Recently, I’ve finished Ghostwire: Tokyo. I have a love-hate relationship with it, to be honest. It’s not a bad game per say, if it was, I would not have played it for 26 hours, but it had too many things, that were annoying to me.
The story was lackluster at best, it’s on par with lower mid-tier anime. The characters are quite shallow, although at times the story tries to make them seem deeper. The side quests are sometimes fine for what they are, but some of them have more potential to tell you more about the lore, which they do not use.
Visually it is… Strange. For me it was very blurry even on max settings and somehow everything was a reflecting surface. Even with RTX disabled. Like, I literally noticed tree trunks reflect stuff sometimes. Yes, tree trunks. It happened just a couple of times, but still, it did happen.
Combat and "stealth" are lackluster, too. It behaves more like an FPS, where every skill or item works as a "gun", but they do not feel as unique among each other and, generally, do not provide that much of satisfaction, when you use them, even when you are able to kill an enemy. Especially, since it is mainly constant mouse-clicking (or button-mashing) rather than something strategic (although you can try that by switching between various types of magic, of course).
Overall, it has certain design elements (covered below), that just made me feel as creators do not like people and want them to suffer during gameplay. And not like in Dark Souls or any other souls-like game. In those you suffer, because of high difficulty, and I can understand the appeal of that, even though I am not a fan of the genre. Here it is suffering through poor choices.
The only thing, that I found consistent through out the game is level-design. I certainly can appreciate the amount of work put into replicating parts of Tokyo, even though it is probably scaled down quite a bit. On the other hand, is that achievement for level designers or for the architects? There were also some "glitches", that did look quite nice. Not to the level of DmC, but still relatively good.
In the end, I would not recommend this game, unless you like the aesthetics of the game, where everything is too shiny, almost cyberpunk-like (the style, not the game), and have some time to explore this Tokyo replica. And even if you do – better get it on discount.
Now time for some more details on what I did not like, and how I would change it to make things better. It’s not as detailed as what I did for Detroit: Become Human or The Medium, but still a long read. Also, some narrative related questions may be clarified in some in-game note, but I believe, that the questions that I raise should be covered during the main gameplay, not through some note, that you can even miss.
Slight of hands
Problem: Hand signs required for cleansing and removal of afflictions look not just goofy, but almost obnoxious. Over-stretching of fingers, over-the-top movements in general. They do not fit the style.
Solution: Make them more realistic, maybe with use of proper mocap. Probably also make them more consistent, because same thing often uses different signs with no apparent logic behind the difference.
Problem: Hand signs can be done by the player or by KK (the guy possessing the main character), that is by the game itself, that requires holding a button. There is no benefit to doing those yourself at all. Furthermore, from narrative perspective there is no reason for Akito (the main character) to do them, either. Let alone that they just break the overall flow or tempo of the game. And also the fact that the hand sign is actually done before you get the control.
Solution: Firstly, for narrative – just be consistent with the earlier story. It said/showed that KK does not have full control on Akito’s body. So, drop the ability to draw the signs automatically. Secondly, select a few hand signs for specific situations. It can be just 2 signs, of course (cleansing, affliction removal), but there can be more, for example cleansing of specters, cleansing of small objects, cleansing of big objects or something like that. Thirdly, show the sign without hand gestures (as if KK is showing it in Akito’s mind) and make the player do it manually only the 1st time it is encountered (and maybe for unique cases, too). Then when player encounters it again – do it automatically by pressing a button (maybe, holding it, but I am not a fan of that). It then will be akin to spells’ learning in early Harry Potter games, where you manually drew a symbol representing a spell during your first class, and then it was added to as a "type of ammo", essentially.
Problem: Animation for opening map is too long. It may look somewhat cool at first but becomes old very fast.
Solution: Instead of doing that weird hand gesture, rely on the fact that game takes place in modern times, more specifically, give Akito a smartwatch and when calling map/inventory show him lifting his left arm and zoom in on the watch’s screen or "expand" to fill in game’s screen. Lifting an arm to look at the watch is a very simple and fast motion, and I think there were other games, that did something similar. You can do this if you do want to have some kind of animation (maybe for hiding loading process), because it can still make it much faster. Alternatively… Just open the menu with no animations.
Problem: Hand animation for spirit vision. Firstly, again, it’s too long and unnecessary. Secondly, why is there like "water drop"… Thing? I have no idea how to call it. It’s not explained in the game in any way and does not make sense, even though ripples’ effect is ok. Thirdly, if you run and trigger it – you stop running. It falls off even when you stand… In the end, a lot of time is wasted on triggering the spirit vision.
Solution: Drop the animation. No need for it. Narratively it can be explained by KK "sharing" his vision, same as with his powers. Allow it to just get "toggled" freely. If you do want some limitation for it, then allow it to run indefinitely while standing in one place but fade it slowly when walking and faster when running. Narratively this can be explained by needing to focus, which is somewhat more difficult to do when also moving around.
Problem: Too many actions require holding buttons. Especially collecting spirits becomes even more annoying because of that.
