Japan, samurai or Tokyo is the equivalent of boobs, beer or free when it comes to headlines or titles for yours truly, so when scouting through the games on the eShop a while ago, Tokyo Dark Remembrance, by Cherrymochi, came up. Having played it one and off for a couple of weeks now, here is the verdict.
Tokyo Dark Remembrance is an unusual game as in some instances it comes across as a reasonably big game with decent graphics and production values, then something like the UI will make it feel like an indie game with a low budget. Not a bad thing, just a little inconsistency.
It’s quite miss-matched in places, and in some respects took a bit of getting used to. It wasn’t clear if it was a text-based story, a point and click or something completely different. In reality, Tokyo Dark Remembrance is a genre casserole with various ingredients added to the pot; a visual novel being the meat, the point and click elements being the veg. What a marvellous analogy. Goodnight!
Taking on the role of Ayami Itō, a detective working in the wards of Tokyo, you begin the game trying to locate your partner, Hazuki Tanaka. He’s gone missing, and you have a clue as to where he went. After a few interactions with the locals, exploring a few parts of the city and some hallucinations, you find Tanaka in an awkward position (not the toilet), which prompts a flashback to six months before.
Without going too much into the plot, Ayami gets implicated in a hostage situation which results in a girls death and Ayami is accountable for it. This plays on her mind for obvious reasons, and her mental state is brought into question. This results in her hospitalisation and heavily medicated. The police chief says that she needs to take some time off to recuperate, and this brings us back to the present day.
You Mean I Can’t Drink On Duty?
One of my biggest peeves is the lack of consequences for stupid, inconsiderate actions – not just in real life, but an element of that neurosis feeds into my gaming tastes too. If I shoot someone, I want to be in trouble for it, but without making the game completely unplayable, i.e. when you have a price above your head in something like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. In Tokyo Dark Remembrance, all of your actions have a significant effect on how the story plays out.
If you’re a people pleaser, you can find yourself coming undone, or if you’re an outright irresponsible arsehole, that also adds to the mix on your evaluation. That’s right, rather than build stats of strength and dexterity, Tokyo Dark Remembrance monitors your psychological profile so if you decide to have a shot in the bar while on duty, the public will pick up on it.
Shortly after I did that, another character brought up that they could smell alcohol on my breath. Not learning my lesson, I then proceeded to shoot a lock off an inaccessible area in a public place. It’s a fantastic mechanism and means that depending on your actions and the choices you make, you could get one of 11 different endings.
It Isn’t All Neon Signage And Kawaii Mascots, Tokyo Is Pretty Dark
Visually, Tokyo Dark Remembrance is a bit of a collage. There are a variety of genre styles in the game, and this applies to the appearance too. The character designs are clear, but there’s a part of them that looks like a different team handled the cutscenes compared to the interactive portion of the game. This is common is larger titles, but the look and feel seemed to be better in different segments.
The dialogue scenes looked great, with characters very subtly animated such as the old blink or hand gesture. When moving Ayami left and right on location, it just felt quite flat. It’s clear the character is Ayami, but the animation was a bit weak; she walks left and right or runs. That’s it. A bit of an extreme example, but it’s like segments from Ren & Stimpy where close-ups are thoroughly detailed, but the animation quite inconsistent. You can tell you’re watching the same thing, but it’s almost a completely different style.
Visual novel games aren’t my thing, but the dialogue sequences are good and make up the bulk of the game. There aren’t any hentai cliches or a shift in artistic style; just the classic manga style, with a mature tone throughout, both in theme and also application. Due to the volume of text, I would have liked the font to have been bigger and that it made more use of space. There’s a lot of reading to do in the game and the choice of font, a serif, is a bit crap when playing in handheld mode.
On the topic of the user interface, when in the point and click parts of the game, a white box will appear every time you are nearby a point of interest. There aren’t any cursors, you stand over the box and interact with it. Some areas are a little harder to reach, and it doesn’t seem intuitive, but if you press the L or R buttons, you can scroll through nearby objects, or people, to interact with.
