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Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story Fails at Being Truly Terrifying

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Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story attempts to marry the horror and cyberpunk genres. This 2D/3D hybrid, side-scrolling horror game, developed by independent developer SUZAKU, samples from works like Fatal Frame and Clock Tower. Players take the role of Mei Lin Mak in the city of Neo Hong Kong. While heading to meet up with a date, she is whisked into the past. Now trapped in a haunted apartment complex, she begins to unravel the mysteries hidden deep inside of the building. While it seems compelling at first, it becomes clear almost immediately that Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story bites off more than it can chew.

Its character illustrations are of varying levels of quality. Part of this is due to the artifacts at the edges of some of the two-dimensional character models due to poor compression. However, this statement can be applied to the game in a general sense. The art is mostly consistent stylistically, beyond some illustrations that look largely out of place due to quality discrepancies. But where Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story mostly succeeds in relation to its visual design is in its backgrounds, specifically those found in the Chong Sing Apartment complex.

Each room has its own unique design, with atmospheric lightning and odd items scattered throughout. While some placement decisions are clearly meant to provide some sort of environmental storytelling, other rooms feel dark for the sake of
spookiness. In that way, Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is at its most ineffective, with that darkness attempting to supplement the horror the ghost designs otherwise do not manage to create. While SUZAKU described it as being inspired by Koei Tecmo’s Fatal Frame, it doesn’t capture the essence of what made that series so spine chilling.

Sense A Cyberpunk Ghost Story

Ghost designs are distorted, with bodies twisted and contorted in unimaginable ways. At a glance, they are interesting and even frightening. They have a way of making your mind work to untangle how that happened. However, these effects begin to negate whatever Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story aims to accomplish. Models wave around as they stumble through the 2D environments, with the audio design mostly being a hit or miss.

Clock Tower was mentioned as another inspiration for the title, and that becomes clear very early on. Unfortunately, Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story draws from the worst bits of the early Clock Tower games, with required points of progression necessary in order to obtain items to further your exploration of the Chong Sing Apartment complex. Prompts can also be finicky, which require the player to double back and try to activate them in order to further the story by either talking to an NPC or obtaining an item. There was an instance right at the beginning of the game, and I’m talking within the first five minutes, where interacting with an item out of sequence forced me to restart to progress.

Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is fairly easy however, even on its standard difficulty. However, I could have just been lucky, as I was mostly able to avoid direct confrontations with more than a handful of the ghosts the game had to offer. Usually turning around and walking in the opposite direction of where I heard a noise or hiding in designated hiding spots assured my safety. Players can also use jade bracelets to protect themselves from any attack that would otherwise kill them. I never had to do this beyond the initial tutorial.

Unfortunately, I found the narrative and flavor text in Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story to be the worst aspects of the game. While the Kickstarter page for the title claimed to offer a return to the roots of the horror genre, it hardly succeeds. There is no introspection. The visual design for the world and the characters don’t work cohesively with the environmental design. There are plenty of awkwardly placed, tangential bits of information that allude to censorship, but purely in relation to “provocative illustrations.” It lacks the taste or the chops of Asian horror titles that do discuss censorship or oppression in meaningful ways, like Red Candle Games’ Detention. If you’re looking for something thought provoking or more substantial, you won’t find it here.

Outside of these shortfalls, there are a few issues with the Nintendo Switch port. These are mostly contained to experiences in its docked mode. Illustrations that already have artifacts or are blurry become increasingly more so when playing the game docked and projected onto your television screen. If you do play the game, its best to stick to handheld mode, as most of these issues aren’t as noticeable. Text prompts are fairly small, but they aren’t anything that are too troublesome.

Those looking for something to kill time may find Sense – A Cyberpunk Story to their liking. However, if you’re expecting something that will leave you thinking or terrified in the same ways as the games that inspired it, you’re better off looking elsewhere.

Sense – A Cyberpunk Story is immediately available for PC and Nintendo Switch.

Kazuma Hashimoto
Translator and streamer, Kazuma spends his time playing a variety of games ranging from farming simulators to classic CRPGs.