“Decisions, decisions, decisions”
A psychotic killer has a knife to a hostage’s throat and time is winding down. You have 10 seconds. Do you try to talk to, or shoot, the killer? That’s the kind of breath-taking choice this Kickstarter-funded point and click adventure Tokyo Dark -Remembrance- forces upon you, granting freedom with a moral-testing catch.
As Detective Ayami Ito, you chase the murderer of your police and life partner in a gripping investigation that uncovers death and tragedy, exposing Tokyo’s dark underbelly in the process. Choice is the greatest toy at your disposal in this interactive piece with numerous options available for nearly every task, all of which have an effect on you and the surrounding characters. Moral dilemmas abound, you’ll be staring at the screen for minutes on end deciding the best course of action, humming and hawing as you decide who you want to become. As you make these decisions, a stat-based system called ‘SPIN’ will update (which includes levels for Sanity, Professionalism, Investigation and Neurosis), which not only keeps you accountable for your actions but gives you immediate feedback to see how your actions have affected Ayami. This will have you planning your next move without even knowing what the game will throw at you next and completely immersing you in the story.
Ayami is on paid leave due to the traumatic experience of seeing her partner murdered in front of her and is given medication to improve her mental state. Taking said medicine will improve her sanity, but her investigative ability lowers. Ignore the medication entirely and your sanity will slip to dangerously low levels, with characters referring to how bad you look, and blurring the screen in front of you.
The beauty of this choice-based structure is that if you head down the morally-corrupt route, Ayami will justify it, making you become the result of your actions and the maker of your own destiny. Will you be conscientious and law-abiding, brutish and murderous, or somewhere in between? The sense of freedom created by the seemingly endless combination of choices, in just 5 short hours, is incredible. Eventually, the story is narrowed down to a few of the available 9 endings based on your stats, adding yet further reason to pay attention to them.
Helping side characters – like debt-collecting for a Yakuza boss or winning a toy for a distraught girl from a UFO catcher – allows you to further your investigation, and despite the game’s length preventing much character development, they all serve a purpose and add to the story in some way. There’s also a clear attempt to include as many ‘uniquely Japanese’ aspects as possible, from Otaku culture to Yakuza and host clubs.
Creating a much larger context than just the protagonist chasing the killer, the story provides thought-provoking and philosophical musings to its universe while the killer brings psychological mind games and the occult to the fray, pushing our main character’s sanity to the limit. Its soundtrack might push yours at times, with its terror-inducing tracks increasing in volume and intensity that’ll have you flinching at the images flashing up on the screen.
The game’s visuals, with its basic anime-esque character and environment designs, are unremarkable, simply conveying the story’s tone and purpose without attempting to add anything innovative to the mix. There are also animated scenes, but they seem like inclusions added at the last minute to meet a Kickstarter stretch goal rather than having any real contribution to the title. In addition, the running animation of the main character is slightly off, as if it’s been forced to fit a purpose it wasn’t suited for, jittering despite the fact you’re walking straight forward most of the time. These are all minor issues though and don’t in any way marginalize the strengths this superb game brings to the table.
Like all great visual novels, the experience is highly memorable and affecting, and one that I can’t wait to revisit. The fear of what your choices might mean for your character is something you won’t easily forget, especially as the developer ensured that autosave is active during your first playthrough, meaning you have to live with your decisions. A stroke of genius on their part. This eases up in New Game+ though, where you can manually save at each juncture and adjust your choices to your heart’s content, adding a great deal of replayability.
Tokyo Dark -Remembrance- is relatively narrow in its offering, but is excellent in its execution. A masterclass in suspense, this game is one of the few Kickstarter projects that has lived up to its promise, providing a tremendous experience for those not only in its demographic but also those new to the genre.