Spirit Hunter: NG Review- The Best Horror Visual Novel I’ve Ever Played (I’ve Only Played One Horror VN But Still)
Developed by Ghostlight
Published by Experience Inc., Aksys Games
Available on Playstation 4, PC, Nintendo Swith, PSVita
I’m generally not one for visual novels, so I was hesitant to try Spirit Hunter: NG for a review. As far as reviews go, I generally try and stay in my own wheelhouse, so you can take whatever I say with a grain of salrt. But I’m really glad I gave this one a go because it was an incredible horror experience. It’s incredibly immersive and well thought out, with pacing that had me completely enthralled. Suffice to say, Spirit Hunter: NG was more than a little impressive.
Spirit Hunter: NG is the second of the Spirit Hunter visual novel series. The stories are each independent, and NG can be played without any prior knowledge of the previous game. Even as a visual novel, NG is something of a genre blend, with sections that require a bit of problem-solving, or as much as a visual novel can have. It’s very much a horror game with scenes that were very much unsettling, making it all the more intriguing to someone who rarely plays this style of game.
I’ll try to keep the spoilers as limited as possible. In Spirit Hunter: NG you play as Kijima Akira (default name, you can change it if you’d like), high schooler and former champion of an underground street fighting ring. Akira seeks to leave that life behind him, becoming more involved with caring for his aunt and younger cousin Ami. But a spectre haunts the streets of Tokyo, and when that spectre captures someone close, Akira must use the help of his friends as well as his connection to the spirit world in order to get them back.
As it is a visual novel, Spirit Hunter: NG is more about characters than anything. Akira has three main allies; Amanome Seiji, Hazuki Kaoru, and Kijima Natsumi. Seiji is Akira’s best friend from high school and the son of Yakuza patriarch for the Amanome family. While he may not be a full member of the Yakuza yet, Seiji is not opposed to resorting to illegal or immoral means. Hazuki Kaoru is a bit of a mystery. She is fascinated with the occult, and loves to dress in a “gothic style.” And finally, Kijima Natsume, aunt of Akira, mother of Ami, and author of horror novels. These three are the main characters you interact with, more so the first two than the latter.
I found them to be pretty interesting and compelling, especially compared to Akira who is more or less a blank slate for the player to impose themself on. Spirit Hunter: NG lets you choose what kind of Akira you want to play as through dialogue choices and an unusual “reaction” scale. Five options, ranging from pleased to displeased, allow you to react to certain dialogues. While this seems interesting at first, for the most part it results in “wow I can see in your face you did not like that” or “wow I can see in your face you liked that.” It’s hard to know what difference this made, because for the most part I would choose the smiling face because why would I want to be mad at my friends? I much preferred the different dialogue choices to this scale, which was sort of hard to gauge what outcome would happen.
As for the storytelling itself, Spirit Hunter: NG moves pretty slow at first, taking probably an hour or two for the narrative to really get going. But these long interactions are important for setting the stage, and very rarely did I find myself getting bored with the intro. After that, when you have your first encounter with the paranormal, things speed up pretty quickly. The pacing is good, with stressful interactions offset by moments of calm. But even these calm sections can quickly switch to another encounter with the paranormal.
While Spirit Hunter: NG is primarily a visual novel, there are some moments of gameplay. The first would be the Detective Mode, where you take out a flashlight and search for relevant clues in the area. This is a nice cutaway from the story, though I found that some areas were either way too easy or way too hard. Oftentimes you need to search for things in the correct order to make the connections, and there were a few instances where I was stuck on one page shining the flashlight on everything over and over, without finding the way forward.
The other gameplay of Spirit Hunter: NG is the Survival Escape. These are moments where your life is in danger, and you need to find the correct choice to, well, survive and escape. For instance, one of the first Survival Escapes has you and Ami facing a car driving towards you down a narrow corridor. You must find a way to break open a wall to save Ami and then leap on a fence and up to a pipe above to save yourself. But should you try and hop the fence, the car will swerve through it and run you over. Much like the Detective Mode, this too involves searching with the flashlight to find clues. And unfortunately, also like Detective Mode, sometimes the clues are difficult for a dumb dumb like me to piece together. It isn’t timed, so you can take as long as you need to come to your decision, but if that decision is bad, your character will be killed and you’ll have to reload the game.
Spirit Hunter: NG is a visual novel, and while the novel part is great, the visuals are also impressive. While sticking with the typical anime style, NG has some tremendous art. The characters are well-drawn and the backgrounds look almost photorealistic. There are occasionally some scenes depicting paranormal creatures that look like deeply grotesque paintings. However, this is certainly a case of quality over quantity, and it is not uncommon for the story to have you returning to areas frequently and reusing the assets. Not that this is bad, nor unexpected, but it is worth noting.
Spirit Hunter: NG is a fairly long game at around 25 hours, and with multiple endings, it warrants several playthroughs. As a person used to the active scares of traditional horror games, I was shocked at how effective the horror could be through this medium. If you’re a fan of visual novels or are looking to get into them, Spirit Hunter: NG is certainly a great title for you to try.