The latest title from Tango Gameworks, Ghostwire: Tokyo had something of a tumultuous development. After the title was announced in 2019, original creative director Ikumi Nakamura left Tango Gameworks. Production then took place during the COVID-19 pandemic and Microsoft’s acquisition of ZeniMax Media, the parent company of Bethesda Softworks and Tango Gameworks. Later, Ghostwire’Its release has been delayed. In many ways, ghost yarn feels like a response to what was going on behind the scenes, as so much of the game deals with the mixed emotions that come with change. And while ghost yarn is far from perfect, there’s a ton to love about the game.
ghost yarnThe story opens with a mysterious man wearing a Hannya mask carrying out a major paranormal attack on Tokyo that turns nearly the entire population into spirits. However, the protagonist Akito survives thanks to KK, a deceased paranormal investigator. KK enters Akito’s body and they immediately head to the hospital, where they find Hannya – as the game calls her – kidnapping Mari, Akito’s sister. Together, Akito and KK travel through Tokyo to stop Hannya from doing what he did to the Japanese city to the rest of the world and to save Mari from his grip. Along the way, they are forced to face nightmarish creatures which are a variant of the Japanese legend called Visitors.
Globally, ghost yarn has all the makings of a good story. Akito and KK are interesting characters, and there’s a lot to love about their banter. In many ways, KK is an older Akito, but he’s one who learned too late how to change and move past what happened in the future. Hannya, comparatively, has a tragic story that he can’t top. He is an example of what happens when someone absolutely refuses to move on from a tragic event. They are fundamentally different people, but when the game explores this theme of change and grief through them, ghost yarn is really interesting and thoughtful.
Outside of characterization, however, the actual storytelling of ghost yarn varies quite wildly. The first quarter of the game is generally excellent and provides stunning visuals that really help make the story impactful and memorable. The next half of the game is where the problem lies. After the second chapter, ghost yarn does not really capitalize on its initial momentum. There are no real twists and the plot is almost surprisingly simple.
The beats happen quickly and without the decompression that in storytelling allows the characters to really sit with what’s going on. This makes it difficult to invest in the little moments and turns that should work better. The last quarter of ghost yarn rectifies that somewhat with a marching sequence that is, frankly, sublime, and fleshes out the themes in a major way, but it comes just a tad too late. By the time that happens, there’s so little story left in ghost yarnand that means you don’t have time to explore or unpack what’s going on.
Much of this storytelling problem seems to stem from ghost yarnthe execution of. Around 3 p.m., ghost yarn is shorter, and yet there is a ton of padding. Short games are by no means inherently worse than long games, but ghost yarnThe storytelling isn’t tight enough in the middle to even fully justify 15 hours. The player spends a lot of time clearing the torii gates and collecting the things they need to advance the plot without having any real idea of the characters.
Seemingly to make up for the short story, there’s a ton to do outside of the main story in ghost yarn, but this content is a bit mixed. There are a handful of side quests that are, on the whole, fine. Many are a bit too fast and basically rely on the player to get to a location and defeat a group of visitors. What’s also weird is that there are multiple side quests that have multiple parts, but nothing really changes between them, and there’s no story to progress the player through. However, any side quest set indoors is often significantly better than its outdoor counterpart, largely due to the atmosphere and truly invoking the best qualities of horror games. There are also many – perhaps too many – collectibles that are quite tedious to find.
If there is anywhere ghost yarn excels is in inventiveness and presentation. The game looks fantastic graphically, and there are no scenes where things go downhill. Corn ghost yarnThe visuals also go further than good graphics. Tango Gameworks embraces small graphic details, like the spirit world bleeding into the human, to create a spooky and disturbing ambiance. These graphic choices end up being backed up by a score that can really enhance the scenes and make them more emotionally evocative. There is such attention to detail in the presentation that makes ghost yarn feel really immersive.
In terms of play, ghost yarnThe combat is a bit mixed. Overall, the idea behind Ethereal Weaving – which allows the player to use magic that builds on the classic elements – is interesting, and visually the combat looks fantastic. There is also no inherent problem with the system, and it works well. The attacks do exactly what players would expect, and it’s really satisfying to watch the visitors light up – literally – from the attacks.
However, the player’s options often seem quite limited, as all ethereal weaves are more or less mid-range attacks. This translates to pretty much every fight sequence taking the same form: steadily backing up as enemies approach and hitting them with whatever Ethereal Weaving spell or weapon works best. The combat also starts to get a little too easy towards the end of the game, which really neutralizes the visitors. They aren’t that threatening after the player has spent 10 hours mowing them.
The first entry in any game series has a tough job: it has to define the title’s overall aesthetic, combat, and more. There’s so much work to do to create a whole new IP that it’s no surprise that many companies opt for endless remakes or sequels. ghost yarn is, in many ways, a prototypical first game in a series, and its problems boil down to a lack of refinement in terms of picture details like combat and story. What there is is by no means bad, but it never quite reaches the heights it could have. However, despite these flaws, ghost yarn is a deeply pleasurable experience.
Ghostwire: Tokyo releases March 25 on PlayStation 5 and PC. A review code for PlayStation 5 has been provided by the publisher.
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