Ghostwire: Tokyo Review
Eerie World Mired in Blandness
Ghostwire: Tokyo’s opening is a blur for protagonist Akito. Waking up from a car accident in the middle of the city, he finds his body hijacked by a spirit whose intentions are unclear. While struggling to understand what’s happening, a deathly fog rolls in, consuming everyone around him. A procession of spirits marches towards him, as a man in a Hannya mask talks about purifying souls and building the foundation of a world to come.
It’s intense enough and has a fair bit to process, even without counting the magical abilities that KK – the spirit now inhabiting Akito’s body – grants the protagonist shortly after attempting to force him into submission. Where the former is a fish out of water in this new version of Tokyo overrun by supernatural entities, the latter knows more than he lets on.
Akito’s goal, however, remains unchanged – getting to his hospitalized sister – but now overlaps with KK’s agenda, which involves the slightly grander task of saving the world. But while its initial hours expose you to a very promising premise and some rather flashy powers, which you have at your fingertips, Ghostwire: Tokyo falls by the wayside not long after.
Kinetic wire magic makes for the most satisfying part of Ghostwire Tokyo’s otherwise tedious combat.
Even as its cracks begin to show, this version of Tokyo successfully evokes the feeling of a tangible, real-life city. Its central area has all the hallmarks of an urban metropolis, with its distinctive neon lights reflecting in the puddles scattered across the concrete, widespread advertising, jingles that welcome you when entering convenience stores, and buildings that tower above you. The outskirts see things dialed back, making way for humbler residential houses and tighter main streets.
There’s a lot of attention to detail that went into how the city is built. Tight backstreets lead into broad boulevards; the food stands and supermarkets supporting its busy life are now helmed by floating supernatural cats, eager to take your magic money in exchange for food that heals you. Dotted around the urban sprawl, parks, and forests are Torii gates and statues that add a dose of traditionalism alongside the discarded clothes of those consumed by the fog.
There’s a feeling of fleeting familiarity attached to this eerie, empty city across which you can freely move and which used to be populated by actual people before it was home to supernatural visitors hell-bent on killing you. In between bouts of blasting faceless salarymen with magic, I could almost picture the packed crowds that once moved around, which made the city’s deserted state feel even more unnatural. Unfortunately, this is one of the few things that are great about Ghostwire: Tokyo.
Discarded clothes provide a constant reminder that bustling crowds once filled Tokyo’s center.
Protagonist Akito’s magical powers start off as an interesting twist on ranged first-person combat but run out of steam after only a couple of hours. Wind attacks are precise and suited for medium-range combat, water attacks strike a wider area but only work up close, while fire deals heavier damage and reaches further. You can charge them up for stronger variants, but aside from a couple of upgrades that make you fire faster, or hit more enemies, that’s the full extent of what they offer.
Akito also has access to talismans that allow you to stun enemies or stealthily move past them as well as a composite bow, yet combat in Ghostwire: Tokyo lacks the depth it needs to support its open-world gameplay. By the time you unlock the equivalent of a rage mode, which happens early on, you’ll have seen everything.
Visually, these attacks are fairly flashy and certainly stand out. Ripping cores out of vulnerable enemies is a very kinetic flourish, as Akito uses magical wires twisted in intricate patterns to deliver a decisive blow. But it usually comes after a tedious stretch of lobbing fireballs and repeating the same few attacks over and over again.
The enemies you face range from slender, faceless, suited salarymen to headless schoolgirls, floating ghosts, and disturbing tall ladies with oversized scissors. Their designs are certainly unsettling, making them feel appropriately out of place on the streets of Tokyo.
They all have their own attack animations and tactics, too – salarymen use their umbrellas as shields while closing the distance, schoolgirls karate kick their way towards you while floating ghosts lob fireballs your way. But they also evolve very little throughout the game and you rarely have to switch tactics.
On normal difficulty, every fight can be easily dealt with by walking back or to the side while repeatedly pulling off the same small set of attacks. The lack of a dodge button sees you relying on your shield for defensive purposes but, although you can pull off perfect parries, there’s little reward for doing so.
Seven hours in, the fights that weren’t bland became frustrating because they crammed multiple opponents in tight back-alleys or threw several more resistant foes into the mix. You can resort to stealth in certain cases and nab an instant kill from behind, but it’s not a solution to rely upon. The bosses, too, are just massive bullet sponges with weak spots that are annoying to hit.
Movement and aiming also feel a bit sluggish. Missing shots by what feels like a centimeter with the bow is easier than you’d expect. You can grapple onto flying Tengu demons to get on top of buildings – which does facilitate traversal in some cases – but grabbing ledges is rather clunky while gliding only takes you across a limited distance, even when upgraded.
