Ghostwire Tokyo’s Deserted Metropolis Looks to Unsettle Shinji Mikami Fans

Our first impressions after seeing 30 minutes of the eerily unpopulated Tokyo.

Tango Gameworks’ Ghostwire Tokyo made its first appearance back at E3 2019, but in the last couple years, news has been relatively quiet aside from a short gameplay trailer in 2020. Now, as we inch closer to its release (it’s slated for March and is currently in the “final polishing phase” of development, according to director Kenji Kimura) we at Fanbyte had the chance to see the game in action.

If you haven’t heard of the upcoming open-world, action-adventure game Ghostwire Tokyo, it’s from the same makers of the Evil Within series. Taking place in Japan’s capital, the game paints the city as eerily unpopulated, with about 99 percent of its inhabitants having mysteriously disappeared after a paranormal disaster. It’s up to you to figure out what the hell is going on and stop it.

Because this was a hands-off demo, I didn’t get a chance to play, but instead watched footage of a developer making their way through a 30-minute portion of the game. Since these demos are so controlled and I didn’t actually try this one myself, it’s hard to make a holistic opinion on what works and what doesn’t. But as a whole, I liked what I saw, especially when it comes to Ghostwire Tokyo’s spooky world and the mysteries within.

With all that in mind, I’ve listed below some of my biggest takeaways and breakdowns of what was most interesting.

How does this feel in comparison to Evil Within?

There are a number of differences, chief among them that Ghostwire Tokyo is much more open and less linear than Evil Within due to its open-world format. But Kimura has also been candid in interviews that Ghostwire Tokyo is “not a horror game.” This lines up with what I saw in the demo — the title is spooky but not downright terrifying, with more action-adventure leanings than survival horror.

One similarity is that, like in Evil Within, there are environments that twist or distort your perception of reality. In one portion of the Ghostwire Tokyo demo, you’re stuck in an apartment complex because a supernatural barrier has closed in. To break it down and escape, you destroy stones hidden around the building. As you navigate, however, the environment changes into something otherworldly. Tiny black specks group together like blotches of paint, quickly squirming around the hallway like spiders. Furniture topples and shakes around of its own accord, with tables and chairs glued to the ceiling. At one point, the walls fall away completely to reveal the lights of the city behind them. All this occurs because you are receiving “underworld” interference from the barrier. This section was my favorite of the whole demo because it showcased some real creativity with how Tango Gameworks can distort our perceived notions of the world they’ve built.

So… if Tokyo is devoid of people, does the open world feel barren?

This was one of my biggest concerns, and it’s still difficult to answer fully when I’ve only seen a small snippet of controlled gameplay. But, yes, Tokyo does feel empty without humans to populate it — but that’s also largely the point. You’re meant to feel alone, isolated, and a little on edge. This isn’t a bustling open-world fantasy, and neither is it meant to be. I worry, however, about whether that feeling of “being on edge” loses its luster after a while, and if that emptiness becomes more stale than frightening. Thankfully, the good news is that there are many spirits wandering about, eager to meet you on your journey. Some will ask for your help and open up side quests; others are hostile.

Tell me more about these spirits. Is there a connection to Japanese folklore and mythology?

Yes! This is thematically one of the most fascinating parts of Ghostwire Tokyo. All the spirits, paranormal happenings, and many of the items you come across have a connection to traditional Japanese mythology. For example, different spirit types are found in different areas, such as Yokai appearing as feline store owners who trade goods with you. When you fight spirits, the hope is you can overcome them so that you can then absorb and free them. To do this, you use your powers and then hold up a Katashiro, a magical paper doll shaped as a human figure. Katashiro are real historic objects that have been used ritualistically, often to ward off bad spirits. Ghostwire Tokyo is filled with interesting cultural nods like this.

So, you mentioned some human characters. Who are they? What’s the general story here?

You play as Akito, a young man who hopes to find his family that disappeared along with the rest of Tokyo’s many inhabitants. He joins forces with an experienced ghost hunter named KK in order to take down Hannya, a masked antagonist who appears to be pulling the strings behind the paranormal disaster. KK is your main companion, constantly speaking to you through a device in your ear as you explore Tokyo.

The segment I saw was the beginning of the second chapter, and most of their interactions were in the context of tutorials as KK guided Akito through the city. As a result, it was hard to get a good grasp of Akito and KK’s characters, and I can’t say I was totally sold on their dynamic. With a world as empty as this one, my hope is that these two characters will carry a lot of the personality that the world may lack, but I’m not yet convinced they do.

However, the big hook centers on mystery. At one point, you investigate an apartment that KK and other ghost hunters used to frequent, and you find a framed picture that portrays KK and his friends. KK is particularly evasive when you ask about his past. When you find a sophisticated-looking bow and arrow in the apartment that used to belong to him, Akito recognizes that perhaps this new friend has a darker and more violent past than he lets on.

What’s combat like? Are the supernatural powers fun?

This is difficult to answer without having played. But from the several combat sequences I saw, combat didn’t look particularly exciting. But again, this was early in the game — not all powers in the skill tree were unlocked, so combat came across simplistic.

Most of what I saw involved shooting projectiles toward enemies or, near the end of the fight, grabbing their “cores” to essentially rip them to shreds. With the bow and arrow, you can shoot powerful ranged shots. While combat seemed lackluster, at least for this early portion of the game, some of the enemy designs are pretty awesome — one of my favorites is a creepy, Slenderman-looking being with a tattered umbrella.

Some of the cooler supernatural powers had more to do with movement, not just combat. There is a grapple ability that was used to swing onto a roof and instantly grab hold of a winged spirit enemy to kill it. You can also dash in the air, as well as use your Spectral Vision (similar to the likes of Eagle Vision in Assassin’s Creed) to pinpoint where enemies are or inspect your surroundings for hidden objects. These powers become more effective, too, as you upgrade them in the skill tree in your menu.

As someone who prefers being sneaky, I was pleased to see you can avoid some combat situations by simply using stealth to catch enemies off guard with a silent takedown maneuver called Quick Purge. This looked to be particularly fun during segments in which you have to cleanse shrines where enemies appear in groups in a specific area.

Ghostwire Tokyo intrigues with its mystery, weaving a tale about disappearing loved ones and high stakes in a world where you have no one to turn to. Despite my concerns with simplistic combat and the potentially barren state of its open-world, I’m curious to see how the scares, mysteries, and folklore all come together when it’s released next month.

Ghostwire Tokyo arrives on PC and PlayStation 5 (as a console timed exclusive) on March 25.