Tango Gameworks’ The Evil Within and its sequel are quintessential Shinji Mikami games, brazenly following in the footsteps of Resident Evil 4 by mixing survival horror and action with an over-the-shoulder perspective. The studio was never meant to be an avenue for Mikami’s own creative vision, though. Tango was established with the aim of showcasing new and talented young creators, and Ghostwire: Tokyo is the first game to really demonstrate this aspiration. There’s nothing else that can compare to its peculiar brand of open-world exploration and supernatural combat, as it borrows familiar elements and combines them with new ideas in imaginative and surprising ways. It may stumble at times, but the sheer creativity and attention to detail exhibited throughout constantly shine through.
Ghostwire: Tokyo’s story begins at a rapid pace with one of its protagonists lying dead on the floor. After being involved in a fatal car accident on Tokyo’s famous Shibuya Scramble Crossing, Akito Izuki is brought back from the dead when a shadowy spirit calling himself KK merges with his body. The unholy union between the pair gives Akito access to KK’s supernatural powers, but before he’s even able to fathom what the hell’s going on, the rest of Tokyo’s residents are engulfed by a malevolent fog that blankets the entire city. A menagerie of evil spirits known as Visitors now roam Shibuya’s streets in their stead, so it’s up to Akito and KK to put a stop to the masked villain responsible before the situation worsens.
Both protagonists have different motivations for embarking on this dangerous quest, beyond their responsibility to save the world. KK is seeking revenge while Akito is desperate to save his younger sister after she’s kidnapped by the villain for nefarious purposes. The connection between Akito and KK is the strongest aspect of Ghostwire: Tokyo’s narrative, as their budding relationship takes center stage and develops naturally over the course of the game. The incidental banter between the pair adds levity to what is oftentimes bleak subject matter, and it’s easy to become invested in their predicament even when the mysteries surrounding KK’s past are ultimately unfulfilling.
The rest of the cast isn’t given enough screentime to really stand out or cultivate any kind of attachment, so attempts to land an emotional payoff are stunted. Akito’s sister, Mari, is a prime example of this as she’s more of a plot device than an actual character. The villain is severely underutilized, too. His motives make him potentially sympathetic, but instead he’s one-note and completely forgettable as a result.
The story’s shortcomings are disappointing considering the early potential of its alluring mysteries, but even this isn’t enough to detract from Ghostwire: Tokyo’s fantastic combat, setting, and world-building. When KK entwined with his body, Akito gained access to supernatural powers known as Ethereal Weaving, granting him the ability to unleash projectiles from his fingertips. Ghostwire: Tokyo forgoes physical firearms–instead, Akito is constantly contorting his hands and performing the finger gymnastics required to conjure spectral powers. You start the game with access to Wind Weaving, allowing you to pelt Tokyo’s invading spirits with neon gusts of wind, but by the end of the second chapter, you’ll also add both Fire and Water Weaving to your repertoire. The former unleashes a destructive missile that deals heavy damage, while the latter’s horizontal burst and wide spread make it an obvious shotgun analog. Each flick of the finger discharges these soaring projectiles that collide with a palpable ferocity, sending vibrant particles scattering into the night sky.
[Ghostwire: Tokyo’s] sheer creativity and attention to detail exhibited throughout constantly shine through
Combat takes a while to find its stride and feels stilted for the game’s first couple of hours, mainly because the fire rate of Wind Weaving is painstakingly slow. Once you start delving into Akito’s skill tree, however, this gradually begins to change. Increasing the rate of fire does wonders to the sense of impact and satisfaction that comes from rapidly blasting enemies away, and the combat’s dynamism only continues to grow once you unlock more powers. You’ll start utilizing Water Weaving in close-quarters to pulverize multiple enemies at once, propel Fire Weaving’s flaming area-of-effect attack to damage some of the game’s toughest foes, and throw magic Talismans to lock Visitors in place.
A significant reason why combat feels so gratifying is because of the way enemies react to your attacks. You might be fighting apparitions that have some basis in Japanese folklore, but you’re constantly ripping off these digital chunks to reach the inner core festering below the surface. All of the enemy designs feel like a reflection of Tokyo and its people, meshing modernity with the past. Just as towering skyscrapers cast shadows over traditional Shinto shrines, so too do these evil spirits emerge from contemporary issues. The faceless, umbrella-wielding Visitors are born from the hearts of those pushed to exhaustion by their work, while the headless spirits scurrying around the city in school uniform are derived from the anxieties of students.
Ghostwire: Tokyo isn’t a particularly scary game, despite these descriptions, yet the atmosphere it conjures is unmistakably eerie. An empty city is always going to be inherently unnerving, but that’s especially true of one as populated and dense as Tokyo. This isn’t your typical post-apocalyptic metropolis either, as Shibuya’s denizens have only recently vanished. There are still signs of life everywhere you look, with music emanating from the innards of karaoke bars; LED billboards illuminating the rain-soaked urban sprawl; convenience stores welcoming your patronage with a merry jingle and shelves stacked with freshly wrapped onigiri; and discarded clothes, shoes, umbrellas, and phones strewn across the floor, left behind by those consumed in the fog.
One glance at the map is enough to incur the dread of open-world fatigue, yet the majority of the myriad icons simply represent shops you can visit to purchase healing items. Exploration never feels overwhelming, mainly because you gain access to sections of the city in bite-sized chunks. By cleansing corrupted Torii gates throughout Shibuya, you’ll gradually disperse the harmful fog and reveal new side missions and collectibles. These optional quests are concise vignettes that usually revolve around helping spirits that are trapped in a state of limbo. This might include recovering cursed objects that were sold by a secondhand shop, searching an otherwise quiet neighborhood for the source of ominous piano music, or investigating a construction site where a rash of mysterious deaths has occurred.
You can typically complete these side missions in a few minutes, and their quality fluctuates wildly from one to the next. At their best, you’ll unravel a compelling paranormal mystery that mixes combat and exploration; at their worst, you’ll be thrown into a bland arena battle or have to tail a yokai for what feels like an eternity. These side missions are never outright bad, and they typically shed light on a particular facet of Japanese folklore, but too many of them lack depth and feel like they were included just to pad out the open-world activities.
Finding out that a Nurikabe is essentially a big mattress that enjoys impeding pathways, or that a Kappa can’t resist a good cucumber, is a part of what makes exploring Ghostwire: Tokyo’s open-world such a joy. It has an irreverent charm that pops up from time to time. You can pet, feed, and read the thoughts of dogs, for example, and spiritual cats now run all of the city’s convenience stores because they need to earn enough money to purchase nether catnip. You’ll also use what’s known as a Katashiro to consume friendly spirits and then feed them into a magic payphone to save them in exchange for money and XP. And it all makes complete sense because Tango Gameworks has established such a tangible sense of place.
Ghostwire: Tokyo doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to open-world games, but its unique setting, tremendous attention to detail, and singular combat make it stand out amongst its contemporaries. The story stumbles and not all of the side missions are particularly engaging, yet these aspects are easy to push to the back of your mind when you’re using finger guns to tear through corrupted spirits with dazzling aplomb. Shinji Mikami is a legendary director, but taking a backseat and letting new voices come to the fore has paid off.