Solution: Button holding during combat – is fine. Button holding for cleansing and removing afflictions – fine. But, at the least collecting spirits should be done by just 1 press of a button. Collecting magatamas should also be done by pressing 1 button, which would trigger unique animation for each respective yokai.
Problem: Hannya (the villain) was meant to collect the souls, but then they are scattered all over for us to collect, which does not make sense, because it means, that he did not complete his goal of collecting the spirits.
Solution: The game already has "trees", which you destroy to free spirits. I would stick to those and have them in much higher numbers, than what the game has. Do not scatter the spirits, but just let them be in the trees, as if they are "clusters", through which the initial gathering of spirits is done, so that they can be transported later. Spirit Cubes can remain: if spirits are not saved in time, a tree is grown in their place. Hyakki Yako (spirit parade or something) can then be "collecting" those trees. In fact, now that I wrote this, you could start with all spirits scattered around, but then make the game "play itself" by making Visitors (your enemies) collecting the spirits in into Cubes, then growing trees from them, and then the parade(s) collecting the trees. It will not only make the game more alive, but will also stimulate player to collect random spirits, because gathering them from trees, let alone parades, can be more difficult (requires more fighting).
Problem: There is no explanation, how spirits are being transferred through phones, and why that can produce meka (money).
Solution: We already have yokai. Yokai are not inherently malicious (and non-human) spirits, but even if they were – they need humans. Or at least some of them do. Or maybe not need, but want, because they have established beneficial relationships. So maybe there could be a yokai living in the phone lines or just near the phone booths, that is transferring the souls, and is paying for them on behalf of other yokai. That would also explain why yokai-cats offer stuff for the meka specifically.
Problem: Turning in spirits is quite annoying because you need to interact with the phone booth, then with the phone and then you need to confirm, that you are turning in the spirits.
Solution: It could have been just 1 button, that would play the animations in sequence and automatically turn in the spirits. Could be the same length even, but if it was fully automated it could be a nice break, and not an annoyance.
Problem: Why can we carry only 50 paper dolls? There is no logic explanation for that in-game, it is again a decision to make it annoying, so that you go to phone booths more often.
Solution: Remove the 50 dolls limit. If not for that limit, I think you can gather way more. I am fine with the need to collect them as rewards though: this could be explained, by the dolls requiring some spiritual preparation or something.
Problem: Ability to collect multiple spirits at once is very inconsistent. Quite often you see 3 spirits, but can collect only 2 at once, because no matter how you position yourself 3rd one will become "inactive".
Solution: Let the dolls collect all spirits around Akito and at a certain distance. Like cores from visitors.
Problem: What does Ed really do with the spirits? Spirits should not care about the fog, since it seems to be bad only for the living. And then, there are no bodies anywhere in the city, to which the spirits could return…
Solution: Place the bodies around? Or make Visitors posses them? I do not know, honestly, this just seems like a plot hole.
Problem: It is extremely unclear, what absorbing yokai power actually does to the yokai. Some seem to die from that, but then there are some, that offer themselves willingly. It is also unclear how the received magatama is affecting Akito. How does it make him more powerful?
Solution: Firstly, you need to choose, whether absorbing yokai kills them or not. I would go with weakening them temporarily, so that they need to return to the "other side" to recuperate. Secondly, since their power is presented as seemingly solid magatama, I would use them for a necklace or something similar. Their benefits then could be explained as "wearing the stones helps you to strengthen your body and transcend human limits". Or something along those lines.
Problem: You need magatama to carry more stuff.
Solution: Maybe buy some more bags instead? They can be some specialized bags, if required, but… Come on, why would you need an otherworldly magatama to allow you to carry more snacks with you?
Problem: There is no real reason to collect clothes. You only see them in cutscenes, in inventory (with a very low-quality model, too) and… That’s it. Granted, some are rewarded automatically for completing quests, but those that you need to buy – no real reason to. Photo mode? Not sure if that is much of a reason, to be honest, but maybe it’s just me.
Solution: Since you already have RPG elements – add some minor bonuses to the clothes. Defense, dodge, faster projectiles. I mean, you already have that with beads, which are kind of clothing, too, so why not with everything else? It would motivate people to really search for those and buy them.
Problem: Music collection. Don’t get me wrong, soundtrack is quite good here, but music collection is an after-thought. Yes, you can play it to accompany your traversal of the world, but… If you want to change the track or pause it or whatever you need to get into inventory again and press lots of buttons.
Solution: Quick access to music control through some button. Perhaps through "weapon" wheel (right bumper)? It does have quite a few free space on the left.
Problem: Spirit Cubes, parades and "Don’t Worry" achievement are dependent on randomizer. For Spirit Cubes and parades this is bad since you need them for 100% completion of spirits. You can spend literal hours trying to find the rest of them, which is not cool. And the "Don’t Worry" achievement is just… Bad. It is pure luck, I can’t call that an "achievement", really.
Solution: For cubes and parades I already suggested a good solution above. For "Don’t Worry" achievement, which is, essentially "slots game", I would increase chances for bad pulls, which would make sense, since everything is going bad in Tokyo, and then increase them with every Tanuki found, for example. Or with every magatama collected. And make the achievement pop when you pull a good one. I think there was one that made you invulnerable for some time, that could be the one granting the achievement.
