Ghostwire: Tokyo Preview
Ghostwire: Tokyo first appeared at E3 2019 via a haunting and cryptic trailer. It was intriguing but left us with more questions than answers. The trailer hinted at mystery, magic and otherworldly mayhem. It showed the residents of Tokyo disappearing into wisps of smoke, menacing figures under umbrellas, and a masked demon. Most frustrating of all, the trailer showed us almost nothing of gameplay, leading to a lot of speculation.
Recently, I was able to watch some hands-off gameplay and listen to the developers. I know a lot more about what makes Ghostwire: Tokyo tick and I’m pretty excited for its release.
Here are the basics: Ghostwire: Tokyo is a first person shooter of sorts, though gunplay probably never appears, so let’s call it a first person action game. You play as a character named Akito and your task is to cleanse Tokyo of the mysterious Visitors. Directed by figures wearing Hannya (demon) masks, the Visitors are trapping the spirits of Tokyo’s residents. The landscape of the city is desolate and empty of life, but when you free a section from the evil forces, it comes back to its old, bustling self.
Akito has an unseen spirit guide of sorts named KK. KK acts to alert Akito to important elements in the environment and helps push him and the story forward. At least in the gameplay I saw, KK was an omni-present character.
Magic and Martial Arts
Akito doesn’t use many conventional weapons other than a bow. Instead, he uses a wide range of supernatural powers. Some of the powers are offensive and are used to combat the Visitors. Some of the powers help free the spirits trapped around the city. Although we didn’t see the upgrade path in the demo, Akito gains XP from defeating enemies and can unlock new and stronger abilities.
The developers have described combat as “karate meets magic.” Akito powers his supernatural magic through martial arts-inspired hand gestures called Kuji-kiri. There are certainly many high fantasy games (some in VR) where the player uses hand drawn spell signs to cast magic. In Ghostwire: Tokyo, the gestures are fluid and stylized. The powers and movements are related to Shinto and Taoist versions of martial arts.
Unlocking the City from a Supernatural Prison
In the gameplay demo, Akito and KK combed the streets of Tokyo searching for spirits to free. Often it necessitated searching through a building to find and destroy centers of paranormal energy. There were lots of visual anomalies and weird distortions in the environments. There were also items and collectibles to pick up. In the demo, we also saw Akito’s home base apartment.
Outside, Akito frequently battled the Visitors, those unsettling figures with umbrellas. He used hand gestures to cast powerful offensive spells. In a few cases, we saw spectral figures who spoke to us, and our side quest became freeing them from their spirit prison by fighting enemies or clearing the area of evil.
We also encountered yokai, usually in animal forms like a cat. It appears that in Ghostwire: Tokyo, yokai can be both adversaries and helpful spirits.
One of the longer sequences in the demo involved Akito clearing a shrine district of the Visitors. Corrupted areas are often marked by torii gates of swirling energy that must be cleansed. Clearing a district involves destroying all the Visitors or supernatural enemies within a section of the city. It wasn’t clear whether the district can become corrupted again once cleansed.
Between the Realms
It’s also unclear just how much of Tokyo is modeled in the game, but what I saw looks great. Although some of the textures were a little simple and lacking in detail, the game’s lighting and supernatural effects are very striking and effective. There are lots of authentic touches in the environments, which were mostly seen at night. There is also a surreal and otherworldly spirit realm in which Akito encounters the Hannya.
I was particularly struck by the game’s music. It often uses ancient Japanese music called Gagaku, mixed with more contemporary electronics. It strongly suggests an unearthly mix of reality and the supernatural.
Combat looks like a lot of fun, with many options and approaches to enemies as Akito grows stronger and more experienced. Although Ghostwire: Tokyo is a unique game, I felt at least some echoes of games like Prey, Deathloop and the BioShock series in the way spells and powers were used. Since those are among my favorite action games, I’m not complaining.
The Waiting Game Begins
Going into the gameplay preview armed with little more background than the trailer, I was excited by what I saw. Ghostwire: Tokyo is a surreal blend of Japanese mythology, the supernatural and first person combat. Though it borrows elements from other games, its blend of “karate and magic” is pretty singular. I’m anxious to learn more, and even more anxious to get my hands on the game when it releases later this year.
Thank you for keeping it locked on COGconnected.