Back in 2014, Square Enix entered into an interesting experiment. One that would help indie developers pitch ideas, gain public interest, and possibly receive assistance in the creation and publication of their work. That experiment is known as the Square Enix Collective.
Initially, the Collective was an interesting way of opening up games publishing to more people. Creators could pitch their game ideas to the program, which would then present these ideas to the general public. The pitches would then be voted on by gamers, with the votes weighing heavily on if these ideas would receive support from the program in becoming full games.
Successful pitches would then often move to Kickstarter, with the Collective supporting the campaign to get the developer’s ideas off the ground. On rare occasion, Square Enix would also step in to act as publisher for the finished title as well.
One game that launched through this process was Tokyo Dark, a PC point-and-click-esque adventure from Tokyo-based indie studio Cherrymochi. After a successful Kickstarter and receiving publishing support directly from Square Enix, the title launched on PC back in 2017.
Now, two years to the day of the game’s original launch, Sony Music’s indie games arm Unties has stepped in to bring the game to consoles.
Developed by Cherrymochi and published by Unties, Tokyo Dark: Remembrance was released on November 7th, 2019, on Switch.
The Door to the Dark
Tokyo Dark follows Ayami Itō, a detective living and working in Tokyo. Her partner, Kazuki Tanaka, has been working solo on a long-running case when he suddenly disappears during an investigation. As Itō sets out to find Tanaka, she begins to learn the details behind his investigation and how they link to a recent encounter of her own…one that is causing her sanity to slowly slip.
What follows is a relatively intriguing mystery story which fires some strong shots right out of the gate. Tokyo Dark doesn’t waste any time in presenting its mysteries, as well as giving the player some strong reasons to seek out answers. The plot managed to hook me in within the first 30 minutes of the game and didn’t let go for quite a while.
Unfortunately it isn’t all a thrilling roller coaster. Things slow to a crawl around the game’s midsection, padding out time with fetch quests that offer nearly no development to the core story or its players. For a game that only lasts about five hours for a single run, this padding really felt unnecessary.
Luckily, things pick back up and really take off near the end…depending on which ending you get. The game features multiple endings, and only a few of them have a satisfying payoff. The one I received on my initial run left a few too many threads hanging, followed by a scene that essentially screams in your face, “YOU MUST PLAY THIS GAME MULTIPLE TIMES!”
The initial run through Tokyo Dark features an interesting gimmick as well: The game only offers one save file, and no manual saves. The game is auto-saved after every decision you make; once you’ve made a choice, there’s no going back, you have to see the story through to the end. This often requires you to really think through some decisions, and leads to some tense moments as some of these major decisions are on a timer. Finishing the game unlocks a New Game Plus, which opens up a more traditional save system, letting you jump your way around the game to unlock the rest of the endings.
Tracking Your Sanity
While quite verbose, Tokyo Dark feels much more like a point-and-click adventure than just a visual novel with some gameplay thrown in. You’ll be exploring various areas of Tokyo and examining objects just as much as you’ll be clicking through dialogue.
The adventure section controls took a bit of getting used to. You essentially use Itō as your cursor, moving her around the city on a 2D plane to click on various areas of interest. Occasionally there are multiple areas you can check directly around Itō, requiring you to somewhat awkwardly swap between them with the Joycons’ shoulder buttons.
Other than that minor annoyance, the adventure sections are fairly simple. There aren’t any crazy logic puzzles or pixel hunting here to drive you up a wall; everything that you can look at is clearly marked, and the only real “puzzle” is the aforementioned fetch quest segment.
The other “game-like” aspect of Tokyo Dark is what the game calls the “SPIN System.” The game keeps track of four aspects of Itō’s mental health: Sanity, Professionalism, Investigation skill, and Neurosis. The decisions you make through the game affect your ratings in each of these, with the rating affecting everything from the ending you receive to the kinds of decisions you’re able to make in the game.
The Neurosis rating in particular is fairly interesting, as it essentially punishes the player for doing something most are used to doing: checking things repeatedly to see if they missed anything. For example, there was a part of the game where I had to get my hands on some evidence in a police station. While trying to figure out how, I visited some floors of the station repeatedly to explore, leading to weirded out comments from others in the station as well as my Neurosis rating rising rapidly.
Unfortunately, this SPIN System doesn’t really affect the core story all that much. After your initial run, it just becomes a set of numbers that you need to balance in different ways in order to unlock other endings.
Neurosis in Audio
Graphically, Tokyo Dark is a bit of a mixed bag. The environments you get to explore are often nicely detailed, but there aren’t many of them and they begin to get repetitive near the end of the game. Really, there’s only so many seedy city districts and back alleys you can see before they all start to blend together.
Character designs are also weirdly hit or miss, even amongst the core cast. Itō herself has an expressive style, as well as a number of random NPCs you talk to. Others, though, look like they were drafted quickly and slapped into the game, often sticking out in a bad way.
The game does offer up fully animated cutscenes on rare occasion, which was surprising to me considering how…well…”indie” the rest of the game felt. They only last for a few seconds at a time, but they were always a treat when they popped up.
Of particular note here is the music and sound design. The soundtrack carries much of the game’s emotional weight, helping to enforce a growing sense of unease as Itō’s sanity begins to slip away, as well as punctuating the more horrifying moments of the plot. This is definitely a game that you want to keep the sound on for, preferably with headphones in for the greatest effect.
Behind the Mask
Overall, Tokyo Dark was an interesting title that was worth the experience. It definitely has some faults that are hard to overlook, from the scattershot presentation to the lull in the story, but pushing through these reveals a relatively well-told horror mystery tale.
Really, the game is at its best on your initial run-through, where every choice matters and there’s no turning back. Something as simple as this adds a lot of weight to the choices you make, which is lost when going back into a New Game Plus to grind out the rest of the game’s endings.
As a budget priced title, Tokyo Dark is worth the look if you’re in the mood for a quick and concise mystery. For those looking for something with a bit more meat on its bones, though, I’d probably point you in the direction of the also recently released AI: The Somnium Files.
Review copy provided by Unties for Switch. Screenshots taken by reviewer.