Connect with us

Game Reviews

Ghostwire: Tokyo is a Compelling Supernatural Thriller

Ghostwire: Tokyo is spooky, beautiful, and genuinely fun to play, bringing a taste of Japanese folklore to a wide audience.



Ghostwire: Tokyo PlayStation 5 Review

Developer: Tango Gameworks | Publisher: Bethesda Softworks | Genre: First-Person Action | Platform: PlayStation 5, PC | Reviewed on: PlayStation 5

In the middle of Tokyo, a cherry blossom tree blooms. But instead of white or soft pink blossoms, the petals are blood red, exuding menace. The ghost of a nearby gardener insists that the ground the tree was planted in has the souls of restless spirits trapped within it, and that tree can only be cleansed if those souls are laid to rest properly. After a pitched battle against irritable enemies from another plane, a magical seal is traced by graceful fingers and a pulse of energy is sent towards the tree. The colors fade, from red to pink, and the grateful ghost, finally at peace, dissipates into a cloud of blue particles.

This is just one minor side mission in Ghostwire: Tokyo, a gorgeous first-person action game from Tango Gameworks that seeks to redefine what supernatural thrillers can look like and feel like. While the game is mostly concerned with placing the player in high-octane battles against various ghosts using elemental magic, Ghostwire: Tokyo also offers a surprisingly robust education in traditional Japanese folklore and horror. As an open-world experience, the game is not without its flaws. But for the curious who are fortunate enough to own a PlayStation 5 (or decently specced-out PC), Ghostwire‘s unique storytelling and setting raise it to instant cult classic status.

Image: Bethesda

Chillingly Thrilling

Ghostwire: Tokyo was first showcased during E3 in 2019, introduced by Tango Gameworks founder Shinji Mikami and creative director Ikumi Nakamura. Nakamura stressed that though the game would be spooky, it would not be a survival horror experience as audiences have traditionally known them. Ghostwire: Tokyo is an action-adventure, pulsing with adrenaline, set in the heart of Tokyo during a cataclysmic supernatural event.

The iconic Shibuya Crossing is the first thing players see upon starting Ghostwire. But something is horribly wrong. A thick, white fog engulfs thousands of terrified pedestrians, leaving only their clothes behind. In the chaos, a young man named Akito is possessed by a wayward spirit known only as KK. Akito is saved from certain death by KK’s power, but KK finds himself bound to Akito’s will. Despite some initial squabbling, the two eventually agree to work together as their individual goals align. Akito is trying to reach his lost sister, Mari, seemingly kidnapped by an enemy of KK’s. KK lends Akito his otherworldly powers, and Akito agrees to help KK traverse the mortal plane to accomplish his goals.

Soon enough, Akito learns that KK was essentially part of a team of Ghostbusters, trying to investigate a sinister occult gang and prevent them from following their worst impulses. As Akito and KK race to stop the man in the Hannya mask from fulfilling his goals, they’ll encounter the full force of the collective unconscious. The spirit realm has invaded the mortal one in the form of wayward spirits, appearing as the umbrella-wielding business class, headless schoolchildren, and knife-wielding giants. Also present are yokai, spirits both mischievous and sinister, from Japanese folklore. But rather than using magic powers to simply destroy every spirit they come across, Akito and KK use their powers to help as often as harm. Tokyo is full of spirits who desire to move on from this world but are prevented from doing so because of regret, fear, or sadness. As they traverse the semi-open world of this rain-soaked metropolis, Akito and KK help them achieve that peace.

This game is under the umbrella of Mikami, and is full of Tango Gameworks‘ characteristically good environmental design. Bright lights and exciting visuals that make the game a genuine joy to explore. Tokyo feels vibrant and energetic, even though it is under supernatural attack. A demon parade may wander through Shibuya, as scores of spirits somberly trek across the iconic intersection. A golden column of light hundreds of feet tall beams into the air, drawing players towards it as they try and determine its source. The interior of a tiny apartment has a wall full of monitors, as its inhabitants seek to unravel the mystery at the heart of it all. After entering a fluorescent light-lit convenience store, a kimono-clad nekomata sells healing snacks for a pittance. Bright red torii gates lead to beautifully maintained shrines, where players can say a prayer or make a donation for material benefits. There is always something to see and do, in any direction the player chooses to travel.

Ghostwire: Tokyo is ultimately about ridding Tokyo of a supernatural evil, but the game has many faces. As they move through the surprisingly lengthy plot, players can engage in its many systems in myriad ways.

Ghostwire: Tokyo gameplay akito
Image: Bethesda

Labor of Love

What makes Ghostwire: Tokyo feel special is its distinct point of view. Japanese-inspired and Japanese-made, this games bursts with the enthusiasm of the developers who poured their hearts into it. This game makes folklore feel accessible without making the player feel pandered to. The more players push at the fringes, the more they will be rewarded, both mechanically and intangibly.

Ghostwire can be a fairly straightforward adventure, but even though players have the option to beeline from waypoint to waypoint, it is far more enticing to take some time and explore this haunted version of Tokyo at leisure. The city is intriguing, with just the right amount of tension to feel gripping without being overwhelming. Unlike previous Mikami or Tango Gameworks experiments which emphasized survival amid gut-wrenching horror, Ghostwire Tokyo focuses more on exploration, with pockets of fast-paced combat. It is a winning combination.

KK’s paranormal abilities let Akito navigate Tokyo with ease. Spectral Vision (basically this game’s version of Detective Vision, Eagle Vision, Survival Vision, or any other scanning ability from an action game from the last decade and change) allows Akito to do a quick survey of his nearby environment, highlighting breakable pots full of meika or healing items. Players can even grapple onto nearby Tengu spirits hovering over nearby rooftops to reach high vantage points. Akito can glide through the air for short periods, and is able to athletically clamber up ledges. Turning Tokyo into a parkour playground is a remarkable feat, and there is ample reason to explore every apartment stairwell or dank alley. Sprinkled throughout Tokyo are floating packs of blue spirits in limbo, and freeing them is the easiest way to gain experience and earn skill points to improve player abilities.