On multiple occasions, the game requires you to exorcise or free spirits by drawing symbols using your mouse and pressing both mouse buttons. I had a hard time pulling off both actions, the latter step requiring multiple presses every single time. Thankfully, you can, instead, just press Tab to let KK take over and do it for you.
Tokyo is littered with plenty of floating blue spirits waiting to be absorbed into your Katashiro and deposited in modified payphones.
As you complete missions, Akito levels up, increasing his synergy with his incorporeal pal, which comes with the added benefits of granting extra health and skill points. You also get the latter by finding or purchasing KK’s notes while out in the world and unlocking new skills does make you more efficient. You can move faster while crouched, spawn a Tengu at will to reach rooftops, or yank cores out of downed opponents. But none of these upgrades notably change how you play.
Those tied to your combat skills really only allow you to attack faster or hit more enemies with your strikes, which doesn’t fundamentally alter how you approach battles. This makes leveling up feel less satisfying the further in you get.
Ghostwire: Tokyo’s main quest isn’t particularly long or noteworthy, stringing along characters who are never properly fleshed out before attempting to quickly tug on your heartstrings during its final moments.
Family plays a central role in both main characters’ efforts, but never really takes center stage – which is reserved for walking around Tokyo and fighting the same few enemies. Some of the main quests excel visually when they really lean into their supernatural elements, breaking the logic of the environment around you, but it’s hard to care about anyone involved in them.
Although its map is large enough to warrant having a fast travel system, the simplistic design of Ghostwire: Tokyo’s side quests give you very few reasons to pursue them. Whether it’s following or sneaking to capture a spirit or going through combat encounters you’ve already done one too many times, there’s never anything exciting to look forward to. A lot of them also take place only a few steps away from the quest giver.
You pick them up from spirits who cannot move on and, while they do revolve around creatures from Japanese folklore – which might be interesting enough to warrant a wiki search afterwards – the experience itself is consistently lacking, even if it juxtaposes supernatural elements with concise human stories.
The main reason to complete some of them is obtaining Magatama, which are items required to progress through certain parts of the game’s skill tree, and even then, I didn’t have the drive to see them all through.
The open-world also has a number of different collectibles you can pursue, Torii Gates you need to cleanse, gradually opening up fast travel points and pushing back the deadly fog from areas of the city, as well as spirits which you can collect in a paper talisman and deposit in nearby telephones. Doing the latter is a more efficient way of earning experience and money but, while it seamlessly blends into exploring the city, it also becomes yet another chore you have to do.
On an i7-8700K, 16 GB RAM, Nvidia RTX 3080@1080p, Ghostwire: Tokyo ran fairly smoothly without ray tracing enabled. I only saw a handful of frame drops in more crowded fights and, occasionally, when heading into a new area. Enabling ray tracing did make its reflections pop out more, but came at the price of an unstable frame rate which sometimes dipped to 40 FPS, even with DLSS turned on. This was before Nvidia’s dedicated drivers were released, so your mileage may vary, but I preferred to keep the setting turned off for smoother gameplay.
The game features three colorblind modes – protanopia, deuteranopia, and tritanopia – as well as a slider that lets you set the strength of the color changes each mode brings with it. In addition, one setting lets you remove timers from objectives that normally set time limits, while another lets you pick your desired subtitle font size.
GHOSTWIRE: TOKYO VERDICT
Ghostwire: Tokyo’s mechanics aren’t fleshed out enough to support its open-world gameplay, failing to come together and form a cohesive experience. It has a premise that could easily hook you but doesn’t do anything to capitalize on its eerie rendition of the Japanese city.
Its combat encounters become bland by the time you reach its halfway point while side quests never evolve past simplistic busywork. Small visual flourishes, subtle melodies during its more subdued moments, and the initial rush to discover new attacks and enemies give you the impression that there’s something great waiting further down the line, when there’s really only boredom mixed with occasional frustration to look forward to.
Ghostwire: Tokyo isn’t bad or broken. It’s just a game that’s not particularly ambitious and almost feels at odds with itself, leaving it with a lot of wasted potential. It might yield a couple of interesting online searches if you’re uninitiated in Japanese folklore, and you can pet lots of dogs and cats, but there are ways to go about doing those things without sitting through Akito’s snoozefest of a tale.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Walking around Tokyo and sinking deep into the empty city’s atmosphere.
Good vs Bad
- Eerie rendition of Tokyo
- Visual flourishes that stand out
- Bland combat that lacks depth
- Annoying, bullet sponge bosses
- Forgettable characters
- Rushed story
- Simplistic side-quests