Review: Tokyo Tattoo Girls

Picking and Choosing

I’ve always wondered what criteria localization companies use when they choose what games to bring westward. Aside from the obvious big names and those with a significant fanbase, how do they decide which smaller and possibly more obscure Japanese titles are worth jumping the Pacific?

Sometimes it might be that the publisher sees potential, such as back when Sega tested the waters for a Hatsune Miku Project Diva localization at various trade shows. It could also be a passion project of the staff, which is a major reason Trails in the Sky finally made it to English-speaking countries.

But then you get some utterly random game that makes you wonder, “Why did they choose to localize that?” I’m not trying to infer this question to be a bad thing – I’m on the record as a fan of the Senran Kagura series, but I really still wonder who first thought that the series would work in the North American market.

Sometimes, though, that question can have a negative connotation.

Developed by Sushi Typhoon Games and published in the West by NIS America, Tokyo Tattoo Girls was released on November 14th, 2017, for both Vita and PC via Steam. The Steam version was played for this review.

Front-Loaded

Tokyo Tattoo Girls takes place in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo. The city has been mostly obliterated by some unnamed catastrophe, and for some reason, mysterious tattoos have begun appearing on the girls who survived the disaster. The tattoos give the girls supernatural powers, and they have divided themselves into various groups, each laying claim to one of the 23 wards of the city. You yourself are tattoo artist, and have the ability to add more magical tattoos to people. Teaming up with one of six girls with dreams of uniting the wards, you step out on your journey to conquer Tokyo.

All of the above is covered in the game’s opening scroll (and all of its promotional material), and it’s really all there is to the story. The rest of it is banal conversation between your chosen girl and a handful of other characters that does next to nothing to flesh out the setting or backstory.

Each of the wards is controlled by another tattooed girl, who your chosen girl speaks to right before taking over their ward. Each of these ward leaders have extremely one-note characterizations, often relying on anime cliche, and occasionally feel wildly out-of-place (like the one girl who thinks she is a robot).

Conversations typically revolve completely around the ward leader’s annoying quirk as well. There are rare occasions where your girl will recognize a leader, and speak a few lines inferring some kind of history, but nothing ever comes of it.

Truly, that is the extent of the plot of this game. An opening scroll and some pointless conversation. There isn’t even a satisfying conclusion – if you manage to capture all of the wards, your “reward” is essentially a quick “thank you” from your chosen girl, followed by the credits roll.

Stop and Stare

During the run-up to this game’s release, I saw many on various forums complaining that promotional material seemed to be obscuring what the gameplay for this title even was. After playing, I believe I know why: Tokyo Tattoo Girls is a mostly passive strategy game, and to put it bluntly, it’s not very good.

At the outset, you select one of the 23 wards to begin your conquest. Then, you wait. Time passes automatically, as the girl you’re teamed up with works to convert the citizens of each ward to your cause. Eventually, she’ll invade another ward automatically. Sometimes, wards highlight red, and you have to click on them.

Congratulations, you now know the gameplay depth of Tokyo Tattoo Girls.

This is a game that essentially plays itself, with little input from the player. There’s really only three things you can do: click on map icons to get money or calm down an angry ward, spend money to speed up conquests or calm down an angry ward, and put tattoos on your chosen girl.

As I said, the bulk of the game is automatic. The overall goal is to recruit every “Clanswoman” and “Punk” in a ward, after which you’ll face down with the ward leader and take it for your own. The game never explains the difference between Clanswomen and Punks, so I just saw them as two separate counters I had to tick down to zero.

Really, things going unexplained is the name of the game here. Even for a game in which you don’t actually do much, the tutorial is woefully lacking in detail. Things as essential as how to view your progress in each ward aren’t even explained well. The tutorial says to simply highlight a ward to see this info, and this is a blatant lie. I couldn’t figure out how to do so until I started smashing random keys on my keyboard.

If you want to know, to pull up this info, you have to press the ‘4’ key. Everything else is mouse controlled except for this random keyboard press.

Occasionally, a ward you are invading will turn red, indicating they are on “Alert.” Leave a ward on alert for too long and a siren icon will appear on it. When you click it, you either lose “Honor” (your health bar) or initiate a Turf War, where you have a chance of losing Honor. The decision between these two occurrences appears to be completely random.

The most involved thing you will be doing is activating special skills in different wards. Each girl has her own set of skills you can spend money on to activate, all being different variations on recruiting Punks and Clanswomen, reducing Alert, restoring Honor, or changing your chances of invading other wards. The differences in skill sets between girls is small enough as to be insignificant.

The “highlight” of the game is the tattoo mechanic, where you can spend your money to place tattoos on an image of your girl’s naked back. The various tattoos are supposed to increase your ability to take over certain wards, but I never saw any significant change in progression after purchasing tattoos.

Even after all of this, the most disappointing part of the game is the faceoffs against the ward leaders. As I mentioned earlier, these consist of annoyingly pointless dialogue, but there’s another point that makes these moments even worse: it is impossible to lose. After conversation, you select one of three dialogue choices, watch a poorly-created animation play out, and automatically win. The only difference you can make is by choosing the “best” dialogue choice, upon which you are rewarded with an art still of the ward leader you just beat.

Fresh From the App Store

For a game in which you spend the majority of the time sitting around watching it play itself, I’d expect there to be at least some decent visual presentation. Not so with Tokyo Tattoo Girls.

90% of the time, you’ll be staring at an undetailed map of Tokyo’s wards. The wards change color, there’s some generic “eastern” art around it, and that’s about it. The character designs, bluntly, look like they were taken from a low-budget mobile game. Even the art stills you get from doing your best against the ward leaders are unremarkable, mostly showing these girls in boring poses against dull backgrounds.

The soundtrack fares even worse, being completely and utterly forgettable. As a nice example, the track that plays during your “battles” against ward leaders is a single guitar chord followed by a pulsing single note – completely the opposite of what I’d call “exciting fight music.”

There is also voice acting here, available in the original Japanese, and it is…well, inoffensive. Much like the characters themselves, the acting performances are woefully generic. It’s the one part of the experience I wouldn’t call outright “bad,” but it’s unworthy of being called a highlight either.

A Strategic Failure

You know what? I’ll say it straight up – Tokyo Tattoo Girls is one of the worst games I’ve played so far this year. NIS America has brought us some absolutely amazing games in this latter half of 2017, including Ys VIII and Danganronpa V3, and I truly have to wonder why they even optioned this game for a localization.

It’s a strategy game lacking in both strategy and gameplay, the plot is near non-existent, the dialogue is juvenile, and the presentation feels ripped from a budget title. I can, quite honestly, not think of a single redeeming quality for this game, other than the fact that it functions as a computer program.

The only thing staying my hand from scoring this game any lower is the memory of another game we reviewed this year, Stage Presence. Compared to that in gameplay content, at least, Tokyo Tattoo Girls is a step up.


~ Final Score: 3/10 ~


Review copy provided by NIS America. Screenshots taken by review.