Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters: Daybreak Special Gigs is billed as an enhanced version of the original Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters, which was released to Western audiences only last year on the PlayStation 3 and Vita.
The story, played out as a visual novel, is developed through chapters, and is a fairly formulaic affair. New character with ghost problem turns up, the team investigate the area, back to team HQ for some preparation time, then off to defeat the ghost where battles are presented with strategic RPG elements. Repeat until the credits roll.
Straight away, the title picks up on some common tropes of the visual novel genre. You play as an initially nameless transfer student experiencing their first day at Kurenai Academy, and wasting no time delving into things, you immediately bump into some key characters and are swiftly recruited into the ghost-hunting company Gate Keepers.
Where the traditional form of a visual novel gives you several dialogue options to choose from, here we're presented with something entirely left field for the majority of the time. Instead of a list of possible responses to a scenario, the game instead presents two wheels through which you choose the mood of your response - friendly, angry, curious, flirty, and sad - and, perhaps more bizarrely, which of the five senses you want to use to create your response.
The first opportunity to use this curious conversational tool is presented very early on, and it should perhaps serve as some sort of indicator for the way the rest of the game plays out in that there is no explanation given to how to make sense of the system. This would be all well and good if at least the icons were explained, but they aren't, and being left to your own devices can result in some very strange exchanges. A word of warning: the mouth icon does not mean talking, and using it will more often than not mean licking or biting another character. Yep, this particular author learned that one the hard way. Fair enough for those wanting to create a bit of a wacky persona for their character, but for those wanting to play the game seriously, this method of communication poses a bit more of a challenge.
The battle segments of the game seem convoluted at first, but after a short time, they begin to make a lot more sense. Taking on a job to defeat a ghost initially takes you to a map of what the room looks like. Each job has a fee that you earn on completion, and you're able to pre-emptively spend the money on items that can be placed around the room to aid you in your battle. The items range from ghost locating equipment to movement prohibiting items; some only working on specific types of ghosts, and some with a wider range than others. It's down to you to create the perfect ghost-hunting environment for the job at hand.
Once you proceed to the job, you're given a set amount of turns (displayed in the game as minutes) and it's down to you and your chosen teammates to track and defeat the ghost. Each battle has set parameters that will cause you to fail - mostly these are to do with the main character being defeated or the time elapsing - and characters have AP which limits how much they can move per turn, and which abilities they can use. Though it isn't the most natural feeling system, it only takes a few attempts to get to grips with it and understand the intricacies of battling. Preparing a good environment for your battleground is key to success, as poorly placed equipment proves pointless and often leads to ghosts escaping your field of vision, and, as a result, you wasting moves on tracking them down again.
When you're not battling or progressing the story, you're taken to the headquarters of the Gate Keepers where you're given the opportunity to take on side quests and participate in an in-game board game that is essentially a non-combat version of a battle. Here you earn TP points, which allow you to spent time with team members. Doing this means you level up certain skills and can copy the attack moves of your peers. It's unclear throughout the game just precisely what benefit each skill has, but it's a fun distraction nonetheless.
The whimsical team members that you find yourself sharing your time with prevent Daybreak Special Gig from becoming repetitive. Yes, the characters are very typical of the genre and you'll feel like you've probably experienced them before – there's the distant female character, the boss type, the nerdy guy who develops items and equipment for you, the sidekick guy who you'll inevitably become best friends with – but each of them is so well designed that they bring some real personality to proceedings.
Throughout the game, there's a real strong feeling of musicality. For example, saving the game creates a gig poster based on your current progress, and using the team car to travel to areas means that you're asked to pick a soundtrack for your journey. The game seems desperate for you to know that it loves music, but we suppose it has a good reason in that the score is very engaging, and has some great tunes that can get stuck in your head for hours.
Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters: Daybreak Special Gigs is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through a haunted world. What the game lacks in plot originality, it makes up for with its interesting and unique game mechanics, as well as its wonderfully designed cast. It can be accursed with repetition, but there's ultimately a lot to wrap your head around, and the many tactical nuances do a lot to keep boredom at bay.