Tokyo Dark Review
Armed with a concentrated dose of psychological thriller elements, Tokyo Dark injects the side-scrolling adventure genre with a handful of unique twists. Life for Tokyo Dark started under the Square Enix Collective indie umbrella that proved to be a massive success on Kickstarter. Cherrymochi’s debut title has a lot of neat ideas, but they don’t always hit the mark.
Tokyo Dark starts off on a strong, disturbing note. Detective Ayami Ito is in the middle of tracking down both her professional and personal partner-in-crime - Kazuki Tanaka. After a brief opening section, the impossible occurs. Tanaka is held hostage by the crimson-haired Reina, someone she accidentally killed in a previous case. Returning the favor, Reina murders Tanaka in front of Ito’s eyes. Traumatized by the whole ordeal, Ito pushes on to find the truth no matter the cost.
It’s entirely possible to turn Ito into a violent iron-willed detective and you’ll see a very different side to her. I preferred the more crafty, sly methods available to her since her sarcastic dialogue is a lot more amusing. For instance, Ito may need an important piece of evidence that’s restricted from her. She could opt for a straightforward method to knock the guard out. Alternatively, a more roundabout way may involve turning off the cameras to set the fire alarm off with no concrete proof of the mischievous culprit.
No matter the method, Tokyo Dark does a decent job designing fitting scenarios for the different faces of Ito to shine. The result is not always as natural as I’d want it to be, but it avoids any possible trappings of emotional whiplash.
Tokyo Dark’s key gameplay feature lies in its S.P.I.N attributes for the lovely detective. These four stats track her sanity, professionalism, investigation, and neurosis. Her state-of-mind is always in question as word of her situation is not exactly as secretive as she’d hope. There’s a constant S.P.I.N tug of war as situations arise with no clear, easy answer. It reminded me a bit of Eternal Darkness and Chaos;Head where a character’s mental health directly affected gameplay.
Circumstances may call for morally questionable actions to drive the investigation further. A sleazy drunk might have important intel; will Ito force it out of him or warm up to him for a hot second to obtain what she needs? The former will undoubtedly reduce her professionalism, but drive the investigation forward faster; meanwhile, the latter will take a slight toll on her sanity with no guarantee that she’ll get the intel.
S.P.I.N opens up new possibilities in Tokyo Dark. Some endings are only available when certain attributes are managed a certain way in it. A handful of conversations are influenced by Ito’s current condition from it. Luckily, Tokyo Dark’s New Game+ allows you to jump between its chapters so S.P.I.N manipulation is much easier to unlock the rest of the endings.
Other than the nifty S.P.I.N system, the rest of Tokyo Dark’s is a mixed bag. Its soft 2D artstyle does wonders for more expressive characters like Reina. Mifune’s tattoos also work especially well for it too. For some characters like the Old Kawana Woman, it looks out of place. There’s an eerie inconsistency to it that I wasn’t too fond of. Ito’s awkwardly robotic running animation is hard to ignore too.
Even though a single playthrough is roughly three to four hours, there are some points in the narrative where it drags its feet. Ito will find herself solving other minor cases to obtain leads and clues for her main investigation and it gets lost in itself more often than not.
Thankfully the different parts of Tokyo are well-made. Whether it’s Kabukicho’s buzzing neon lights at night or Akihabara’s glorification of the otaku lifestyle, Cherrymochi tastefully spices up Tokyo’s locales brilliantly.
One of the strongest aspects of Tokyo Dark is definitely its sound design. Matthew Steed’s soundwork in this game is nothing short of stellar. A mix of ambient laid-back tones and sharp strings to heighten the horror elements propel several story moments above and beyond what I expected. Wandering dark places into major encounters are where the score shines; the seamless mixing of buildup in sound is astoundingly effective.
Tokyo Dark isn’t necessarily breaking new ground for adventure games, but it’s one worth checking out. Its spin via S.P.I.N presents an intriguing approach to depict a psychological thriller. Instead of leaning heavily on environmental puzzles, Tokyo Dark focuses more on multiple solutions to character interactions. The uneven pacing and inconsistent artstyle hold Tokyo Dark back from being great, though it’s certainly an impressive first game from Cherrymochi.
Versions tested: PC
Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided to RPG Site by the publisher.