly a tempting thing for completionists, while the short runtime makes it so that the journey to the endings doesn't feel so tiring. Though most of the journey is rather linear and there's a significant lack of puzzles, the various choices at your disposal and needing to actually move to the spots gives you more to do than idle mouse-clicking. More importantly, the story is engaging from beginning to end, so you'll want to see the various paths along the way. While Tokyo Dark may not drive players toward the visual novel genre, itprovides a better appreciation for the genre's capabilities.

Score: 7.5/10

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