Ghostwire: Tokyo it’s a lot of different things. It’s a paranormal crime drama, high-octane action title, and chilling exploration game from a studio known primarily for its horror titles. But according to producer Masato Kimura, none of these elements were the starting point for the game. “The whole concept was born from the city of Tokyo”, he says The edge.
The game takes place in an almost empty version of the city, thanks to a mysterious event called “the disappearance” which causes almost everyone in Tokyo to suddenly disappear. In their place, folkloric creatures and evil spirits roam the streets. Players use magic to battle enemies while searching every corner of the city for lost spirits to save. ghost yarn takes players everywhere, from iconic locations like Shibuya Crossing to more mundane locations, like generic alleyways and office buildings.
According to director Kenji Kimura, much of the inspiration came from the duality of Tokyo, a city that is both surprisingly modern and steeped in history. “There are office buildings constantly under construction, but if you turn around the corner, you can walk straight into a sanctuary,” he says. “When you enter a shrine, the air is different, it almost tastes different, so you feel like you have entered a different plane. Sometimes you can walk the streets of Shibuya, turn in an alley and a few steps further you will be surrounded by normal houses or a completely different setting.We wanted to take this idea of entering another world in a very natural way.
Since development studio Tango Gameworks is based in Tokyo, a lot of the research was just a lot of walking around. There are a lot of games that take place in Tokyo – from personas 5 for the world ends with you at each iteration of Yakuza franchise – but one of the objectives on ghost yarn was to show the city from a different perspective that people outside might not be as familiar with.
“We didn’t just choose tourist sections that appear in guidebooks – we also selected many interesting parts that we saw and found to be interesting,” says Masato. “It’s a very modern city but also very steeped in history. Much of the traditional culture can be seen in the architecture and layout of the city. There are alleys and houses full of trash, there are apartment complexes that are run and owned by the government – all these different parts of Tokyo that we wanted to make it easier for the player to get to, so we have them condensed and stitched closer to Shibuya to make the map much more accessible.
One of the challenges was to capture the essence of a city of over 30 million people when almost none of those people are present. Kenji says “it took a lot of experimentation” to figure out how to create this mood, while Masato describes it as “a very difficult process”. ghost yarn animates the empty city in many ways, from the spirits of the townspeople who still remain, to the thumping music coming from now-closed bars and restaurants, to the cats and dogs now running through the streets of Tokyo. (You can, of course, pet dogs, though it’s more difficult with cats. “Cats probably like you just as much,” Kenji says, “but they want to keep a little more distance. And so we try to represent this in the game.”)
Capturing the mundane and familiar aspects of Tokyo was also important to the game’s theme. The idea was that by grounding the city in reality, it would bring out the game’s most surreal and otherworldly elements even more. things that you can’t see but actually exist that can be very important to us,” Kenji says. “We have continued to use this expression for many developments: we want the player to experience the unusual that hides in the ordinary. These walks in Tokyo may feel like a normal day trip, but it can there are unusual things that we can’t see. This even extends to the protagonists: the main character is an ordinary guy named Akito who is possessed by the spirit of a detective named KK.
One thing the developers couldn’t predict, however, is how prescient a game about a city full of empty streets would be. Development on ghost yarn began before the pandemic, and its premise had already been locked down so that, as Kenji notes, “we weren’t creatively affected” by it. But for players, it adds another layer of familiarity to a game full of monsters, ghosts, and urban legends. “Once the pandemic hit and we started to see how [empty] the city actually became,” he says, “it kind of made us feel that there will be parallels to real life now.