About two years ago, Tokyo Dark was successfully funded through Kickstarter. It is a dark point-and-click adventure game from Cherrymochi, a small Japanese studio founded by Maho Williams, who is from Japan, and her husband Jon, who was born in England. The couple’s cultural blending is strongly reflected in their debut game, which deliberately mixes western and Asian elements. The result is a visual novel-style adventure with an intriguing psychological story, several key decision points, multiple endings (some much better than others) and puzzles that can be solved more than one way, though it’s light on challenge and doesn’t develop its stat-based roleplaying elements as fully as it could.
In Tokyo Dark, we follow the path of Detective Ayami Itō. At the beginning, she is trying to find her missing partner in a dark alley of Shinjuku in Tokyo. Their partnership is not just on a professional level, which makes things even harder on her, especially since his disappearance soon turns out to be a matter of life and death. During the course of the investigation, events become increasingly surreal. Early clues suggest an impossible connection to an older case, one that is linked to a traumatic memory. To get closer to the truth, Itō will have to confront her own past – no matter how close that leads her to insanity. And she'll have to decide how far she is willing to go for the people she cares for.
Itō stands out as an interesting main character with a clear inner struggle. How likable she is, though, depends on our choices. Do we want her to be caring about the needs of others, or perhaps more reckless and only focusing on her own goals? It is also possible to get to know the antagonist of this story a lot better and understand where she is coming from. Several recurring side characters appear too, who may not be as memorable but have their own problems going on. For instance, the owner of a shabby restaurant, who isn't sure if he should continue to follow his dream of becoming a cook. It is possible to help him make up his mind.
This mysterious investigation leads us to various real-world places in and around Tokyo, such as Kamakura and Asakusa, where we get a small glimpse of Japanese culture and even learn a bit about a well-known myth from this region. Overall, the story is serious, with horror and supernatural elements here and there, such as inexplicable fog appearing out of nowhere, creating a nauseating atmosphere, or a dead person trying to make the detective feel guilty. Situations like these embody what the detective is going through, depicting the things that scare her.
Despite the generally dark tone, however, as with other Japanese visual novels there are a lot of bizarre moments, weird encounters and cuteness along the way, which will probably not appeal to everyone. For example, in a strange cat café, the waitress greets you in a cat outfit and calls you “Mistress”. You'll actually see quite a few cats in your investigation, including the option to deal with a strange case of cat poisoning (if you want to).
Tokyo Dark is a side-scrolling adventure where the player character is only able to walk left and right. This is comparable to The Cat Lady, but mouse control is possible and the game plays like you would expect from a point-and-click adventure. Objects that can be interacted with are highlighted as soon as the protagonist is nearby. When the mouse cursor is pointed at one of these objects, a small square pops up, telling you what actions are possible. Given that this is an investigative game, you can also talk to other characters and ask questions. These inquiries will sometimes give you clues where to look next and what other questions to ask.
Although the hand-drawn art style is reminiscent of other visual novels and there are many dialogues and monologues to read (there are no English voice-overs, just text), the gameplay is a bit closer than most to the familiar western approach. There is actually a lot to explore and there are decisions to make that can change, for example, how NPCs and colleagues perceive you. Do you want to try to get an answer from a witness by force, or use charm? Do you steal without caring who might see, or take precautions?Continued on the next page...