Released for free via the Playstation Store (for both PS4 and PS5) and PC on March 8, Ghostwire:Tokyo – Prelude: The Corrupted Casefile—Tango Gameworks’ cumbersomely titled visual novel (VN) prelude to Ghostwire: Tokyo—hasn’t garnered all that much attention.This isn’t necessarily surprising, as the VN genre is inherently divisive in game culture, with many hesitant to recognize its text-heavy titles as games.
For those unaware, visual novels are a Japanese sub-genre of games that are more interactive fiction than they are adventure games. They are often characterized by illustrated (sometimes minimally animated) sprites of characters accompanied by dialogue boxes and branching narratives. Despite being more interactive than a choose-your-own-adventure novel, VNs are a lot more static than what players of AAA games are used to. While there have been more breakout titles in over the years, such as the classic court drama series Phoenix Wright, dating sims like Dream Daddy or Boyfriend Dungeon, or thriller titles like the Danganronpa series or The Letter, those are still more attached to niche fandoms/cult followings than anything else. With this in mind, it begs the question, why did Tango Gameworks choose the VN genre to foreground an action-packed first person adventure game?
Game Director Kenji Kimura has previously been quoted as explaining this choice as a strategy to “open up and widen people’s interpretations of the world and universe we’ve created.” Scenario Writer Takahiro Kaji added that The Corrupted Casefile would have “kind of a more relaxed atmosphere” as well. Even curiouser, Kimura also mentioned that the VN was “made by a different team.” That team consists of co-developers Psyop Productions (I Love You Colonel Sanders) and Akupara Games (Manifold Garden and Deathloop pre-order bonus content), both of which seem to specialize in western commercial tie-in content. With so many notable VN developers in Japan who have been designing such niche games for decades, I find myself a little confused as to why Tango Gameworks didn’t seek out one of the sub-genre’s pioneering companies to handle this tie-in.
The Corrupted Casefile is specifically about foregrounding KK’s character, the paranormal detective who was introduced in Ghostwire: Tokyo’s trailer as a guiding spirit possessing Akito. As such, the game functions mostly as a lore dump of exposition, introducing you to the paranormal investigation team who share the same name as the game’s title. Each teammate has their specialty: Rinko is the analyst who possesses knowledge of the supernatural and ethereal weaving ability KK uses to fight the monstrous Visitors to Tokyo, Ed is a scientist and creates technology for monitoring supernatural activity, and the youngest recruit Erika is…determined? They aren’t very clear on what she does, but it’s emphasized that she has a strong sense of duty since she lost loved ones to the otherworldly disappearances that are frequently occurring.
As a VN, it balances dialogue and interactive choice fairly well. I did notice that it followed one of the key principles that veteran VN developer Christine Love outlines in a 2017 Visual Conference talk regarding her award-winning Ladykiller in a Bind. The Corrupted Casefile does make interaction “the base unit” of its design, with well-paced choices and nearly every important action coming from a choice. There’s even a few choices in there which make KK choose between reaching out to one of his three teammates for their specific expertise, or relying only on his own intuition to solve a problem while on the case. A small gripe I have, both with regards to another one of Love’s principles of visualizing the script and my own experience playing various VNs, is the UI for the dialogue boxes. The graphic design there is noisy and makes the white text tricky to read at times.
Besides a sneak peak of how ethereal weaving and the battle system works at the tail end of this VN, there isn’t a whole lot that makes this title stand out besides its stylish artwork and moody soundtrack. This raises some questions regarding the marketing strategy for Ghostwire: Tokyo. When I first learned of this VN, my thoughts initially ran to Final Fantasy XV’s extensive transmedia strategy, and its mixed results. Kimura’s choice to segment a lot of the background info for Tango Gameworks’ new IP could be a misstep narratively, if he’s planning to keep the details shared in The Corrupted Casefile isolated to what is essentially an abstract demo. My hope is that this is the only tie-in media planned for Ghostwire: Tokyo, as Final Fantasy XV’s plot suffered from the atomization of main story beats into several different pieces of content that were too varied in style and direction to be compelling enough to entice players to seek out or buy-into. Since The Corrupted Casefile was released so close to the launch of the main IP, this experimental tie-in could very well be a standalone. But it’s difficult to say, as FFXV continued with its transmedia strategy three years after its release in 2016, with the last entry to its metaverse being Episode Ardyn.
What The Corrupted Casefile does have going for it is its platform accessibility and brevity. While this stylized VN isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of matcha, it’s a refreshingly short game (average playtime is about 30 minutes) I’d say that if you’re someone who is familiar with VNs, or who would like to bone up on the lore of Ghostwire: Tokyo, this prelude may be worth your while.
Phoenix Simms is an Atlantic Canadian writer and indie game narrative designer. You can find her work at Unwinnable, Videodame, Third Person, and her portfolio. Her stream-of-consciousness can be found at @phoenixsimms.