Ghost stories have a surprising depth to them in modern media. Sometimes, they are just used for a cheap scare - manipulating the uncanny valley to make our own instincts work against us.
Other times, they are used to point out the vacuum human life leaves behind when it departs. Ghostwire: Tokyo is firmly caught in between these two fields and asks "what would that all look like under a neon glow?"
A Spooky Opening
Ghostwire: Tokyo's opening sets the tone of the game incredibly well. Seeing through the eyes of a spirit named K.K, you invade the body of a young man named Akito. Assuming he was dead, you find yourself splitting the body between these two forces, giving you the normal human frame and voice, alongside some nice spectral powers.
Within minutes, Tokyo is surrounded by a fog and all the humans caught within it are transformed into souls. You, with your half-human body, are left to combat Hannya, the masked man responsible for all of this.
This is the basic set-up of the game. You have to make your way through Tokyo, fulfilling K.K and Akito's story, whilst trying to figure out what Hannya wants with your dying sister Mari. It is a story told through opposing forces. As Akito, you have to peel back Tokyo under the glow of neon streetlights. This fog puts the game into an eternal night, letting Ghostwire: Tokyo's great lighting shine.
The Shine of Neon
Ghostwire: Tokyo is a fantastic looking game. It's not that the hand textures are particularly detailed or the faces look especially lifelike - it's the way it blends traditionally decent graphics with a unique art direction that really makes everything work. It plays with the contrast between colours to blend backgrounds and make your enemies stand out among that big city.
The art, like the story, is at its best when blending harsh lights with depressing darks. It touches not only on what it means to leave others behind but what it means to live in the first place. While the narrative touches on plenty of interesting themes, it doesn't quite live up to its opening. The character of the game itself is best explored elsewhere.
Ghostwire: Tokyo blends dark themes of depression, suicide and the monotony of the everyday into its side stories in ways that feel cognisant and interesting. It doesn't often solve those issues, instead, it lets those afflicted tell their own stories. I often didn't feel like I had fully solved the underlying issues but I could accept them as they were.
A Brief Aside
In a sense, its side stories remind me of the Yakuza games. They don't feel like an afterthought, thrown onto Ghostwire: Tokyo's framework haphazardly. Instead, they feel important and really to the central narrative of the game. You are often left helping souls work through their own issues and trauma - leaving an impact on the relationship between K.K and Akito as well as Akio's own internal struggles.
Unfortunately, all is not great in Ghostwire's side activities. To open up the map, you have to cleanse Torii Gates around the city - feeling rather similar to Ubisoft's signature open-world design. It initially subverts this somewhat by weaving them into the story but, as the game progresses, they start to feel far less intentional. There are a few at the very end of the game that continue to experiment but they don't do enough to stand out.
As well as this, there are some secrets and yokai to find that initially have a lot of charm but fail to really grow as the narrative does. Ultimately, this leaves the latter half of the game feeling a little too slow. If you really want to do everything on the map, you may find yourself mindlessly floating around the city mopping them all up.
I say float due to K.K's powers. As you make your way through the game, you are granted experience (EXP) through actions like saving souls, completing objectives and fighting bad guys. You can find bunches of souls around the city that can be absorbed into a katashiro and set free outside of the fog.
In It For the Long Haul
Given there are 240,000 souls to save and you only capture a few hundred at a time, it may take you a long time to clear everyone out. After a certain threshold of EXP, you level up and can spend points to unlock new skills. These go from an ability to summon flying Tengu to get you up high, all the way to a small buff in attack speed.
With this skill, you can easily clear many of the challenges faced early in the game - a good way of showing how far you have come. The same can be said for Ghostwire's combat. Initially, it felt a little too stiff for my liking but the addition of powers and more enemies makes everything feel much nicer. Ultimately, it doesn't seem like the game is built for precision headshots and snipes, it's built for clearing out groups of yokai and looking cool while you do it.
Once I stopped playing the game like a fully-fledged FPS, it started to click more with me. I learned to accept that a stray shot is part of the process and what makes Akito grow as a character. It would have been nice if it felt a little more smooth but I grew accustomed to it come the end of the game. You are a human who is now responsible for hundreds of thousands of lives. You are small and out of your depth.
Ghostwire: Tokyo Verdict
Ghostwire: Tokyo is an enthralling experience with some interesting side quests and a fantastic tone. Even if its exploration of open-world design can let it down and its combat doesn't live up to its visuals, there's so much here to love. Within minutes, it managed to capture my attention and didn't let go until the end. It's a game worth loving, despite its flaws.
RealSport Rating: 4 out of 5
We reviewed Ghostwire: Tokyo on PS5 with a code provided by Bethesda.