Beneath the bustling cities and ancient shrines of modern Tokyo there lies a darkness; one that seeps into the unknowing souls of any who may seek it. A spiritual portal to another dimension, some call it, to the realm of the dead. In Tokyo Dark, police detective Ayami Itō ventures into Japan’s criminal underworld in search for answers, after a mysterious hostage crisis goes wrong. Keeping her sanity balanced with the ongoing investigation is key, and her choices will either strengthen evil’s grasp or fuel a long-winded ascent back toward the light.
Tokyo Dark is a point-and-click visual novel running about five hours long. Its psychological horror narrative blends exploration with dialogue, creating a unique experience for fans of the traditional visual novel. The game branches out into 11 different endings, where key choices throughout your journey affect its outcome. Unlike many visual novels, Tokyo Dark doesn’t contain puzzles and instead uses player-made dialogue choices to dictate the story, similar to those present in Telltale games. The point-and-click mechanic adds some level of interactivity, allowing the player to move horizontally and observe a larger world.
The real-time results of your choices are represented by a chart of Itō’s emotional status called the S.P.I.N (sanity, professionalism, investigation, neurosis) system. While these fields are influenced by your every move, it’s difficult to know how much of a part they truly play in branching the narrative. Deciding to kill someone obviously makes a direct impact on the story, but S.P.I.N is a more subtle way of altering your path under the hood. Rarely are major decisions made, so S.P.I.N takes their place to keep the player engaged during slow periods.
It’s difficult to relate to protagonist Ayami, who doesn’t have much of a consistent personality. She’s a superstar in the workforce who gradually goes insane, but there’s not much else to absorb. Her previous relationships are never fleshed out, and new ones are only formed for the purpose of advancing the story or creating filler. New characters come and go at an alarming rate, so Ayami is unable to connect with anyone and give the player something to work with in terms of understanding her motives or traits. You could argue that the user’s avatar should begin as a blank canvas in any visual novel, but the game doesn’t provide the materials needed to paint a complete enough picture.
I appreciate the real-world references to Japanese culture and history that Tokyo Dark delivers. It’s not just some generic horror story, but one that delves into the background of Tokyo and its myths. Not to mention, the game contains actual locations such as Kamakura, Akihabara, and the Suicide Forest, which play up to the believability and immersion present in the game. Effort was made to give Tokyo Dark an authentic feel that goes far beyond the screen.
The game gives off a creepy vibe, augmented by the occasional jumpscare. Suicides, masks, and ghosts all add to the atmosphere, but fail to provide anything we haven’t seen before. I was hoping for a twist or payoff after Tokyo Dark’s gripping beginning, but the game left me disappointed, with little motivation to discover any other endings. After some research, I found none of the game’s conclusions to be satisfactory and all lacking the dramatic result you would expect from a drawn-out mystery. The story starts off strong, only to slowly fade into nothingness and become overtly vague by its closing.
Thinking back to my time with Tokyo Dark, there were definitely moments where I was on edge. The game’s soundtrack is perfect for creating tension and foreshadowing tone shifts, while its artwork has just enough depth to achieve the same effect. The ability to trigger a quick emotional response at will allows Tokyo Dark to play around with the user and greatly enhances the simple act of reading text. I found myself shaking in my seat during a few intense scenes, and yearn for more of the anxious atmosphere that the game constructs so well. I can count on one hand the number of times where Tokyo Dark fully takes advantage of its storytelling abilities, and you’re ultimately left looking for more of them.
Tokyo Dark (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
I can count on one hand the number of times where Tokyo Dark fully takes advantage of its powerful storytelling abilities, and you’re left looking for more of them.