To select a command, you move the left analogue stick in one of four directions to choose the appropriate action; look, enter, talk, etc. It’s a bit of an ugly interface, to be honest, but don’t expect a tirade of comments to follow on how this ruined my experience, and ultimately, my life.
Get Out Of My Head!
There’s a significant focus on Ayami’s mental health, and we’re introduced to a method called SPIN that evaluates how she is performing. S = Sanity, P = Professionalism, I = Investigation and N = Neurosis. Based on your actions, the attributes for each of these will go up or down.
On one playthrough, getting a little frustrated and wanting to speed things up, I hammered the action button when talking to a bartender. She repeated the same thing each time, but without noting how many times we went through the same dialogue, a notification popped up +1 Neurosis. Entirely deserved, and makes you consider your actions more – especially when a timer is involved.
At any time, you can bring up Ayami’s profile to get a real-time evaluation of her mental state. While writing this, I had a quick look at how she was performing when I revisited the game:
- Sanity: Stable
- Professionalism: Professional
- Investigation: Competent
- Neurosis: Stressed
Not bad for a detective who only recently downed some spirits, shot off a lock with a police firearm then proceeded to harass the public with the same questions. I even begged for information. Underneath your SPIN status, there is a further scale on how you’re doing. It will show each attribute as positive or negative. My lowest point at this time was -14 for professionalism and +21 for investigation. Ayami may be on her way to a disciplinary, but by golly, she gets the job done!
For The Tokyo Tourist…
For fans of the Tokyo scene, there are a decent amount of games where you can explore the scenery and get involved with the locals; the Yakuza series, Jet Set Radio plus many more. Tokyo used to be portrayed in games as a city of vibrancy; a finger on the pulse for fashion, trends and all things new but there is a bit of a Mobius Strip as underneath all this world of lumination, is a seedy, dark and twisted place (every city then).
Tokyo Dark Remembrance, while not just literal, is a dark and somewhat mysterious place. Though you can’t explore an open world environment, the atmosphere is excellent, and that’s mostly to do with the score.
Anyone familiar with the ghetto side of Japan will be familiar with snack bars and pubs food vendors operating out of shed-like buildings. Even in the early part of the game, you get to experience that with the sleazy saxophone playing faintly in the background, or when you touch upon the more supernatural elements, that uneasy and eerie ambience where you’re thinking “something’s not right”.
There are no cheap scares here, just a thought that forces you to consider: am I losing my mind? Why predominantly text-based, there are the odd bits of voice acting like “what’s this?” or sighs of puzzlement or fear. It’s all relevant to what’s said, and best of all, in Japanese. The dubbed acting always feels forced, in my humblest of opinions.
There are no extras as such – you didn’t think they’d be an online leaderboard, did you? But there are multiple endings to unlock – 11 of them. On that basis, Tokyo Dark Remembrance has a lot of replay value, but my only niggle on this side of things is if you make a mistake, you can’t go back to another point in time to try again as there are no save points.
Instead, it’s an autosave that you can pick up from where you left off each time, but if you made the wrong decision, you’d have to see it out or start a new game. You can’t have multiple games on the go either, so it might be a case of looking up a walkthrough for those harder to achieve endings.
After seeing the trailer, I was looking forward to getting hold of Tokyo Dark Remembrance. By all means, it isn’t a Nintendo Switch exclusive as it’s been in circulation for three years now, plus it doesn’t have any specific features that stand out solely for Nintendo’s favourite rectangle.
That shouldn’t stop you putting this on your wishlist though if you’re a fan of things messing with your head, without any real scary moments. The highlights for me were the consequences of your actions and the dialogue sections – this is very much narrative-driven as if you were to rely on the segments with Ayami running back and forth looking for squares to interact with, then it would be a bit of a disappointment.