When I talk to the developers behind Ghostwire: Tokyo Earlier this year, they insisted this was not a horror game. Despite coming from Tango Gameworks, a studio run by Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami, the team aspired to separate it from the genre it is most famous for. When I played the first chapter of the game, I believed they were lying. The weird opening made me jump out of my seat with the unexpected creepy images and creepy creatures.
Then I heard the dog barking. My brain went into a state of panic, assuming I was about to encounter a ferocious canine foe like the one I’ve encountered. Resident Evil. Instead, I saw a completely normal Shiba Inu wandering the empty streets of the game. When I get close to it, I get a prompt button that everyone wants to see: Pet. Then I noticed a second option, asking if I wanted to read the dog’s mind by feeding it. I pulled out a can of dog food and the puppy happily thanked me via caption before digging up some buried money for me.
After playing the first two chapters of Ghostwire: Tokyo, I like how the game balances the bizarre and the whimsical. It makes me laugh as much as it makes me jump very far.
The act of disappearing
Ghostwire: Tokyo has a strange opening. I watched everyone in Tokyo suddenly disappear, leaving the streets strangely empty. The atmosphere immediately stood out. The game is a first-person adventure game where the player travels through the foggy city and it’s an unsettling world to explore. The environment is filled with clothes as everyone’s costumes are released as they disappear.
Even more terrifying is the game’s use of music. You would think that a game about an empty city would have no sound, but the truth is the opposite. Clashing music plays from the buildings as you explore, which makes a lot of sense. No one had time to turn off the speakers when they were disappearing in the crew. It truly feels like wandering through the aftermath of a sudden extinction event and seeing what humanity is doing in its final moments, now preserved in amber.
What really increases the fear factor is the terror mentality of the game. For example, the most basic enemies are the tall, faceless spirits holding umbrellas. They move slowly, making it easy to shoot them down from a distance with magical attacks (the game is essentially a gun-free shooter), but they’re a haunting sight. Sneak behind one for a stealthy kill and you’ll see its pale face momentarily scream, which is scarier than actually letting it attack you.
The game also features spooky visual tricks that give a whole Poltergeist vibe. In the opening chapter, I was walking through a hospital when the fluorescent lights flashed. At the end of the corridor, a group of metal folding chairs suddenly flew out of nowhere, forming a wall blocking the passage. While talking to an out-of-world spirit, I noticed the shutters of a building in the background slam shut.
Although I experienced a few scares early on, I understand why the developers don’t want to draw it like a horror game. It’s unsettling, but it’s not trying to scare players. Battles can be won relatively easily, and there’s no scarcity of resources, so it’s not the intense experience you’d expect from a typical horror game. Instead, it’s a master class in atmosphere, transforming Tokyo into a city that truly feels possessed.
Not all spirits are evil – in fact, some of them are purely demonic. Ghostwire: Tokyo originates from Japanese folklore and has a number of youkai. Some are realistic, like flying tengu where the player can struggle to get to tall buildings. Others are hilarious, like the magic cats that run convenience stores and are always eager to get some cash out of me.
Youkai have played a big part in my time-based side quests so far. I saw a soul crying about how their umbrella ran away. Sure enough, I walked forward and saw a parachute creature jumping around a construction site. In another quest, I needed to trick a kappa into eating a cucumber so I could catch it. So far, I’ve loved how the game adapts different pieces of folklore into creative quests and characters, and that’s what I’m most eager to experience more of throughout the game.
The coolest and funniest thing I’ve come across so far is tanuki. In chapter 2, I meet a raccoon spirit who complains that all his friends have scattered. I was tasked with tracking them down on a standard “find hidden object” running mission, but it was a lot more fun than your usual game. I need to search for random inanimate objects that have raccoon tails on them and are scattered around the world to find hidden tanuki.
Hitherto, Ghostwire: Tokyo filled with hidden charm like that, making it more eerie than you might expect from its dark trailers. The unsettling psychological horror is still there (a side quest set in a hoarder’s fly-infested house gives me a stomachache), but Tango Gameworks seems to be having a blast when it comes to reimagining Tokyo as a city. The city is attacked by eccentric spirits who just want to sell you some dango. Stock up on dog food, as you will be feeding a lot of dogs.
Ghostwire: Tokyo launches March 25 for PlayStation 5 and PC. There is now a prelude to free visual novels.