Making a decision in Toyko Dark is tough and ultimately final. Accepting the offer of an alcoholic drink in a shady back alley bar might prove worthwhile in helping detective Ayami Ito gain the trust of a down-on-her-luck bartender to the point where further tentative probing could unearth a new lead. However, the after-effects of that solitary action can be felt later on as the Tokyo-based detective begins to look incompetent and unprofessional as she attempts to win favour with other key characters who begin to question her authority due to the stench of whiskey on Ito’s breath.
Tokyo Dark: PC [Reviewed]
Publisher: Square Enix Collective
Release Date: 7 September 2017
Price: £13.59 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
A game where choice and subsequent consequence reign supreme, Tokyo Dark, developer Cherrymochi’s twisted debut horror title puts your investigative skills and sanity to the test as players walk in the shoes of a young cop embarking on the darkest of journeys. Tokyo Dark offers a certain level of freedom to how you approach each area or probe or converse with each NPC, but at the same time, it continuously questions the player’s morality. Much of what it achieves from this very strategy stems from the game’s SPIN system. Broken down into four different traits: Sanity, Professionalism, Investigation, and Neurosis; Tokyo Dark keeps a tidy check on every decision you make or action you take; deducting or awarding points accordingly based on the things you do – often with earth-shattering results.
An intriguing dynamic if not a tricky one to conquer, Tokyo Dark‘s SPIN system accomplishes much through its sheer ability to crawl its way inside your head as you attempt to balance out each trait to keep Ito from crumbling into a mess. Refusing to take your medication or not finding sufficient time to return home to do so can result in the detective’s Sanity meter beginning to spiral worryingly out of control – to the point where Ito could potentially suffer a complete mental break. Likewise, repetitive questioning of an NPC will see Ito’s Neurosis bar increase and shooting a lock off a door to gain access to an area or locker, or triggering a fire alarm at the police station to cause a distraction to grab an item will see her Professionalism bar decrease, making the detective look thoroughly incompetent to her peers.
Each choice made triggers a ripple-like effect that will either close off doors to the detective or open up entirely new avenues of investigation as Ito looks to unearth the truth behind the madness plaguing her life. The myriad of story pathways means that each player will likely encounter a different tale to that of the one I experienced, one entirely of their own making. A level on from your typical Telltale Walking Dead experience, the choices you make in Toyko Dark are final and have an ever-lasting effect on the direction of the story whereby what you say and do as you investigate matters. As a result, a seemingly insignificant decision made could drastically alter the timeline rather than the player merely shaping a personalised narrative path to a point where the overall endgame is the same no matter what you did at any point prior.
A 2-dimensional sidescroller, Tokyo Dark flits between 2 genres as visual novel meets point and click adventure. Between the anime-styled cutscenes triggered by certain events, Ito is free to move between a selection of interesting locations in Japan to conduct personal investigations with a cast of NPC’s, who each have their own story to tell the detective or dark secret to keep from Ito. As she explores her surrounding environments, Ito is able to interact with various objects by simply walking up to one and selecting the appropriate option. The level of interactivity available leaves the detective free to enter bars and warehouses as she pleases to pick the minds of almost every character she comes across, choose from a bevvy of dialogue options to continue conversations with NPC’s, grab items of interest to progress and check the status of her SPIN meter to keep a track on the current state of play.
Visually, the delightfully gritty tale of Tokyo Dark is acted out to a satisfying and stylish backdrop that echoes that of the game’s narrative. Disturbing and twisted imagery intermingle with the beauty of the bright green Japanese countryside, shadow-filled seedy backstreets and thriving city nightlife. The distinct contrast between light and dark environments as Ito travels to and from areas of interest to further her investigation is very satisfying while tieing in nicely with the game’s storyline.
Overall, it’s a fine debut from new studio Cherrymochi. Full of mystery, suspense and horror, Tokyo Dark blends western and eastern cultures seamlessly while combining point and click with visual novel gameplay to great effect. Compelling gameplay, beautiful anime-styled animation and a unique if not somewhat tricky SPIN system to conquer, Tokyo Dark manages to hit most of the right spots while giving the player all of the power to shape their own storyline and conclusion.