Early on in their journey, players find paper dolls called katashiro, used to store found spirits. Players can only store spirits if they have spare katashiro, so transferring by “emptying” katashiro is absolutely necessary. Transference is easy, as all a player has to do is find a payphone and contact the enigmatic and shy Ed. Every time the player calls Ed, the receiver whirrs and folds opens like something out of Serial Experiments Lain, and they can “cash in” their katashiro for a wealth of experience points and currency. It is vital to keep a few empty katashiro around at any given moment, as hundreds of thousands of spirits are lingering in Tokyo, waiting for Akito to store them.

The most interesting supernatural entities to find and interact with are yokai. From creepy kappa who linger by bodies of water to the seductive rokurokubi, every encounter with a yokai feels steeped in history. Some yokai are urban legends, given unique interpretations by Tango Gameworks. Others emerge as fully-formed nightmares, visions passed down from generations of Japanese families and given center stage here. It is a delight to learn about each new ghost, and capturing them grants Akito useful magatama to further enhance his skills.

Ghostwire Tokyo is packed full of fun diversions. Want to spend hours scouring the landscape for rascally tanuki, disguised as regular run-of-the-mill objects but who are identifiable by their fluffy, striped tails? Completely feasible! Eager to drink in the neon-soaked billboards and take advantage of the robust photo mode, which lets players pose Akito doing anything from casting spells to Naruto-running with his arms behind him? Go for it. The map can quickly become clogged with icons, but players can easily choose what is visible and what isn’t, making it simple to focus on a given task. When players are finally ready to progress the plot, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Image: Bethesda

How to Banish Ghosts and Influence People

Players cannot freely explore all of Tokyo at the start. The mysterious fog that caused ninety-nine percent of the population to disappear in the beginning of the game still blankets the city, and venturing too deep into drains Akito’s health extremely rapidly. By cleansing corrupted torii gates, the fog will dissipate, granting players more freedom of exploration. But most torii gates are defended by evil spirits, and only by mastering combat to the fullest extent will Tokyo have a chance at being saved.

There are some stealth elements, as Akito can Quick Purge enemies for an instant kill if he manages to approach them unawares. There is even a bow and arrow to use, the perfect silent weapon for long-range sniping. But mostly, action is fast and furious, with Akito slinging spells at spirits to expose their glowing cores, then ripping out those same cores to eliminate them entirely. Akito can wield various elements, with each one having its advantages over the others. Wind blasts are rapid but weak, fire can create large explosions but has only a few charges, and water attacks are wide but short range. Every element has limited ammo, and smashing interdimensional detritus is the fastest way to refill Akito’s charges.

After the first few encounters, enemies start appearing in groups that force the player to adapt or die. Some spirits close in quickly for melee strikes while others shoot slow-moving spells from far away. Fortunately, Akito is agile and can dodge past spirits quickly to blast them from a safe zone. Akito can latch onto multiple cores at once, and defeating more than one enemy at a time using this technique is extremely satisfying.

Ghostwire: Tokyo gameplay
Image: Bethesda

The Dualsense controller is a major player in combat. Pulling a core out of an evil spirit using the triggers makes the controller rev like an engine, and swiping different directions on the touchpad to change elemental affinities both looks and feels fantastic. Tango Gameworks has clearly made an effort to use this piece of hardware in some unique ways. It’s not Returnallevel, but it is very, very good.

Outside of combat, Ghostwire: Tokyo is home to some of the most spectacular setpiece moments on this generation of hardware. The world beyond our world bleeds into Tokyo, flickering into existence with screeches of static. Visually, Ghostwire is stunning, even more so when deliberately messing with the player. There are fantastic surrealist sequences that sear themselves into memory, like a two-story-tall maneki-neko statue looming overhead as Akito exits an apartment or wires pulsing like blood vessels as Akito follows them to their source. It is the best parts of Control and Evil Within 2 blended together.

While the stealth elements are hardly revolutionary, the core combat feels incredibly tight. Despite options being limited until Akito levels up a few core abilities, purging evil spirits never gets old. Even against spongy enemies (looking at you, large man-shape with magic-blocking umbrella), the feeling of ripping out a spirit’s core is a wonderfully satisfying feeling. Players may wish for a little more variety, especially in regards to melee options, but overall it feels great.

Ghostwire: Tokyo review akito
Image: Bethesda

Cult Status

Will Ghostwire: Tokyo emerge as the definitive PlayStation exclusive of 2022? It seems unlikely, given the scope of Horizon Forbidden West and the lingering unknown that is the next God of War. But it is a fantastic experience, especially for those who want to wander around one of the most well-realized video game cityscapes outside of the Yakuza series. Gliding from rooftop to rooftop and absorbing souls with katashiro is addictive, and combat is engaging enough to be compelling throughout the sometimes-long chapters.

Ghostwire: Tokyo does the important things right. The main story and side missions are well-written and often genuinely funny, a credit to the localization team. It looks truly spectacular, even in cutscenes with simple dialogue between two characters. Players can pet dogs and cats they find on the street, an extremely wholesome addition to the genre. For those tired of the vastness of recent open world titles, they will revel in the density of Tokyo.

Cameron Daxon is a video game evangelist and enthusiastic reader. He lives in Los Angeles, California and once nearly collided with Shigeru Miyamoto during E3. His favorite game is Bloodborne, but only when he’s not revisiting Super Mario World. He’s also in the writer’s room for YouTube personality The Completionist and other places on the internet.