Problem: Tengu. Why are they just flying in 1 place (most of them, at least) and allow you to grab onto them?
Solution: I can accept them just hanging in 1 place, as if they are gargoyles, but at least they need to react more to when you grapple them. Maybe say something or slap you in the face. Something, that would clearly indicate that they are not fond of this behavior. Or the "tengu traversal system" needs to be introduced after talking with some "High Tengu" that decides to help you in removing the fog and whatnot. That would also explain how come you are able to summon Tengu after you acquire a certain ability.
Problem: Tengu summoning is very inconsistent. In some places it is clearly disabled completely. In others it’s not disabled but may require specific angle at which you look at a building. Usually (but not always) you can’t summon Tengu on any roof which is not "flat". Which does not make much sense: are they afraid to slip on an angled roof or something? The distance requirement is also working sometimes, but not the other times. Especially annoying is when you can’t grapple to a roof that is just a little bit higher than you current one, so that gliding to it will not let you climb it, meaning that you will fall.
Solution: I get why it’s done this way – to have limitations. But the existing limitations does not make sense at all, since Tengu are not even touching the ground. I get the distance limitation – let it stay, but make it consistent, so that you can summon Tengu if distance to an object is less or equal to set distance. But then let us summon them on any surface. If you think it’s not enough to limit just the distance – add a short cooldown, especially since it would make sense, because Tengu probably are not fond of this "feature". Let them also say something about how annoying this is periodically.
Problem: Vertical traversal is no fun, until you get to summon Tengu. Yes, there are places where there are stationary ones, but… Their positioning is not that good.
Solution: I’d think of removing stationary Tengu entirely, and rather allow summoning after a quest (as mentioned above, through some talk with "High Tengu" or something). If that’s a no-go – double jump with some cooldown. Before we get to Tengu summoning double jump may make traversal just a little bit more fun and convenient. There are too many places, where you can’t jump over a fence or the like, but there is also no good placement to summon a Tengu. Double jump would help with those, too.
Problem: For a game, that expects you to traverse vertically quite a bit, its map is not suited for multi-layered level navigation at all.
Solution: Split the map into levels. I understand, that considering the highly variable heights of the city layout, there probably would be quite a few levels, but ability to toggle between them would be invaluable. Alternatively, when entering the vicinity of a multi-layered building – load a multi-leveled map for that building. The game already changes maps when you enter inside buildings, so you would just need more of smaller maps and make multiple levels (floors) of each one of them.
Problem: You can mark areas where to search for relics, which are completely random, but somehow you can’t do the same for Jozo statues, which would make much more sense, considering the game is in modern world, and there would probably be a Wiki page with the list of exact locations.
Solution: Remove "areas" from relic hunts, add them to Jozo statues.
Problem: Praying can help you locate tanuki and relics. But not all of them.
Solution: Allow to locate all of them. Otherwise, this feels like a half-assed idea.
Problem: What’s so special about Mari?
Solution: I am blank on this one. If she was in a coma or something, maybe that could make her special, because she would have been "in-between" worlds, but… She was not in a coma, as far as I understood.
Problem: Why the only dog breed in the city is shiba-inu? I can understand why same model is used for cats, since a lot of domestic breeds have little differences, that would be noticeable in-game, but with dogs it’s more noticeable. I also think that chances of a Shibu being on the street are lower than for some crossbreed mutt.
Solution: Introduce a couple of real street-dog breeds and make shiba-inu "special" in sense, that they can dig up meika, if you feed them (as currently).
Problem: Who the hell are visitors and how are they different from yokai?
Solution: Well, explain that. Not in some note, but in a proper dialogue, probably when encountering first yokai, since visitors will come first. I would go for visitors being malicious yokai, that are possessing the bodies of humans.
Problem: How the hell is Hannya is summoning visitors? And the fog? I mean, KK’s "gang" allegedly was investigating the fog before it appeared, but… How?
Solution: Again – explain it. I would assume, that fog is a "tool", that was meant for separating souls from bodies, and visitors are more like a byproduct of this segregation, which Hannya is using in order to collect those souls more easily (especially if you consider the suggestion about spirits, that I wrote above). As for KK’s gang knowing about the fog – well, there are many ways to explain it, like they have encountered it before in some other places. Maybe Hannya was even part of their gang, and decided to use that fog after their first encounter even.
Problem: How is Rinko able to see stuff through payphones, that do not have cameras in them?
Solution: No idea. Especially considering, that I was not able to understand whether her spirit was moving around or not.
Problem: Last chapter had a segment of pure walking. For 10 minutes. 10 minutes of walking. And it was boring. It was unemotional, even though it was meant to be "psychological".
Solution: All those details from Akito’s past should have been told during the main story in smaller pieces. That would probably imply more quests before the finale, but that’s fine. Dumping all of that in 1 big and boring portion is definitely not a solution.
Problem: I saved all the spirits before the final mission. Why is the end played out as if I did not?..
Solution: Cutscenes should show how Hannya realizes, that there are not enough spirits, but he still continues with the ritual, and, perhaps, his final form is weaker if I have collected all spirits.