Tokyo Dark -Remembrance- Review- Heavy Pain
Developed by Cherrymochi
Published by Square Enix
Available on PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac
Tokyo Dark -Remembrance- and similar Japanese visual novels have never really been my thing. My rodent-like brain has a tendency to forget to pay attention while my non-rodent-like body keeps clicking “next,” the result being that I have dissociated for like five minutes and in that time completely missed a good chunk of context. But this one was really enjoyable. Tokyo Dark -Remembrance- is half noir and half horror. The developer, Cherrymochi, has the stated goal of bridging American and Japanese styles of visual novels and seems to take some of their inspiration from games like Heavy Rain and Corpse Party. Whether or not eastern and western styles mesh seamlessly is another story, but for the most part, Tokyo Dark -Remembrance- was good and spooky.
In Tokyo Dark -Remembrance- you play as detective Ito Ayami, in search of her missing partner and husband(?), detective Kazuki Tanaka. Kazuki has disappeared while investigating a serial murder case, and the game begins with you finding him held hostage by a woman who was shot dead six months prior. As this is an entire narrative-based game, I won’t go further into the story than this. But I can tell you that the setting and premise is, at least in my opinion, better than most.
There is minimal gameplay in Tokyo Dark -Remembrance-. It would be more realistic to say it is a visual novel where your character can jog back and forth. The majority of Tokyo Dark -Remembrance- revolves around either talking to various characters you encounter throughout the city or clicking the “inspect” option on various objects. Not much interaction with the world. It’s not bad that Tokyo Dark -Remembrance- doesn’t have gameplay, it doesn’t need it. In fact, what little gameplay there is—gameplay which basically boils down to visiting and revisiting areas you’ve already been in—serves only to disrupt the flow of the narrative. Thankfully this doesn’t happen often. But occasionally you are forced to leave a conversation, travel to the opposite side of the city to ask someone a quick question, and then back again. I mean come on, we have phones.
There is one other gameplay element. Tokyo Dark -Remembrance- has a sort of mental status system they call S.P.I.N.; sanity, professionalism, investigation, and neurosis. It’s all fairly simple. Sanity is how sane Ito is, professionalism determines how people will interact with you, investigation is your progress on solving the case, and neurosis is… something. I think it depends on if you’re doing the same actions over and over, and it makes Ito’s sanity go down. So it’s functionally another sanity meter. Anyway, none of this is important because it did not seem to come into play at all during the entire game. There were no sanity-dependent dialogue options, or perhaps they simply did not show themselves because of my sanity level, which makes no difference to me. It all seemed very inconsequential, and ultimately I don’t think it impacted my game in any meaningful sense. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re going to put a sanity meter in the game, at least make the effects noticeable.
Talking is the majority of the content in Tokyo Dark -Remembrance-. The story is apparently branching, advertising eleven different endings. One would assume there would be a lot of choices, though the majority of interactions seemed unimportant to the main story. A lot of the choices were along the lines of deciding between telling a side character they should or should not keep working at their shitty job. Some of them are admittedly pretty cute and serve to bring some contrast; the best are the colorful drawings of Ito getting some really good food. As for the rest, there’s not a whole lot of weight behind these trivial decisions. Another bunch of choices was about a character with a problem, effectively being a choice between doing or not doing a side quest.
The various neighborhoods and districts you explore in Tokyo Dark -Remembrance- all felt unique and reflected the real places very well (not that I’ve ever been to Tokyo, I just played a lot of Yakuza, and you should too). The areas were generally small, with one main street and three or four buildings you could enter and talk to the people inside. Not much to interact with outside of the people in these zones, but all the same, they looked great. And the music was phenomenal too (with one single exception, a cat cafe with a song full of meows). Each zone had its own unique soundtrack, ranging from Deus Ex style techno music to spooky ambient tones.
Generally, I don’t find visual novels particularly compelling. Not so for Tokyo Dark -Remembrance-. I felt a lot more immersed because of the intense nature of the story. This is a story about grief, a terrible and complex emotion that lasts a long time and manifests in unusual ways. The pain and fear I felt for Ito were a lot more than in a story about some boy in high school trying to get some strange. And on top of the grief, there is also some kind of sinister ancient entity manifesting within Ito’s life. This makes a nice mix of an intimate story and one with high stakes, an excellent combo that’s often hard to pull off well.
Aesthetically, Tokyo Dark -Remembrance- is very good, but with a few faults. Frequently the male characters just looked a little off. A sort of uncanny valley, which I cannot pinpoint exactly why, but I think it is due to the shape of their heads. Not in a phrenological way, they just looked like American animated characters in an anime setting. Another slightly off animation was the way Ito runs. Again, I can’t place why it looks weird. But to me, the movement and framerate seemed reminiscent of an early 2000s flash game.
Beyond the very insignificant problems, Tokyo Dark -Remembrance- looked and felt great. Not all of the mechanics were pulled off fluidly, but they really weren’t needed in the first place and did not detract from the rest of the experience. The writing was compelling, the pacing was good, and although it occasionally stumbled, as the first game from this studio I am willing to forgive them for it. Overall, for a novice studio making a game on a fairly cliche premise, Tokyo Dark -Remembrance- pulled it off well.
Strong storytelling and atmosphere make up for the lack of gameplay. But who really needs gameplay for their visual novels, right?
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