Tomio Kanazawa, the producer of Deadly Premonition, and Shuho Imai famous for the Tokyo Majin series came together to create Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters. This atmospheric game blends the occult in a visual novel where you play as a high school ghost buster. Siliconera spoke with the two creators about making supernatural games and working with Uta no Prince-sama artist Chinatsu Kurahana.
While gamers in the West may not be familiar with Shuho Imai, he is quite famous in Japan. How did you get in touch with him to start Tokyo Twilight: Ghost Hunters? What was the first idea you two had for a project?
Tomio Kanazawa, Producer at Toybox: I’ve known him for a very long time. I used to drink with him during my 20s while we talked about gaming. It all started when I contacted him few months after I created TOYBOX asking him if he’d want to work on something new with me. He told me about a few project ideas he had already, but I said, “I want to do the school students and the supernatural genre that you excel in.” Then he started to talk about the idea of Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters. I was really surprised that he had whipped up the world and characters in his head at that moment. After we spent 30 minutes talking about it, I think I was already thinking of proceeding with that idea.
In the game you work for an occult magazine, but you’re really an exorcist. Where did the idea of having a seemingly ordinary job blended with the supernatural come from?
TK: The concept was drawn up by Imai. I think it’s best that he explains so let me have him chime in.
Shuho Imai, Director: Hello, I’m Imai, the director of this project. Unlike the “fantasy” genre, the “supernatural” is one that fuses reality with unreal. I personally feel like unreal phenomenon occurs in our ordinary life. So the hidden underground of this world has all these supernatural things happening and most of the people are living life not knowing about it. In my past, I’ve worked on projects where there were kids who had special supernatural powers and depicted their youth and treasure hunting of super ancient artifacts. So this project was formulated with the intent of depicting a world that normal humans don’t know about.
Kanazawa-san, you’re a fan of horror games and as the producer of Deadly Premonition, how do you make a game feel scary? What’s different when trying to convey a feeling of dread through text?
TK: Actually, I’m not creating with the intent of making it scary [laughs]. If you consider your day to day lifestyle, people tend to forget the essence of this world. I mean, this world is filled with things that we can’t understand, but we don’t really think twice on it. So what I want to get across in the games is that fact. “The existence of things in our daily lives that we just don’t understand.”
Therefore, this story starts off like any other day, but in the end we send the message that this world is filled with things that we can’t grasp. Some of the biggest concepts we’re conveying are “life and death” and ‘evil.” I depicted those in Deadly Premonition as well. This project by Imai also starts off with “What is death?” so it was a great match for me.
From Harry Potter to Persona to Tokyo Twilight: Ghost Hunters where ghosts exist side by side with humans, it feels like there are a lot of stories these days about a “secret world” within our world. Why do you feel this theme is so popular? Is it because the real world is so boring or people that gravitate towards escapism favor stories that have a twist on the real world.
Tomio Kanazawa：I can provide a simple answer to that, life is fun because of mysteries.*
*Spencer’s note: Deadly Premonition fans did you catch this?
What was it like working with Chinatsu Kurahana on designing the characters? Masamune is an interesting character and one that we usually don’t see in video games. How did you come up with his design and can you tell us about the boss at Gate Keepers?
SI: Kurahana is a very proficient illustrator. Despite it being difficult character molding, I believe she was successful in designing characters that matched the world. In the gaming world often times a person in a wheelchair is perceived to be weak, but that’s so expected and boring. Shiga doesn’t have any health issues, so to make up for his legs not working he could be training his upper body. I also thought Shiga would be the type who would want to prove that he can still fight alongside everyone and so we put it into his character design. The character image I had was Logan from “Dark Angel.”
For Fukurai I am making it very apparent that her philosophy is “Ghost hunting is money.” I mean if you are editor-in-chief and president of a small publishing company obviously you wouldn’t have much money. I wanted to depict the realism behind that, so her character portrait ended up like the way it is now. In “Ghostbusters,” three broke individuals gathered together, and to keep their company afloat they had to do a lot of sales and marketing. I think that in and of itself is what a real company would look like.
Combining emotions with senses is a unique concept. I can’t think of many other games where “taste” plays a role in the game, but you can actually use that to figure out clues in Tokyo Twilight: Ghost Hunters. How did you come up with the idea for this system? What are some of the most interesting sense and emotional combinations in the game?
SI: In my previous works I used a system where the players would tell other people what they are feeling in order to progress. For this game we have also implemented the concept of senses. In "supernatural" related works where evil ghosts and demons appear, oftentimes there is a drop in temperature and it smells like sulfur. I wanted the players to also experience that and I thought up the 5 sense input system. Before a ghost makes an appearance we made sure there is a drop in temperature and smell of sulfur so please keep an eye out for that.
I think the most interesting combination would be Love + lick. A protagonist who would attempt to lick a ghost is some character.
It feels like developers with visual novel cut scenes have been trying to make the 2D character busts more lifelike with technology like Live2D. Tokyo Twilight: Ghost Hunters made the GHOST system. How did you develop this technology and what complications were there when designing background that can be seen with a full 360 degrees?
SI: Live2D is a weak technology in terms of trend. Live2D Euclid, which can be moved 360 degrees, was announced recently, but when we were working on this game it wasn’t practical yet. So in terms of visuals it is a new style where we can not only move the characters but use it during event art and battle scenes. And we thought we might as well show everyone visuals at a high level of completion. You see, Takahashi, the person who created the visuals, isn’t a designer in the gaming industry but a filmmaker. I think that is another reason why it worked out.
Tokyo Twilight: Ghost Hunters has visual novel-like parts where you solve mysteries and hang out with friends, but the game also has a battle mode. The battle system is quite different since it isn’t a traditional RPG battle system. The way you place detectors to find ghosts kind of reminds me of a board game. How did the idea for this battle system come about? Did you experiment with any other battle systems before?
SI: I make sure to implement new systems every time, so this title was no different for me. It’s not fun when you keep using the standard system and as a creator I feel like it is our job to provide new experiences and surprises to users. I don’t mean solely in terms of making graphics fun or creating similar game feels. The battle system for this game is like a board game. I guess it may be similar to war sims between submarines. It was very challenging to get a model from a conventional simulation game while making it a style where unique characters would battle unique ghosts.