Detective Ayami Ito is not having a good day at all. Her partner has vanished without a trace, her memory is a little hazy, and she seems somewhat frazzled by the pressures of the job. Tokyo Dark is a point and click game that mixes mystery, psychological horror, and distinctly Japanese influences. Developed by Cherrymochi, this title is the brain child of John Williams and a small team of indie developers from across the globe. It was also one of my stand out games from EGX Rezzed 2016, and at Gamescom 2017 I got an opportunity to step back into the streets of Tokyo.
Initially a novel, Tokyo Dark morphed into a side scrolling adventure and a massively successful Kickstarter campaign after significant input from The Square Enix Collective. At Gamescom 2017 Maho Williams, producer at Cherrymochi, stated that “Without the Collective’s support we counted have run a successful Kickstarter. They brought a huge amount of attention to our game. There are so many games that start selling each day on steam and we could have been buried in among the other games, but due to Square’s help we were not. It has been an incredibly positive experience working with The Square Enix Collective.”
While The Square Enix Collective gave Tokyo Dark great visibility, the team of less than ten have produced a unique take on Tokyo over the last three years. With music coming from the UK, scriptwriting in the US, and production influences from both east and west, it spawned a city that is familiar to locals yet still stylized through a foreign lens.
Fundamentally, Tokyo Dark remains the same enthralling game I played last year. It continues to drag me down seedy back alleys and still presents a beautifully dark portrayal of Tokyo’s neon streets. John Williams own watercolor backdrops and visual style take inspiration from David Fincher’s Seven and games like Corpse Party, making Tokyo feel distinctly oppressive. Recent changes to the game have even managed to heighten this feeling. During this latest hands on Maho Williams commented that “Initially we only had Ayami Ito on screen but it felt like something was missing from the scene, which was people. It’s Tokyo after all. It has to be busy but we didn’t want to use actual animated people in the foreground.”
Ultimately, fully rendered extras would have cluttered exterior scenes. Instead the team added shadows that create a sense of isolation among the crowds of this bustling metropolis. The recent addition of new audio and motion video are a great example of the process that has gone into building a creeping tension in Tokyo Dark.
This tension doesn’t simply serve the player experience either. Detective Ito’s psychological state directly impacts the direction of the story. Attribute points are assigned to Ito based on player decisions. Playing with animals or just taking time to relax will stave off a creeping psychosis that seems to bleed into the edges of Ito’s actions as she attempts to deal with the consequences of the game’s paranormal activity. This S.P.I.N. (Sanity, Professionalism, Investigation, Neurosis) system also has the potential to change the outcome of specific scenarios, how characters react to you, and which of the many endings occur. As a result, encounters tend to feel like more than just an experiment in passive consumption.
Many of these encounters take inspiration from Japanese urban legends. Maho Williams specifically pointed to the Shinjuku Station legend. It is said that should you wander too far into the maze of corridors under Shinjuku Station you might find a door that will never let you out. The inclusion of these well known Japanese locations and legends, in Tokyo Dark’s red door, is an especially welcome touch for fans, but also serves to anchor the more supernatural elements in a believable setting.
The end result is a creepy point and click mystery that presents a modern horror that leans heavily on the protagonists descent into madness. If you have been waiting for Tokyo Dark, it comes out September 7, 2017 for PC.